This old-fashioned Italian sausage stuffing is a classic Thanksgiving side dish but would make an amazing part of your dinner all winter long. Featuring browned Italian sausage, toasted Italian bread croutons, and savory onions and celery, it is baked in the oven in a casserole dish so it gets a perfectly crispy top.
My mom has been making this classic Thanksgiving sausage stuffing for as long as I can remember. The crispy browned edges and top make it my all-time favorite holiday side dish and it just wouldn't be Turkey Day without it.
Can't wait for November? I actually roasted a simple turkey breast for dinner this summer and it was such a nice change of pace from all the grilled foods we've been eating! Somehow the stuffing tasted even better in July! Ha.
Why This Recipe Works
I have watched my mom make this dish year, after year, after year. It is always a hit because:
- Baked in a Casserole Dish: I guess technically this is a "dressing" because it isn't "stuffed" into the cavity of the turkey. Baking it in a dish means you don't have to worry about the food safety or temperature.
- Gorgeous Golden Brown Top: the butter and bread combine to make the most amazingly delicious crunchy topping.
- Not Too Thick: the texture is somewhat light and fluffy. A few stray bread croutons may even fall from the clump of stuffing on your plate. This is not the tightly-packed, wet stuffing that makes my kids run.
- Make-Ahead: you can assemble almost the entire thing the day before your holiday dinner and just pop it in the oven while your turkey rests.
- Savory, Not Sweet: there are no apples, no raisins, no dried cranberries and it is nut-free. This is just an old-fashioned, traditional stuffing.
The ingredients for the sausage stuffing are very basic, nothing overly complicated:
- 1 2-pound loaf of Italian bread: You can use whatever you like, but I made it with a 2-pound size of this super-easy bread machine Italian bread recipe. I baked the loaf 4 days before I started the stuffing, stale bread actually works even better! The bread is the most important ingredient, so find a nice quality loaf.
- 1 pound of bulk Italian sausage
- Celery & Onions
- Poultry Seasoning
- Chicken Stock
- White Wine (optional)
See the recipe card for the quantities and printable instructions.
Preheat the oven to 250°F and Prepare the Italian Bread:
If your bread didn't come from the bakery already sliced, start by cutting it into sandwich slices.
Note: If you're using a homemade bread machine bread, be sure it has completely cooled. You can make the homemade bread up to 4 days in advance of prepping the stuffing.
Discard the two opposite end pieces and then hand-tear each slice into smaller crouton-sized chunks of bread and pile them up on a large rimmed baking sheet.
This is roughly the size of the individual croutons in your final stuffing, so don't leave them too big.
Toast the bread chunks in the oven for 5 - 7 minutes or until they are thoroughly dried out and crispy but not browned.
Set them aside to cool while you prepare the sausage.
Brown the Italian Sausage & Deglaze the Skillet:
1. In a large skillet, brown the Italian sausage over medium-high heat. Break it up with a spoon to form crumbles as it cooks.
Continue to cook the sausage until it has a golden brown, toasted appearance. If you simply brown it, it will be chewy. Give it another several minutes to develop a deeper color.
2. Turn the heat to medium-low and remove the cooked sausage from the skillet with a slotted spoon and reserve it on a plate or bowl. Don't panic about the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
3. Pour the white wine (if using) or an equivalent amount of chicken stock into the hot pan. Use the back of a spoon to gently scrape at the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. They should lift up easily.
4. Continue to cook the liquid until it has reduced by half and is thickened. It will leave clear lines when you stir it. Scrape all the liquid and browned bits into a measuring cup or bowl and reserve it.
While the sausage is browning, dice the onion and celery.
1. In the now scraped-clean skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
2. Add the onions and celery and cook until the onions are softened.
3. Add the poultry seasoning and a sprinkle of salt and pepper to the pan and stir.
4. Scrape everything from the pan into a very large mixing bowl and add the reserved sausage and wine/chicken stock sauce. Stir to combine.
Hint: The next step is a bit messy. You'll want the largest mixing bowl you have and you may find it easier to use your hands along with a spatula.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl, and whisk them with a fork to break up the yolks. Set them near the mixing bowl.
Add half of the prepared Italian bread croutons to the bowl and gently stir to combine the sausage and veggies with the bread.
Pour the eggs and half of the chicken stock over the stuffing and stir it to combine.
Add the remaining croutons and chicken stock in stages until everything is thoroughly combined.
Rub the entire inside of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with softened butter.
Pour the mixed stuffing into the dish and spread it out evenly.
Bake the Stuffing
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake the room temperature stuffing for 35 minutes or until golden brown on the top.
You can prep the stuffing up to one day ahead and then simply bake it before serving.
Assemble the stuffing, pour it into a buttered baking dish, and cover with aluminum foil before placing in the fridge overnight.
Since the bread coated in butter and eggs and sausage becomes quite dense, it retains the cold from the fridge deep in the center of the stuffing. It will bake much better if you let it come to room temperature before putting it in the oven. Just leave the dish on your counter for an hour before baking.
If you are prepping it for a Thanksgiving side dish, bring it out of the fridge when the turkey has just one hour left to roast. The stuffing will bake in the time the turkey needs to rest before slicing.
While this sausage stuffing is our family's favorite, you could tweak it with these simple substitutions for something a little different:
- Spicy - use Hot Italian bulk sausage and add chopped bell pepper to the onion and celery mix
- Sweet - add chopped green apple to the celery and onions and stir in raisins
- Festive - for a pop of holiday color, add red dried cranberries and chopped walnuts
Essential Thanksgiving Recipes
Italian sausage stuffing is an essential Thanksgiving side dish for our family. Pair it with our favorite herb butter turkey and homemade gravy:
Italian Sausage Stuffing
- 1 2-pound loaf of Italian bread
- 1 lb bulk Italian sausage
- ¾ cup white wine
- 1 onion
- 3 stalks of celery
- 8 tablespoon (1 stick) salted butter plus more for greasing the baking dish
- 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Sprinkle of black pepper
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups chicken stock
Prepare the Bread:
- Preheat the oven to 250°F.
- Slice the entire loaf of bread, discard the two end pieces. Tear all the slices into bite-sized pieces and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. You may need two pans to fit the bread without overcrowding.
- Bake the bread pieces for 5 minutes. Gently toss them, spread into an even layer, and bake again for another 3 minutes or until the bread is very dry and crispy to the touch but not browned.
- Set aside to cool.
Prepare the Sausage Filling:
- In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, brown the sausage, breaking it up into crumbles as it cooks. Stir the crumbles but then let them cook for several minutes before stirring again. This lets the meat get toasted and golden brown.
- Cook the sausage until it is brown and slightly toasted on all sides, about 10 - 15 minutes. If it isn't fully toasted, it will be rubbery in your stuffing so it is better to be patient with this step.
- While the sausage cooks, chop the onion and celery stalks.
- Remove the cooked sausage from the pan to a plate or bowl with a slotted spoon and set it near your workspace.
- Turn the heat down to low and add ¾ cup white wine to the pan. Deglaze the skillet by scraping up all the browned bits with a spoon and cook until the wine has come to a boil and reduced by half.
- Scrape the reduced wine and brown bits from the pan into a measuring cup and set aside. Add the stick of butter to the pan and melt it.
- Add the chopped onion and celery to the melted butter and stir. Add the poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper to the pan and stir to combine. Cook until the onions start to soften and are just barely translucent. Pour the reserved reduced wine into the pan and stir to combine.
- Scrape the cooked onion mixture into a very large mixing bowl.
Assemble the Stuffing & Bake:
- Rub one tablespoon of softened butter around the inside of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set aside.
- Add the reserved sausage to the large mixing bowl with the onion mixture. Stir to combine.
- Add HALF of the toasted bread to the bowl and gently fold in the sausage mixture with a large spatula. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl with each stir to bring up the sausage at the bottom.
- Crack the eggs into a small bowl and gently whisk them with a fork. Drizzle them over the stuffing mix.
- Pour about ½ cup of chicken stock over the stuffing mix. Gently stir to combine the egg and chicken stock with the mix.
- Continue to add handfuls of the remaining bread pieces and drizzles of chicken stock to the stuffing mix until everything has been mixed together. It will be easier to do as the bread in the mixing bowl absorbs the stock and starts to shrink down in size.
- Do not overmix the stuffing, you want the bread to retain it's shape as much as possible. You may find it easier to use your hands along with a flat spatula.
- Pour the stuffing mix into the prepared baking dish. Spread into an even layer. Bake at 350° F for 35 - 40 minutes or until the center is hot and the top is golden brown.
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