As Thanksgiving approaches, my mind frequently wanders to the dish I am most looking forward to preparing for the holiday: my great-grandmother’s cornbread dressing. Rich with double chicken stock, tons of butter, and handfuls of aromatics, it is in my opinion the best cornbread dressing in the world. But because that dressing involves a two-day process and tons of labor, I’ve also had an equally strong craving for a box of Stove Top stuffing.
To be clear, dressing and stuffing are not the same foods. Stuffing is made with stale white bread, perhaps studded with bits of sausage or plump oysters, and stuffed inside a turkey. Dressing is made with cornbread, and is baked in a pan instead of inside the bird. I view Stove Top stuffing as a totally distinct entity from this most beloved of holiday dishes. It is not the stuff of celebrations, but it is a perfectly suitable side dish the rest of the year. First introduced by General Foods in 1972, Stove Top stuffing has long been a staple for workaday dinners. It’s incredibly simple to prepare — you simply boil some water with a hunk of butter, dump in a bag of dry bread cubes and seasoning, and cover until everything’s perfectly tender — and serve alongside a roasted chicken thigh or stuff it inside a butterflied pork chop.
Like many convenience foods, Stove Top stuffing has gotten a bad rap in recent years, especially from people who have *opinions* about what is healthy to eat. It’s got too much sodium, there are weird ingredients that you can’t pronounce, and it’s just better to make your own stuffing. But “better” is subjective. Most of us aren’t going to go through the hassle of making our own stuffing on a weeknight, but that shouldn’t mean that we are depriving ourselves of stuffing. If the options are “Stove Top stuffing” or “no stuffing at all,” I’m going to go with that bright red box every single time.
I’m not sure what it is about that combination of powdered sage, chicken flavor, and MSG that makes it so appealing, but there’s no denying that Stove Top is pure nostalgic comfort food. It tastes like childhood, of dinners prepared by harried moms getting food on the table for their families after working all day. It’s affordable, too, which in this time of ever-increasing food prices, makes it easy to bulk up a meal.
I’m not arguing that Stove Top is any better than homemade stuffing. It’s probably not, unless you’re terrible at making stuffing in which case the consistency of the prepackaged stuff is an objectively better option. I’m also not suggesting that it has any real place on the Thanksgiving table. But as an easy dinner side? This is one of those situations in which you shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of very good.