Slow Cooker Stuffing (with oven method)

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SLOW COOKER STUFFING (with oven method) -Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Classic flavor will win you over, optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy!

Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. The classic flavor is sure to please, and the optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips offer something extra for everyone. (Including gluten- and dairy-free suggestions that all will enjoy!)

 

 

 

As a girl, stuffing was always my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. My mom and grandmother’s recipe was basic but bursting with classic flavor, not to mention the ideal balance of tender bread with lightly crunchy edges.

My mom never varied her recipe. My grandmother, however, liked to try everything at least once. Accordingly, her classic recipe was occasionally studded with extras such as chestnuts, sausage, mushrooms or dried fruit. (Happily for me, oysters made just one appearance!)

One thing that never changed was the delightful interplay between the crisp surface and the tender insides. (To clarify, my family always called this side dish stuffing, not dressing, whether it was cooked in or out of the turkey. Happily, with both methods, there was always some of both.)

Though a slow cooker offered appeal-namely freeing up oven space and the ability to keep the finished dish warm-I avoided it for many years because I figured the crunchy layer would be lost.

But then a friend told me that a slow cooker can, in fact, create those beloved crispy edges.

By nature, slow cookers hold in moisture (sort of like cooking it in a turkey). But while the insides and surface of the stuffing stay tender with this method, the sides and bottom-all the areas that are in direct contact with the walls of the cooker-become toasty and lightly crisp. (Tip: coating the cooker with olive oil or cooking spray amplifies this crispness.)

It made total sense. And It’s truly the best of both worlds!

For my own recipe, I settled on a variation of what my mom and grandmother used to make, combined with the convenience and inherent benefits of a slow cooker.

To enhance the traditional flavor, I add more herbs, which can be dried or fresh to suit what you have on hand. We’ve also mastered gluten- and dairy-free adaptations along the way.

And though most of us save this perennial favorite for Thanksgiving, my family and I are quite happy to enjoy it any time of year. Most recently, I served it as an alternative to crusty bread with a simple cabbage and sausage stew. Some enjoyed dunking it into the light broth, while others kept it separate-everyone, however, wanted a larger serving. Another evening, I served the leftovers aside a mound of roasted Brussels sprouts for a speedy meal…and no one complained!

 

Following is a step-by-step photo overview of the easy method along with a list of helpful hints and the printable recipe:

SLOW COOKER STUFFING (with oven method) -Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Classic flavor will win you over, optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy! 

Drying the bread cubes in the oven is the first step, which may be done several days in advance. Note that white bread is key here, as multi-grain or whole wheat bread tends to become mushy. (See recipe notes for gluten-free recommendations.)

SLOW COOKER STUFFING (with oven method) -Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Classic flavor will win you over, optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy! 

Once cooled, the bread cubes may be stored at room temperature in large resealable bags or an airtight container.

SLOW COOKER STUFFING (with oven method) -Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Classic flavor will win you over, optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy! 

Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery, and sauté until soft. In the final minute or so, the herbs and seasonings are added.

SLOW COOKER STUFFING (with oven method) -Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Classic flavor will win you over, optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy! 

The vegetable mixture consists of celery, onion, and herbs and provides the perfect balance of classic flavor. It may be sautéed 1-2 days in advance and transferred to an airtight container. (Make sure you scrape out all the butter and juices.)

SLOW COOKER STUFFING (with oven method) -Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Classic flavor will win you over, optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy! 

Next, the sautéed vegetables and egg/broth mixture are tossed with the bread. Then add just enough additional broth to lightly and evenly moisten the bread. Tip 1: if you prepped the veggies in advance, warm the mixture just enough to melt the butter and make it easier to incorporate into the bread cubes. Tip 2: if you don’t have a really big bowl, use the turkey roasting pan before you put the turkey in it.

SLOW COOKER STUFFING (with oven method) -Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Classic flavor will win you over, optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy! 

The uncooked stuffing is then transferred to a 6-quart slow cooker, which has been sprayed or greased. (This facilitates crisping the bread that touches the sides and bottom of the cooker.) When done, the stuffing may be served directly from the cooker or transferred to a serving dish. A light sprinkle of parsley adds visual appeal.

 

Helpful hints

  • Every 1 pound of bread will yield approximately 10 cups of bread cubes.
  • I prefer to cut the bread in ½-inch pieces, which is smaller than some people do. I think this makes for a more evenly integrated dish-but do as you prefer. Also, I keep the crusts on, not only to make use of all the bread, but I think it adds interest to the white bread. If dryness is your concern, keep in mind that we want dried-out bread, and all parts of the bread are dried thoroughly in the initial oven step.
  • When adding the additional chicken broth, drizzle in just enough to moisten the bread. Precise amount will depend on the type of bread you use and how dry it is. If you think you haven’t added enough (i.e., your stuffing seems too dry midway through the cooking process), you can always drizzle in a little more. Keep in mind that you can always add more, but you can’t squeeze it out!
  • When removing the lid from the slow cooker, there will likely be a lot of condensation on the  lid. Some will inevitably drip in, which is okay, but I try to limit it.
  • If you prefer to roast a stuffed turkey: a stuffing recipe calling for 1 pound of bread is generally enough to stuff a 12- to 15-pound turkey. As an option, the following recipe could be used to stuff a turkey, with half going into the turkey and the other half baked in a casserole dish or smaller slow cooker.
  • When roasting stuffing inside a turkey, it is important for food safety for the temperature to read 165℉. However, when cooking in the slow cooker with no worry of drying out the turkey meat, I follow the guidelines for cakes and quick breads and look for an internal temperature of 205℉. This allows for stuffing that is moist and tender on the surface and inside but lightly crisp on the sides and bottom (where the stuffing comes into contact with the cooker).
  • The following stuffing recipe may be cut in half (and cooked in a smaller slow cooker or casserole dish) and variations abound. See recipe notes.

A note on gluten-free

  • My mom used to make one regular and one gluten-free stuffing until the non-gluten-free eaters started eating the gluten-free casserole, claiming they liked the texture better. (True story!) Both of us now use all gluten-free bread and everyone is happy. There is something about the structure of GF white bread that lends excellent texture to stuffing and similar recipes like bread pudding and overnight French toast, with no detectable “gluten-free” taste.
  • The GF brands we use are Three Bakers and Udi’s. Note that these loaves are often 12 ounces instead of 16 ounces, although larger loaves are sold in some stores. I’ve also mixed in leftover hot dog and hamburger rolls that I had in the freezer to total 2 pounds. The key is that they, too, are white bread.
SLOW COOKER STUFFING (with oven method) -Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Classic flavor will win you over, optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy! 

Slow Cooker Stuffing (with oven method)
Yield: 12 servings
Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Various options and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy!
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds hearty white bread, diced into ½-inch cubes (about 20 cups)*
  • 1 teaspoon EACH fresh black pepper, poultry seasoning, dried sage, dried thyme, dried marjoram (may sub ¾ teaspoon dried oregano for the marjoram)**
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 – 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided use
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter***
  • 3 cups diced yellow onion
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 275℉. Spread the bread cubes evenly over 2 large, rimmed baking sheets. Bake on separate oven racks for 45 minutes, give or take 5 minutes or so, or until the bread cubes are dried, stirring and rotating the baking sheets once or twice. Remove from oven and allow to cool. (See all prep-ahead tips, below.)
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the black pepper, poultry seasoning, sage, thyme, marjoram (or oregano) and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and then add 2 cups of the chicken broth, whisking until well blended. Set aside.
  4. Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery, and sauté until soft, about 8 to 12 minutes. In the final minute or so, stir in the dried herbs and seasonings along with the ½ cup chopped parsley. Remove from the heat.
  5. Transfer the dried bread cubes to a very large bowl. (Tip: the turkey roasting pan works well if you don’t have an extra-large bowl.) Pour the onion mixture over the bread cubes, scraping out all the buttery juices, and gently toss.
  6. Drizzle the chicken broth/egg mixture over top, and immediately toss to evenly coat. At this point you may drizzle in more broth if needed to just moisten bread. I add about ½ more. (Helpful hint: you don’t want the bread cubes to be saturated, otherwise the stuffing will end up soggy. The bread should hold its shape and doesn’t need to be moistened all the way through. Some broth will also pool at the bottom of the bowl and will soak in later.)
  7. Spray a 6-quart slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray or coat with olive oil, and then transfer the bread cube mixture into the cooker.
  8. Cover and cook on high heat 30 minutes, and then reduce the heat to low and cook 3 to 4 hours longer. Sprinkle top with fresh, minced parsley (about 1 to 2 tablespoons) and serve warm.
Notes

*It’s important to use a hearty white bread, like Pepperidge Farm (keep reading for foolproof GF suggestions). I often use primarily white sandwich bread – and I always include the crusts – and sometimes fill in with odds and ends of hot dog or other crusty rolls that I may have in my freezer. Some people swear by potato bread or corn bread, although I haven’t tested them with this recipe. Gluten-free bread works quite well, as long as you follow the all-white bread rule. Whole grain breads, whether GF or regular, tend to result in mushy stuffing. For those who’d like a specific brand to look for when buying gluten-free, I’ve had excellent results with Three Bakers and Udi’s.
**For the dried herbs in this recipe, you may use ground or leaves. When using ground, I use a fairly level teaspoon; when using leaves, I round the teaspoon. Alternatively, you may substitute a tablespoon or two of minced fresh herbs in place of the dried.
***For a dairy-free alternative, I recommend Earth Balance butter.

Pre-ahead options:
The bread cubes may be dried in the oven several days in advance, cooled completely and stored in large resealable bags or an airtight container.
The vegetable mixture may be sautéed 1-2 days in advance and transferred to an airtight container. (Be sure to include all the butter and juices.) Before stirring into the bread cubes, warm just enough to melt the butter and make it easier to incorporate.
The eggs may be whisked and combined with the 2 cups of broth, covered and refrigerated up to 1 day in advance.
The dried spices and seasoning may be mixed in a small bowl or jar up to a week or so in advance, and then covered and stored in a cool, dry place.

If you prefer a crunchy top layer: transfer the removable insert dish to the oven and broil for a couple of minutes, watching closely to avoid burning, until nicely toasted.

Conventional Oven Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350℉ and transfer the stuffing mixture to a casserole dish that has been coated with olive oil or nonstick spray. (You may use two smaller dishes if you don’t have one that’s big enough.) Cover with foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until hot. For a crispy top layer, remove the foil during the last 15 minutes of baking or place under the broiler briefly before serving.

Optional stuffing add-ins:
A few cloves of minced garlic may be added in the last minute or so of sautéing the vegetables.
Other complementary vegetable choices include leeks, mushrooms and carrots; as with the other vegetables, sauté before mixing into the bread cubes.
Cooked and crumbled sausage is a lovely addition. For this recipe, use up to 2 pounds (weight before cooking).
Chestnuts or other nuts such as walnuts, pecans or almonds may be added. Plan on 2 to 3 cups for this size recipe.
Dried fruit could also be added for those who enjoy. A cup or so of chopped dried apricots, cherries or cranberries is a good amount.
Some also enjoy oysters, minced giblets or fresh diced apples in their stuffing. Feel free to use this recipe as a framework for what your family enjoys.

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

SLOW COOKER STUFFING (with oven method) -Tender stuffing with crispy edges is 100% possible in a slow cooker, freeing up precious oven space. Classic flavor will win you over, optional add-ins and prep-ahead tips will keep everyone happy! 

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Comments

  1. Helen S.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
    I am doing something a little different this year by using Hawaiian rolls for the bread mixture. I will add the herbs, onions, celery and possibly dried apricots and pineapple juice.I’ll let you know how it turns out post-Thanksgiving!
    Your recipe sounds good and I appreciate that you included Udi’s bread for those who are gluten free.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Helen, That sounds so intriguing and I’m eager for your report. Thanks for your comment and Happy Thanksgiving!

      Reply
  2. jane link

    Hi Ann,
    We save our bread “ends” and use a variety of breads in our “filling”, using mostly white bread but also some whole wheat and I always have 3-4 slices of rye bread in the fix. We also mix the filling the day before and refrigerate it, seems to make the flavors really meld!
    Have a great Thanksgiving!
    Jane Link

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Jane, Thank you for your helpful comment. Stuffing is such a good way to use up bread odds and ends, and a little rye in the mix would be delightful. I think I will try mixing everything the night before when I make this again next week. I’ve always prepped the components in advance and then combined the day I cook it, but if the stuffing is more flavorful AND easier that way…!

      Reply
  3. Kim Crowe

    Hi Ann!

    Thank you for sharing your stuffing recipe– it was a hit today! I prepared it last evening using Pepperidge Farm white bread as you recommended and added a few slices of Maiers Italian Bread. I baked it in a conventional oven per your instructions. The seasonings were perfect!!

    Reply
  4. Terry Post author

    This was just delicious on our Thanksgiving table – so much so that I’m making again this weekend as a side to your slow roasted whole chicken. I’ll make the stuffing waffles later as I hope to have leftovers this time around!

    Reply