A legendary cornbread stuffing is just a few tricks away.
Herby Pecan-Cornbread Dressing
Credit: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

As Thanksgiving draws closer, perusing cornbread dressing recipes can feel both exciting and overwhelming. Many cooks use the same recipes year after year, but for thanksgiving newbies, the selection of this crucial recipe can feel totally overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to. Instead of trying to find the perfect recipe, use these five tips to ensure a great result, no matter what mix-ins and twists you decide to use.

1. Use a cornbread you actually like to eat!

This should be obvious, but if you’re making dressing with cornbread you wouldn’t want to eat by itself, it’s probably not going to be very good. If you prefer a sweeter cornbread, it’s okay to use that here. Or, if you like your cornbread straight-up with no sweetness, go for that option. Either way, make sure it’s delicious before you add any mix-ins.

2. Make your cornbread ahead of time.

This will allow it to dry out a little/retain more structure. A successful Thanksgiving is all about the do-aheads, and cornbread is no exception. Make your corn bread a day ahead and let it sit out. The stale texture is not very good by itself, but with all your add-ins, it will hold up better for a very delicious stuffing texture.

3. Toast the cornbread chunks deeply.

Another texture builder: making sure to deeply toast the cubes of cornbread before you start adding stock and aromatics. The crunchiness and caramelized taste will create a depth of flavor in the final product that untoasted cornbread can never match. If your recipe doesn’t call for this step, simply place your cornbread chunks on a baking sheet in a single layer, then drizzle with melted butter and bake at 450°F, turning the chunks occasionally, until golden brown on all sides.

4. Add plenty of moisture, and make sure it’s seasoned.

The ideal choice for adding moisture in dressing is stock, but if you’re going vegetarian, water will also work fine, with a couple of eggs for binding. Just make sure to give the cornbread plenty of moisture —it will absolutely soak it up. For an extra layer of flavor, season the water or stock with salt and pepper to make sure it’s not bland.

5. Don’t skimp on the aromatics.

Lots of people get worried about their dressing being too dry, but not enough people consider that it’s important to use enough aromatics to keep the texture and flavor varied and interesting. It can’t hurt to throw an extra onion or stalk of celery in, to make sure each bite is delicious.