How To Fix Dry Dressing

Next time your dressing looks dryer than drought land, turn to these expert fixes.

Photo: Dotdash Meredith

Whether you call it "stuffing" or "dressing" varies based on where you live, according to Google Correlate search data. But no matter where you're from, you'll very likely call this Thanksgiving side dish "delicious"—especially if you're starting with one of our best Thanksgiving dressing recipes of all time.

However, in addition to overcooked turkey and lumpy gravy, dry dressing is one of the most common Thanksgiving cooking mistakes.

"A dry stuffing or dressing is usually dry after baking simply because the recipe lacked enough moisture or fat," confirms Bridget Lancaster, executive editorial director at America's Test Kitchen.

To fix dry dressing no matter what the cause or regardless of the regional dressing style you prefer, we tapped Lancaster and Meggan Hill, executive chef of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen, to help us save our sides.

6 Foolproof Options for Fixing Dry Dressing

Thick, pasty dressing no more. These fixes will save the day.

Bolster it with warm broth

For every four cups of dressing, drizzle the dish evenly with ½ cup warm turkey or chicken broth. Toss to mix it in evenly, cover with foil, and allow the dressing to sit and rehydrate.

Alternatively, to keep warm, return the dish to an oven at a low temperature. After 10 minutes, taste to check the consistency and add more as needed, Hill suggests.

Best for: Any variety of dressing

Brush your dressing with butter or another one of your favorite fats

For extra richness, remember these wise words from Lancaster: "Fat is your friend, including when it comes to dressing. If you've got a jar of bacon drippings, sausage drippings, or schmaltz stashed in the fridge, melt a few tablespoons and brush or pour evenly over the top of the dressing before serving," she says.

Bacon fat really makes oyster dressing sing, Lancaster says. If you're fresh out of those fats, melt two tablespoons butter, and use a pastry brush to coat or a spoon to drizzle this over the dressing, Hill adds, dousing on more as desired.

Best for: Any variety of dressing

Drizzle on buttermilk-spiked broth

"For cornbread dressing, which can bake up especially dry, I like to lean into the tanginess of the buttermilk that I used to make the cornbread," Lancaster says. (By the way, this Buttermilk Cornbread recipe is a terrific base for dressing recipes.)

To fix dry dressing using this method, melt two tablespoons butter into one cup broth. Off the heat, whisk in ¼ cup buttermilk. Start by drizzling ½ cup at a time over the dressing, cover with foil for 10 minutes, then take a taste test to check for texture. Add more as needed. Heavy cream or half-and-half can do the trick, too, if you prefer or are out of buttermilk.

Best for: Cornbread dressing

Fold in applesauce

"If you whipped up a fruit-forward dressing recipe that includes diced apples, pears, or dried fruit, stir in ¼ cup applesauce," Hill says. "Taste and add more as needed." But skip this tip if you've assembled a fruit-free dressing, Hill warns, as this may yield an overly-sweet dressing and chances are high that you're not going for that vibe.

Best for: Dressings that call for fruit

Try a broth "sauna"

For rice-based stuffings, such as our Herbed Wild Rice Dressing Recipe, Hill recommends adding one tablespoon of water or broth for every two cups of stuffing.

"Cover the baking dish or bowl with plastic wrap, then microwave for 1 to 2 minutes," she says, so it steams to moist perfection.

Best for: Rice-based stuffings

Get a head start on the gravy

Why reserve the gravy for topping mashed potatoes alone? "This might be my favorite method, as it involves one of my favorite foods of all time: turkey gravy. I make almost a gallon of turkey gravy ahead of Thanksgiving—it can literally cover a multitude of culinary sins—so that I always have plenty on hand for leftovers, and I'm not scrambling to make gravy at the last minute," Lancaster admits. (Follow her lead by making a double batch or more of our Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy!)

If Lancater notices that her dressing is erring on the dry side, she thins out ¾ cup of hot gravy with ¼ cup boiling water and pours this mixture evenly over the dressing.

"Just like the other methods, cover the pan with foil and let sit for several minutes before serving. This can turn dry dressing into the stuff(ing) dreams are made of," Lancaster laughs.

Best for: Any variety of dressing

Southern Cornbread Dressing
Photographer: Brittany Conerly; Prop Stylist: Christina Brockman; Food Stylist: Karen Rankin

Get the Recipe: Southern Cornbread Dressing

How to Prevent Dry Dressing Before it Happens

"Of course, preventing dry stuffing or dressing is always preferable to fixing it. Luckily, this holiday cooking mistake is largely preventable if you follow a few guidelines," Lancaster confirms.

Keep these pointers in mind:

  • Plan for a trial run. "If you have the time and the resources, test your stuffing recipe before Thanksgiving so you know the recipe is a keeper," Hill says. Bonus: You'll have a (hopefully tasty) dinner side dish all set to devour the night of your test.
  • Prep your pan. Don't forget to coat your baking dish with butter or oil before baking, Hill advises.
  • Invite dry bread to the party. "This may sound counter-intuitive since we're talking about dry dressing, but for the best texture, start off with dry rather than stale bread," Lancaster says. Cut bread into cubes, and bake on a baking sheet or two in a 250°F oven. Stir the cubes every 15 minutes until they feel dry, which should take about 45 to 90 minutes depending on the size of cubes and type of bread.
  • Follow this bread-to-broth formula. According to Hill, the ideal ratio for two quarts of dressing (enough to serve four to six), estimate about five cups of bread cubes, 1 ½ cups liquid (broth plus a bit of butter), 1 ½ cups vegetables (such as celery and onion), and one egg. For three quarts of dressing to serve eight to 10, double this to 10 cups bread cubes, three cups liquid, three cups veggies, and two eggs. Then make it your own with herbs and spices such as parsley, sage, thyme, and/or marjoram.
  • Top with foil. It's not just about how long you bake it, but "how you bake the dressing can ruin a fundamentally good recipe," Lancaster says. Cover the dressing with foil for the first 15 minutes of baking time to trap the moisture inside. For crispy edges and a golden-brown topping, remove the foil at this time. Allow the dressing to finish baking, "then return the foil to the pan when it's done baking to keep warm until serving time," Hill adds.
  • Save it for later. If all else fails and your dressing is desert-dry come dinnertime and you don't want to serve it to your guests, cover with foil or a lid and transfer to the refrigerator. "A couple of days later, crumble that dry stuffing into a bowl," Lancaster suggests. "Toss it with some melted butter, a little stock, a handful of fresh herbs, and a little grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese." Use this as a crumbly topping for homemade Turkey Pot Pie to make the most of the rest of your Thanksgiving leftovers.
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