Thanksgiving Bacon-Cornbread Stuffing

A holiday crowd-pleaser from Virginia’s BBQ Exchange

Photo: Courtesy of BBQ Exchange

Craig Hartman spent much of his career as a white-tablecloth chef, beloved for his truffle dinners at Clifton Inn and Keswick Hall, two of Charlottesville, Virginia’s toniest culinary destinations. Then, in 2009, a funny thing happened: At the top of his game, Hartman walked away to transform an old hardware store in nearby Gordonsville into a down-home barbecue joint. Now, while loyal customers swarm the BBQ Exchange’s front porch, he’s likely to be found out back amid a swirl of hickory smoke, happily manning several glowing cookers.

He hasn’t completely abandoned his chefy inclinations, though, especially around Thanksgiving. That’s when the restaurant accepts orders for cider-brined turkey and decidedly beyond-barbecue side dishes such as squash-apple bisque, bourbon-chocolate pecan pie, and especially bacon cornbread stuffing. “The stuffing is super tasty,” Hartman says. “We have people who order extra pans just so they can have more leftovers.” (Some of those people might insist that what they’re ordering is actually dressing, since it’s cooked in a pan outside the turkey, but Hartman leaves that debate to others.)

He developed the recipe with his love of Edna Lewis, the Southern foodways icon who was raised in the Orange County countryside just a few miles away, firmly in mind. “When I read her Taste of Country Cooking chapter ‘Morning After Hog Butchering Breakfast,’” says Hartman, “the cornbread recipe really stood out to me.”

Accordingly, the stuffing starts with that white cornmeal cornbread and then incorporates bacon and other ingredients in a manner Hartman hopes would have made Lewis proud. It certainly makes BBQ Exchange customers pleased to see the approach of Thanksgiving.



  • For the cornbread:

    • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter

    • 3 cups white cornmeal

    • 2 tsp. cream of tartar

    • 2 tsp. salt

    • 1 tsp. baking soda

    • 3 cups buttermilk

    • 4 large eggs, beaten

  • For the stuffing:

    • 1 lb. bacon, diced

    • 2 cups celery, diced

    • 2 cups sweet onion, diced

    • 2 cups mushrooms, diced

    • 2 tbsp. fresh sage, chiffonaded

    • 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

    • 2 cups turkey or chicken stock

    • 2 tbsp. butter, melted

    • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Make the cornbread: Preheat the oven to 450°F.

  2. Put the butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and place in the oven to melt. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the cornmeal with the cream of tartar, salt, and baking soda. Add the buttermilk and eggs and stir to mix.

  3. Remove the skillet from the oven and swirl to coat with melted butter. Pour excess butter into the batter and stir just until incorporated. Scrape the batter into the skillet and bake for about 35 minutes, or until crunchy around the edge and springy to the touch. Let cool.


  4. Make the stuffing: Break the cornbread into pieces and set out to dry overnight. Cut the dried cornbread into 1-inch cubes and toast in a 350°F oven for 7 minutes. Put into a large mixing bowl.

  5. Render the bacon in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until browned. Add the celery, onions, and mushrooms. Sauté until soft, and add to the cornbread. Add the fresh herbs and 1½ cups of the stock. Mix lightly until all the cornbread is moist but not mushy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with melted butter and add the stuffing, distributing evenly. Cover with foil. Bake in oven for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 12 more minutes. Remove and drizzle the remaining stock over the top of hot stuffing.