How to Make Old Fashioned Southern Cornbread Dressing

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If anything could be more Southern than fried chicken, it’s cornbread dressing. Once passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, this lovely, old-fashioned tradition is becoming a lost art. What a shame. Real dressing can be intimidating and does take a little trial and error, but the smile on every lucky person you bless with this heavenly dish will make you glad you took the time.

How to Make Old Fashioned Southern Cornbread Dressing
(Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media)

Things You'll Need

  • 5 medium potatoes or 4 pieces of bread
  • Large onion
  • 8 stalks of celery
  • 6 cans of chicken broth
  • 3 saucepans
  • 12” or 12 ½” cast iron skillet
  • Lard
  • 2 large mixing bowls
  • Whisk
  • 2 packages of cornbread mix
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Toothpicks
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups of ice
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • Sage
Step 1

Decide the day before between using potatoes or bread in the dressing. If using bread, lay out the pieces the night before so they will dry out.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 2

Prepare the ingredients: Preheat the oven to the temperature stated on the cornbread packag instructions. Plop a tablespoon of lard into the skillet, and place the skillet in the oven while the oven heats. Whisk both cornbread mixes together in a mixing bowl according to the instructions on the package, but add four teaspoons of salt and a tablespoon of oil. When the oven has heated and the lard has melted, remove the skillet. Pour the cornbread mix into the skillet. (It should sizzle). Use the package instructions to gauge the cornbread’s baking time; however, insert a toothpick in the middle to test for doneness before removing it from the oven. The toothpick should come out clean.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 3

Prepping the additional ingredients: Dice the onion and celery stalks, and boil them together in a pan, covered in chicken broth, for one hour. Add broth if needed. Do not drain the broth after cooking. Boil the eggs with two teaspoons of salt for twenty minutes. Remove from the heat and drain; then cover the eggs with cold water, and add the ice. Peel the eggs after five minutes; then chop them into cubes. If using potatoes instead of bread, peel the potatoes and cut into ¼” cubes. Boil them with two teaspoons of salt until soft, but not mushy, then drain.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 4

Put the dressing together: Crumble the cornbread with your hands into a large mixing bowl. Add the onion/celery mixture (including the broth), the eggs, the bread or potatoes, and the pepper. Add enough canned broth to thoroughly moisten all the ingredients, and stir thoroughly with a spoon (not a mixer). Add the sage a pinch at a time, stirring after each pinch, and then taste test the result. Keep adding the sage until you detect a hint of it in the taste test.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 5

Bake the dressing: Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and plop another tablespoon of lard into the skillet. Place the skillet in the oven to heat, melting the lard, as before. Pour the dressing into the skillet, and smooth the top. Bake for one hour; then remove from the oven and stir. If the dressing is moist, smooth the top, return the skillet to the oven, and bake until the top is browned. If the dressing is not moist, add a half-cup of broth and stir. Continue adding broth and stirring until the dressing becomes moist; then return the skillet to the oven. After another hour, repeat the process. After achieving the desired moistness, smooth the top and bake until browned.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media

Tips & Warnings

  • If serving the dressing for the first time at Thanksgiving or another significant event, bake the dressing as a “trial run” a month before. If something goes wrong, practice again a week later.
  • To cure a new cast iron skillet, rub it thoroughly in lard and bake at 200 for an hour. Repeat this process at least three more times until the skillet has blackened.
  • After using the skillet, wash it in soap and water, dry it at a low temperature on the cook top and then rub it with oil before storing.
  • The eggs, cornbread, and/or the celery and onion mixture may be prepared a day or two before. Cover tightly and refrigerate until needed.
  • Potatoes make a looser dressing than bread, and not as much broth is required, but some people do not like using potatoes in the dressing if also serving mashed potatoes.
  • Although a double oven is easier, the dressing may be cooked along with a chicken or turkey in one oven if the oven is large enough. Bake on the bottom rack, leaving the bird in the middle; however, the dressing will brown slower. Use the bird’s recommended baking temperature. Check the day before to see if the oven is large enough to accommodate the dressing on the bottom rack. If not, bake the day before and reheat for thirty minutes after baking the bird (not recommended).
  • Too much sage will overpower the dish. Poultry seasoning can be substituted and is easier to control; however, it’s less intense than sage, so add the seasoning by teaspoons rather than pinches.
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