Judges tasted a dozen packaged stuffings, including traditional, herbed, and cornbread varieties, and found three winners
While nothing beats homemade stuffing, when the Thanksgiving time-crunch hits, even some of the most dedicated from-scratch cooks among us reach for a box, bag, or can of packaged stuffing-either as a stand-alone side or as a base for fresh herbs, vegetables, and other seasonings.
To determine which store-bought stuffings can pass for homemade, Epicurious tested three stuffing categories: home-style (also called traditional or country-style), herb-seasoned, and cornbread.
First we set the criteria for not-made-from-scratch stuffing: The ideal stuffing would have to be quick and easy to make. The bread pieces should be moist and crunchy, not dry or soggy. They should retain their shape and not dissolve into a gummy or mushy paste. The dressing should be well seasoned with natural-tasting herbs and spices-it should not be overly salty or have artificial flavors. Ultimately, it should pass for homemade.
The 12 varieties of stuffing we tasted are available nationwide and included the following, listed from highest to lowest score in our taste test: Pepperidge Farm Country Cube, Pepperidge Farm Cornbread, Stovetop Savory Herbs, Bell's Traditional, Trader Joe's Corn Bread, Arrowhead Mills Organic Classic Herb Cornbread,* Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned,* Stovetop Homestyle Herb, Arnold Premium Herb Seasoned,* Arrowhead Mills Organic Savory Herb,* Stovetop Cornbread, and Arnold Premium Cornbread. (The brands marked with * received the same score.)
Methodology: In a blind taste test, five judges compared the flavor, consistency, and appearance of three varieties of packaged stuffing. All stuffings were prepared according to the directions on the package, using only water and unsalted butter. No chopped vegetables or additional seasonings were added. We ranked them according to the Epicurious four-fork rating system (four being best). One winner within each category had us-pardon the expression-stuffing our faces.
Winner: Pepperidge Farm Country Cube Stuffing ($2.99 for 14 oz. bag)
Pros: Testers were drawn to this stuffing's rich, buttery scent and taste, as well as its distinct rosemary flavor. Participants also noted that the multicolored bread (a mixture of white and brown cubes) gave the stuffing a "natural" appearance. All agreed that it was not overly salty like some of its competitors. "I think this one would be perfect alongside some turkey and sides," said one judge.
Cons: A bit mushy.
BEST HERB-SEASONED STUFFING:
Winner: Stove Top Stuffing Mix Savory Herbs ($2.69 for 6 oz. box)
Pros: "The visible herb and onion pieces convinced me that this was the real deal," said one taster. "It has a nice parsley and chicken-infused flavor," stated another.
Cons: A little salty.
BEST CORNBREAD STUFFING:
Winner: Pepperidge Farm Cornbread Stuffing ($2.99 for 16 oz. bag)
Pros: "The cornbread in this pick is nice and toasty-not soggy!" exclaimed one judge. "The bread's cornmeal-yellow tint and its rich, distinct 'corny' taste suggests that the bread is made with real cornmeal," declared another.
Cons: Could use additional herbs and spices.
THE OTHER CONTENDERS: THE BOTTOM THREE
Despite its nice, crunchy-looking appearance, the Arrowhead Mills Organic Savory Herb was considered far too bland to be consumed without turkey and gravy. One judge went so far as to say that it tastes like water-but then again, one judge pegged it as her favorite. The Stovetop Cornbread and Arnold Cornbread lost points for a number of reasons: Judges pointed out that Stovetop's "nuclear-yellow color" made the stuffing look unnatural. It was also unreasonably salty and oniony, but was commended for its good consistency. The Arrowhead variety was too crumbly and grainy, though it did have a good herb flavor.
Prices and availability subject to change.
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by Carolina Santos-Neves
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