Grandma had two secrets to making the best cornbread stuffing: one is to make your own cornbread, and the other is to use dry cornbread for the crispiest, moistest dressing. There are plenty of recipes for cornbread, but what is the best way to dry cornbread for stuffing?
To dry cornbread for stuffing, first cube or crumble the cornbread. One method is to put it in an open paper or plastic bag, spread it on a baking sheet, and let it go stale on the counter over 24 to 48 hours. You can also toast the cornbread in the oven for 15 minutes.
Making the cornbread stuffing for Thanksgiving and other holidays requires planning to make the cornbread and get it dried out so that you can make the stuffing in time. How you decide to dry your cornbread depends on how much time you have and how dry you want the bread to be.
The Best Ways to Dry Cornbread for Stuffing
You’ve baked your cornbread (from scratch or a box, we won’t tell), and now it’s time to dry it out. Perhaps you’re wondering what the best method of drying it out is. Maybe you’re running out of time and considering skipping this step altogether.
Before we explore how to dry cornbread for stuffing, let’s see why this step is so important.
Why Do You Dry Cornbread for Stuffing?
Bread, cornbread, in this case, is the essential ingredient of stuffing, giving it structure and texture.
Whichever bread you use, you need to dry or “stale” it first. When bread dries out or becomes stale, the moisture in the bread evaporates. The bread’s structure remains, but the texture becomes stiff and crisp.
You need the bread for stuffing to be dry because cornbread dressing recipes require you to add flavorsome ingredients like eggs and broth to the cubed or crumbled bread. If you don’t get rid of the moisture in your cornbread, it won’t be able to absorb all the delicious flavors and create that custardy yet crisp texture you want.
On the other hand, if your bread is already moist, it will also suck up the liquid, and no matter how long you bake it, your stuffing will be damp and dense.
In other words, your Grandma taught you to dry your cornbread for stuffing because fresh, soft cornbread will result in a soggy bread soup.
Soggy stuffing is a stuffing newbie mistake and shows that you have made the cardinal error of not drying out the bread first.
There are three ways to dry cornbread for stuffing.
1 – Let It Go Stale
This method of drying cornbread relies on your being organized and baking or buying your cornbread three days ahead of making the stuffing.
Once you’ve baked the cornbread and let it cool completely, you need to cut it into squares to allow all sides of the cubes to dry out or break it into coarse crumbs.
What you’re doing with this method is to let your lovely, fresh cornbread go stale over the next day or two. (Remember, this is necessary for delicious stuffing.)
For the perfect crunch, place the cubed or crumbled cornbread in a paper or zip-top bag, leaving the top open. You can also spread out the crumbs or cubes on large baking sheets. Leave the cornbread to dry on the kitchen counter at room temperature. Do not zip the bags or cover the baking sheets tightly.
The cornbread will take between 24 and 48 hours to reach the ideally dry or stale consistency for excellent stuffing.
Once it’s stale, you can keep your dried cornbread at room temperature in a closed zip-top bag or airtight container for a few days before making the stuffing.
If you’re supremely organized, you can prepare the dried cornbread a month ahead and freeze it in readiness for the holidays.
2 – Oven Toasting
A second way of drying cornbread for stuffing is to dry it out in the oven. This method will only take 15 minutes of oven time, plus cooling.
Besides taking less time, toasting your bread in the oven has two other advantages.
First, the bread is toasted, which means it goes brown. Browning food (like meat, onions, marshmallows, or cookies) is caused by the Malliard Reaction, a process where heat transforms the chemical structure of food, changing the color and adding flavor. Browned food tastes better.
Another advantage of toasting your cornbread for stuffing is that the bread dries out more effectively. Some chefs argue that staling bread at room temperature can cause the moisture to move deeper into the bread rather than evaporate. The water gets trapped inside the bread, leaving a leathery consistency.
To dry your cornbread in the oven, preheat the oven to 325⁰F (165⁰C).
Cut the cornbread into cubes. Lay the rough cubes on a baking sheet and toast them for about 15 minutes. The bread should be dry and toasted, not hard and crunchy as a crouton.
Allow the toasted cubes to cool completely before using them in your stuffing.
3 – Buy Stale Bread
The quickest way to get the dry bread you need is to buy it like that. Many stores sell day-old or older bread on the sale rack – it’s cheaper because it’s not fresh anymore. This kind of bread is ideal for stuffing.
If you want your bread even drier, leave it out at room temperature or toast it in the oven.
What If You Don’t Dry Cornbread for Stuffing?
Your Grandma and your recipe books (and even this post) will tell you that drying the bread is a vital step in making dressing to ensure the perfect flavor and texture.
This statement is true if you use wheat-based bread, like sandwich bread, French loaf, crusty Italian bread, or even gingerbread. Gluten-based bread holds moisture in the form of water, which evaporates when you dry it out so that you can add a more flavorful liquid.
However, cornbread is not gluten-based. Most of the moisture in cornbread comes from the fats in the batter, like butter, eggs, milk, cream, or buttermilk. This moisture doesn’t evaporate when you dry out cornbread, only the water.
For this reason, cornbread’s texture won’t transform in the same way as wheat-based bread does in the stuffing.
The massive conclusion here – after several experiments – is that it doesn’t matter how dry your cornbread is, whether it’s just slightly stale or as crunchy as an eggshell. The texture and flavor of the stuffing remain the same.
Encouraging you not to dry your cornbread is a pretty controversial step. However, for those in a hurry or lazy in the kitchen, take heart that the drying process may not be as crucial as your Grandma thought.
Most stuffing experts argue that drying out your cornbread before making stuffing is a critical step in achieving the best flavor and texture. If you’re super organized, allow your fresh cornbread to dry out or go stale at room temperature over a couple of days.
Otherwise, dry out cornbread in your oven in just 15 minutes. For a rush job, buy bread that’s past its prime at the sale rack of your local store. However you dry your cornbread, you, your family, and your friends will enjoy the tasty product of your time and efforts.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.