There's nothing wrong with plain 'ol regular stuffing, but if you're looking for a fun and simple twist (get it, a twist???) on a classic — it's time to give pretzel stuffing a try.
Because everything's better with pretzels.
Pretzel stuffing has the perfect pillowy soft, chewy stuffing texture thanks to rehydrated dried or day old pretzel pieces. It's satisfyingly crunchy thanks to crumbled sausage, whole grain mustard, and a sprinkling of pretzel salt across the top.
A stuffing made from dried or stale pretzels can more than stand on alone as dinner in and of itself. But it's even better with your classic Thanksgiving fixins like turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. You can even use it to make a small turkey and stuffing dinner!
Why you should make soft pretzel stuffing
If you're wondering how to turn slightly stale or day old pretzels into dinner, pretzel stuffing is the answer! Because you'll dry the pretzels out completely before rehydrating them with chicken stock, this recipe is perfect for using up slightly stale soft pretzels.
It's also just a fun addition to your Thanksgiving table.
And while this soft pretzel stuffing is great at Thanksgiving (my family requests it every year), it's also a great weeknight dinner. I've written the recipe quantities to make a single 8x8" or 9x9" square baking dish of pretzel stuffing, but you can easily scale it up for a bigger feast.
I wish I could take all the credit for this recipe, but it's really a recipe straight out of Jimmy's brain. The first time he made it was at his grandma's house in New Jersey; The Original Mart Pretzel is nearby, and it's a family tradition to stock up on bags full of their thick, twisted soft pretzels.
With more soft pretzels on hand than could be eaten in a day starting to harden and go stale, Jimmy gave them new life by tossing them with fresh herbs and chicken stock to make a salty, crunchy, deeply satisfying stuffing side dish. Voila! A new Thanksgiving tradition was born.
This soft pretzel stuffing uses a lot of the same ingredients you see in regular stuffing (or "dressing") recipes. It also requires just a few specialty ingredients unique to the pretzel-y bits that really make it stand out. Here's what you'll need:
- Soft pretzels - I used SuperPretzel soft pretzels for developing this recipe because they're available at most grocery stores. See substitutions for how to swap in other types of pretzels!
- Pretzel rolls - Squishy soft pretzel rolls add some textural variety to the stuffing, are super good at soaking up the chicken stock and herb flavors, and help bind the whole mixture together.
- Onion - White or yellow onion.
- Celery - Just one stalk of celery is fine.
- Carrot - Minced or grated on the large holes of a box grater if that's easier for you.
- Italian sausage - Hot or sweet, it's up to you. This adds some nice flavor and texture to the pretzel stuffing.
- Unsalted butter - I know 1 stick (8 tablespoon) butter might seem like a lot for this recipe, but it adds a ton of flavor and you need as much liquid as you can get to rehydrate your pretzel pieces. If you only have salted butter, reduce the amount of salt the recipe calls for.
- Parsley - Fresh parsley really brightens up this dish and adds a grassy flavor that helps cut through a lot of the saltiness elsewhere in the dish.
- Rosemary, Thyme, Sage - AKA the "poultry blend" packet of fresh herbs you can buy at most grocery stores. Fresh herbs work much better than dried ones for this stuffing. Mince them well.
- Whole grain mustard - What goes with pretzels? Mustard! I recommend using a whole grain mustard like Maille's "Old Style" mustard. The mustard seeds add a delightful crunchy texture and a bit of tangy-ness that compliments the herbs and salty topping perfectly.
- Chicken stock - I recommend using homemade chicken stock, which is super flavorful and has a thick, gelatinous consistency at room temperature, and turns into a rich liquid when heated.
- Egg - The egg binds the soft pretzel mixture together while it bakes.
- MSG - Yes, that MSG. Pretzel stuffing is so easy to accidentally over-salt because of the pretzel salt topping. MSG is a great low-sodium way to amp up the flavors without adding more salt.
- Pretzel salt - Most frozen soft pretzels come with a sachet of pretzel salt. See below for where else to buy it!
Making pretzel stuffing isn't hard, but some of the steps can be a bit tedious. I recommend drying the pretzels the night before you plan to make the stuffing. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.
- Dry out the pretzels and pretzel rolls. The best stuffing starts with day-old or slightly stale bread. Pretzel stuffing is no different. The best stuffing is also hand-torn, because the more rough edges you have in your stuffing mixture, the more interesting textures and edges you have for browning in the oven. Because pretzels have a smooth, shiny crust, you want to expose as much of that soft, absorbent interior as possible. Slice half of the pretzels in half like bagels, then tear them into bite-sized chunks. Tear the soft pretzel rolls into bite sized pieces. Arrange them all on a sheet pan and bake in a 250F degree oven for 1-2 hours, tossing every 15 minutes until completely dry.
- Prep the veggies. Finely dice the carrot, onion, and celery. One large carrot will be plenty, but if you want your carrot pieces really finely minced, you can chop up some of those bagged "shredded" carrot sticks. You don't want large carrot or onion chunks competing with the chonky pretzel pieces in the stuffing, so it's worth the time to get a nice mince or small dice here.
- Cook the sausage. Preheat a skillet, then add the butter. As soon as the butter melts, add the sausage and cook until browned, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break it into crumbles as it cooks.
- Add the veggies. Once the sausage has mostly cooked through, add the carrots, onion, and celery to the pan and continue cooking until the onions are translucent and golden in color. You don't want them to brown too much so adjust the heat as needed.
- Stir sausage and veggies into the pretzels. Add the veggie-and-sausage mixture to the bowl of dried pretzel pieces along with the chopped fresh herbs, MSG, salt, and pepper and mix to combine. Mix really well — you want the pretzel pieces to start absorbing liquid and flavor and for everything to be evenly distributed.
- Add egg, stock, and mustard. Start by adding 1 cup of stock along with 2 tablespoon whole grain mustard right into the bowl of stuffing. Adding them at the same time helps prevent the mustard from clumping together as you stir. In a large liquid measuring cup, beat together one egg with an additional 1½ cups of chicken stock. Then add that mixture to the stuffing and stir again to thoroughly combine.
- Hydrate pretzel mixture. Let the pretzel mixture sit for 15-20 minutes to rehydrate and absorb all the flavoring. If after 15-20 minutes, the pretzel pieces still seem hard and brittle, add an additional ½ cup stock, stir, and let sit a few minutes longer. You can let this sit for up to an hour, adding more stock if needed!
- Top with pretzel salt and bake. Sprinkle pretzel salt over top of the stuffing. It's potent stuff, so use less than you think you need! Loosely cover the baking dish with aluminum foil so it's easy to remove halfway through baking. It'll bake for about 40 minutes total. It's done when it's browned on top and the liquid has mostly absorbed or evaporated.
TIP: Pay close attention to the stock steps for hydrating the pretzels. The ratio of pretzel to stock is important. Since the size of your pretzels or pretzel buns may be different than the ones I used, the stock gets added in two parts. This gives you a chance to evaluate the mixture and decide just how much more it might need. Don't be afraid to add more if it needs it.
Stale vs dried pretzels
The best pretzels to use for this pretzel stuffing are ones that you dry yourself. But one or two day old slightly stale pretzels will absolutely work.
Stale pretzels are totally safe to eat as long as they've been stored properly and have no signs of spoilage (mold, etc). A stale pretzel will be hard and dry, almost brittle.
Even if the soft pretzels are a day or two old, you'll still want to dry them in the oven after tearing them up just to really make sure any trace bits of moisture are gone. Properly dried soft pretzel pieces should feel like croutons.
The only difference you might notice between pretzels that have been deliberately dried soon after baking and stale pretzels is in the taste. Stale food just has that day old flavor, you know? Luckily you add so much flavor when you rehydrate the pretzels that you really won't notice it.
Where to buy pretzel salt
What makes pretzel salt unique is its large, uniform, boxy crystal shape and bright white color. It's also known as "coarse food grade salt." If you're buying frozen soft pretzels, the box usually includes a packet of pretzel salt but if yours doesn't, you can buy pretzel salt at the following places:
- Pretzels and pretzel buns - You can use all pretzel buns, all soft pretzels, or even mix things up and use pretzel bagels if you want! If you're using pre-made soft pretzels (as opposed to frozen pretzels) remove as much salt as you can before slicing and drying them out. Aim for approximately 1 pound loosely packed torn pretzel pieces — rolls, bagels, or other brands of soft pretzels. All the other pretzel stuffing recipe measurements should remain the same, but you may need to adjust the amount of chicken stock needed and the amount of time needed to dry the pretzel pieces in the oven ahead of time.
- Pretzel salt - Try Maldon Flaky Sea Salt or Maldon Smoked Sea Salt. You could even get creative and use an everything bagel seasoning if you wanted to!
- Homemade chicken stock - Store bought chicken broth, bone broth, or even a chicken bouillon situation will work just fine. They're just not as flavorful and rich.
Recipe notes and tips
- To store, cover with foil or plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 5 days. To reheat, add a splash of stock, cover with foil, and bake in a 350°F oven for 10-20 minutes, depending on how much you're reheating.
- The pretzel stuffing in these photos is a 2X batch baked in a 9x13 ceramic cassrole dish.
- Bake the pretzels without salt on them if using frozen pretzels — you want to be able to control the amount of salt that's in this dish at the end when you sprinkle pretzel salt on top.
- For a precise measure of doneness, use an instant-read thermometer (I love my Thermapen!) to check the internal temp of the stuffing. When it hits 160°F it’s done.
- If you have the time, let the torn pretzel pieces sit out overnight to begin drying out.
Skip the sausage and use veggie stock instead of chicken stock!
I haven't tried it, so I don't know. You would need A LOT more pretzels. They're already dried, so just make sure they're well hydrated before you bake it, and then let me know how it turns out in the comments!
Yes, really! It brings that umami flavor to the pretzel stuffing without adding more salt to an already salt-heavy dish. The anti-MSG messaging many of us in the United States grew up with originated in a since-retracted letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine and is deeply rooted in anti-Asian xenophobia and racism.
In reality, MSG (monosodium glutamate) occurs naturally in foods like tomatoes, cheese, and soy extracts. If you've ever used "Accent!" seasoning, you've used MSG.
Read more: "How MSG Got A Bad Rap: Flawed Science And Xenophobia," "An MSG Convert Visits the Church of High Umami," and check out the work Know MSG is doing to correct this narrative and return MSG to its rightful place on the table.
It's best when made day of, but you can make it up to 3 days in advance. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out. To heat before serving, add a splash of chicken stock, cover loosely with foil, and pop in the oven at 350°F for 10-12 minutes or until warmed through.
Add a splash more chicken stock, cover loosely with foil, and pop it back in the oven at for a few more minutes
- 6 SuperPretzel soft pretzels
- 2 pretzel buns
- ½ onion (minced)
- 1 large celery stalk (minced)
- 1 large carrot (peeled and grated, or ⅓ cup shredded carrots chopped)
- 2 Italian sausages (casings removed)
- 4 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ¼ cup fresh parsley (minced)
- ½ tablespoon fresh rosemary (minced)
- ½ tablespoon fresh thyme (minced)
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage (minced)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
- 1½ cup chicken stock, divided (you may need up to ¼ cup more)
- 1 large egg
- 1 pinch MSG (optional)
- pretzel salt (for topping)
- Bake pretzels according to package instructions WITHOUT SALT. Cool completely.
- Preheat oven to 250°F. Slice pretzels in half like bagels, then tear into bite-sized chunks along with the pretzel rolls.Arrange in an even layer on a large sheet pan and bake for ~1 hour, tossing every 15 minutes until pretzels are completely dry, like croutons. Remove from the oven and place in a large mixing bowl.
- Increase oven temperature to 375°F.
- Heat pan over medium heat, then add butter. When butter melts, add the sausage and cook until browned, using a wooden spoon to break it into crumbles.
- When the sausage is mostly cooked through, add the carrots, onions, and celery. Sauté until onions are translucent and golden, but not brown or crispy.
- Add sausage mixture to the pretzel pieces along with parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage, MSG, salt, and pepper. Mix and stir until evenly combined.
- Add ¾ cup chicken stock and 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard to the pretzel mixture. Stir well until all the liquid has absorbed.
- In a small bowl beat together ¾ cup stock and 1 large egg. Add to pretzel mixture and stir again to combine and evenly distribute all the ingredients.
- Let mixture sit for 15-20 minutes. Check the pretzel pieces — if they’re still quite firm or have dry spots, add another ¼ cup chicken stock and mix again.Repeat as needed until all the pretzel pieces are hydrated.
- Grease or butter a casserole dish. Add the pretzel mixture in an even layer and sprinkle pretzel salt over the top.
- Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes at 375°F. Remove the foil, rotate the dish, and reduce oven temp to 350°F. Bake for another 20 minutes until deeply golden brown and crisp on top.If it seems dry, pour ¼ cup chicken stock over top and bake for another 5-8 minutes.
- Let rest for 10 mins before serving.
- A 1X portion will fill an 8x8" square baking dish. A 2X portion will fill a 9x13" rectangular casserole dish. 3X or more and you'll definitely want to break it up into a few baking dishes.
- For a precise measure of doneness, you can use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temp of the stuffing. It’s should be 160°F when it’s done.
- To make this vegetarian, use vegetarian stock instead of chicken stock and omit the sausage.
- If using a different brand of soft pretzels or different ratio of pretzel rolls and buns, aim for about 1 pound torn pretzel pieces. All the other measurements should remain the same, but you may need to adjust the amount of chicken stock needed and the amount of time needed to dry the pretzel pieces in the oven ahead of time.
This post was originally published on November 20, 2019.