Southern Cornbread Dressing

Words & Photography by Kate Beard

Old family recipes are often the source of pride and awe around the holidays, where they are brought out from the dusty corners of the bookshelf or elicited from someone’s memory. However, all too often, they can also be the source of simmering familial rivalries. And what holiday kitchen would be complete without family members breezing through the kitchen, offering their helpful advice on how to cook a recipe a certain way?

In the Beard household, the annual bone of contention was the cornbread dressing. The contenders? My grandmother on my mother’s side, Mimi, and my dad. Dad grew up with his mother making dressing with sage in it, as I think most Southerners do. Mimi, either because she didn’t like it or most likely because her husband hadn’t liked it, made dressing without sage. So when Mom took over the dressing duties at Thanksgiving, Mimi and Dad would stand in the kitchen bickering about the merits of sage vs no sage. To please everyone, and keep a bit of sanity, Mom made two pans of dressing every year for as long as I could remember—one pan with sage for Dad, and one without sage for Mimi. One year, when we had a particularly large guest list, Mom told Dad and Mimi to get out of her kitchen and let her make the damn dressing. She made one pan, and wouldn’t tell anyone what was in it. Turns out, she had put sage in (and oysters, to my dismay) and everyone loved it… even Mimi.

Bearing this in mind, view this recipe below as a guideline. It’s a rich, savoury dressing that is delicious on its own, but can be customised to fit your tastes.



Makes 1 9” skillet of dressing. Serves about 6.


For the cornbread

170 g unsalted butter
500 ml buttermilk (plain yoghurt will do in a pinch)
3 eggs, beaten
100 ml honey
300 g cornmeal (coarse/stoneground)
60 g all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder

For the dressing

1 bell pepper
1 large onion
4 stalks of celery
3 cloves of garlic
fresh sage
fresh thyme
50 g butter
1 kg of cornbread
500 ml broth (vegetable or chicken)
100 ml heavy cream
3 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to season


For the Cornbread

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

In a cast iron skillet over medium heat, melt all of the butter. Pour the butter into a bowl to let it cool off a bit. Place the skillet in the oven to heat up.

Add the honey and the buttermilk, bit by bit, to the melted butter while whisking it. Once all the buttermilk has been added, the mixture should be cool enough to add the eggs. Whisk until it’s all thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until they are homogenous; then pour the mixture into the skillet.

Cook the cornbread for 30-40 minutes, until it is browned on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

It’s best to make the cornbread the day before you want to make the dressing. Leave it out on the counter overnight to dry out a bit. The dryer the cornbread is, the more it’ll soak up all the delicious stuff we’re going to put in the dressing.

For the dressing

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Roughly chop the bell pepper, onion, celery, and garlic.

In a cast iron skillet over medium heat, add the butter, vegetables, 4-5 large leaves of sage, and a handful of thyme sprigs. Stirring occasionally, cook the vegetables for about 15-20 minutes until tender (for example, the onions should be translucent). Pick the sage leaves and thyme sprigs out of the skillet.

Crumble up the cornbread in a large mixing bowl.

Add the sautéed vegetables to the cornbread, making sure to scrape all the vegetables out of the skillet. Then put the skillet in the oven to heat up.

Using a big spoon or spatula, fold the vegetables into the cornbread, making sure they are evenly distributed.

Add the broth and cream, still folding the mixture to make sure all the cornbread is evenly coated and soaking up the liquids. You don’t just want to crumbs at the bottom getting all the juice.

Let the mixture sit for a few minutes to make sure all the broth is soaked up; then add the eggs. Once more, make sure you mix this together thoroughly so that all the cornbread is soaking up the eggs.

Transfer the mixture to the warm skillet. Bake for at least 45 minutes, possibly up to an hour. The dressing is done when the top is browned and a knife inserted in the centre comes out mostly clean (it won’t be covered in dressing but it also might not be completely clean).

Let the dressing cool until it is just warm. Serve it alongside the turkey or whatever mains you’re cooking for your Thanksgiving feast!

Southern Cornbread Dressing was created by Food&_ community member:

Kate Beard

Kate Beard