In some households, the Thanksgiving menu is carved in stone from top to bottom, and its comforting familiarity is part of the holiday's appeal. Other families welcome a fresh perspective on the traditional dishes. Your turkey stuffing is often the easiest part of the meal to tweak when you want a change of pace.
We've scoured the internet to offer up this list of alternative turkey stuffing recipe ideas, ranging from uber-traditional — if you're just starting out, and don't have a good recipe yet — to decidedly unconventional. Several also are, or can be, gluten-free if that's an issue for someone at your table. Most of these recipes lean heavily on pantry staples you already have on hand, so they should add no more than $5 or $10 to your holiday grocery budget. The right cheap stuffing is just one of many ways to save money on your Thanksgiving dinner.
1. Sage Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Fresh sage — $1.98/0.66 oz
This recipe is sheer culinary bedrock, a classic stuffing that will appeal to even hard-core traditionalists. If you're putting the stuffing inside the bird, fill the cavity immediately before the turkey goes into the oven. It should be hot and fresh-made when it goes in, and pack the cavity loosely so there's room for air to circulate. Want to change things up a bit? Replace the sage with a lesser-known herb, summer savory. Its taste recalls thyme and sage, but with a unique peppery note all its own.
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2. Cranberry Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Dried cranberries — $3.16/12 oz
Cranberries make a welcome addition to muffins and cakes because their vivid color and tart fruitiness bring everything around them to life. That same rule holds true at the Thanksgiving table, where cranberry sauce cuts the richness of the turkey and its sides. If you want to double down on cranberry goodness, try this simple stuffing recipe with dried cranberries. It's even better if you add chopped fresh cranberries to the skillet while you're cooking the onions and celery.
3. Potato and Onion Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Potatoes — $0.75/lb
If there's any ingredient more frugal than leftover bread, it would have to be potatoes. They're surprisingly good as the base for turkey dressing, partly because they're moister than the usual bread cubes and don't need as much help from the other ingredients. There's still some bread in this recipe, but just enough to act as a binder and hold everything together.
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4. Steak Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Steak — $6.79/lb
A lot of stuffing recipes call for savory ingredients such as sausage or bacon to complement the flavor of the turkey itself, so why not steak? Admittedly it costs more than sausage, so this is one of the less frugal options. But if you've gotten a good price on steak recently — or have some left over from another meal — it's an intriguingly different turkey stuffing.
5. Chestnut Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Chestnuts — $2.68/2.82 oz
This is another old-school classic recipe, augmenting the usual cubes of bread with the distinctive texture and mellow flavor of chestnuts. Chestnuts are pricey during most of the year but some retailer in your area is almost certain to offer a good price on them now, while they're in season and in demand. If not, allow a bit of extra time and order them online.
6. Oyster Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Oysters — $8.97/8 oz
This one may sound odd if you haven't grown up with it, but it's very traditional in certain parts of the country and hey, don't knock the recipe until you've tried it. If you ask for them ahead of time at your local seafood vendor, you can usually buy already-shucked oysters for less than the cost of oysters in the shell. This will still be one of the less frugal options on our list, whatever you pay for the oysters, but it's well worth the price.
7. Savory Custard Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Eggs — $1.42/doz
Most bread-based stuffings are moistened so they'll hold together, but this creative variation on the theme takes things to a whole different level. It mixes the bread, herbs and aromatic ingredients with turkey stock and beaten eggs to make a richly savory casserole right in the bird (or in a dish beside it, if you prefer). The cooking juices from the turkey infuse the custard with their flavor, and the result is a moist and deeply tasty riff on traditional dressing.
8. Cornbread Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Cornbread mix — $0.47/8.5 oz box
Cornbread stuffing is just as traditional in the South as the sage-and-onion version everywhere else, and deservedly so: It's really, really tasty. You don't need to have a time-honored family cornbread recipe to make this. A boxed mix is perfectly fine and dirt cheap. The flavor comes largely from the things you add to the cornbread, so starting from scratch doesn't really make that much difference. Tip: For a gluten-free version, pick an old-school Southern cornbread recipe without wheat flour.
9. Tortilla Chip Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Tortilla chips — $3.98/18 oz bag
If you want a stuffing recipe to grab the attention of your younger diners, this one might just do it. Like the more traditional cornbread stuffing, this one loads your bird with the sweet and mellow flavor of corn. But that corn comes in the form of tortilla chips. They're moistened and flavored like any other stuffing, but you can always crush a few extra chips to scatter over the top as an eye-catching garnish when you bring it to the table.
10. Skirlie (Scottish Oat Stuffing)
- Key ingredient: Steel-cut oats — $3.83/24 oz
Whole-grain stuffings are a popular alternative if you want to get away from bread. Skirlie, the Scottish oat-based stuffing, is one you can be pretty sure your guests haven't had before. It's not as odd as it sounds. While oats are typically breakfast food on this side of the Atlantic, they also work as a creamy, risotto-style dish, and that's skirlie in a nutshell. The traditional Scots version is often very simply seasoned, but if you prefer you can Americanize it with familiar Thanksgiving flavors.
11. Kale and Sausage Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Italian sausage — $3.33/19 oz
Nothing says your stuffing has to be loaded up with stodgy carbohydrates, traditional though that approach might be. If you have family members who are low-carb eaters, or who need gluten-free options, consider this kale and sausage stuffing. The nuts, kale and raisins lighten and moisten the sausage, while the sausage itself infuses your bird with its flavors.
12. Wild Rice Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Wild rice — $4.86/lb
The dramatic appearance and distinctive taste of wild rice make it a good complement to birds such as turkey and duck, which have an assertive flavor of their own. This recipe mixes the wild rice with brown rice, which has the dual advantage of moderating the sometimes-overpowering taste of the wild rice and simultaneously lowering your cost. If necessary, you can adjust the ratio of wild and brown rice to make the dish fit what's left of your Thanksgiving budget.
13. Walnut, Kale and Quinoa Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Quinoa — $4.86/lb
Stuffing is an easy place to conceal something healthy among the holiday's usual rich and heavy dishes. You'll get away with it, too, because if your stuffing tastes good enough nobody will care. A prime example is this walnut, kale and quinoa stuffing, with an appealing mixture of gluten-free ingredients. You can even bake some of it on the side if you want to, so any vegetarians among the holiday guests can enjoy it.
14. Root Vegetable Stuffing
- Key ingredient: Sweet potatoes — $1.98/3 lbs
Mellow root vegetables are among autumn's signature flavors, and you probably already have plans to incorporate them into your holiday meal. Since you're buying them anyway, why not incorporate them into your turkey stuffing? This recipe uses turnip and sweet potatoes as its base, keeping the mixture entirely grain-free, but feel free to substitute other root vegetables or winter squash instead.
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15. Herb- and Lemon-Stuffed Turkey
- Key ingredient: Fresh sage — $1.98/0.66 oz
This last recipe isn't for a stuffing at all, in the conventional sense. Instead, it's simply a handful of fresh herbs and lemon zest stuffed into the turkey, where they'll perfume its flesh with their fresh, bright flavors. Part of the herb mixture goes into the cavity, while the rest is packed under the skin for added savory punch. Feel free to mix things up with your own favorite herbs and spices, used in the same way.