Kentucky burgoo is a traditional stew made when communities come together to celebrate. “If it walked, crawled, or flew, it goes in burgoo.” That old adage once applied to this stew from Kentucky, originally made with an assortment of game and livestock cooked in giant cauldrons known as burgoo kettles. It’s a classic Southern stew, made in huge quantities over a smouldering fire, stirred by cooks using boat oars long enough to reach the bottoms of the pots. It would have been one of the dishes shared during the early runnings of the Kentucky Derby.
Brunswick stew and Wisconsin/Minnesota Booya are close relatives. The common ingredient in the original versions of Brunswick stew & Kentucky burgoo is squirrel. The unifying thread for all three “B” stews is a celebratory community feed built on pride with a generous side of “secret ingredient.”
“Some say burgoo originated in continental Europe and arrived on these shores in the nineteenth century with sailors from France and Belgium. They maintain that burgoo’s name resulted from a mispronunciation of the French word “burgout”, or perhaps, closely related to ragout, a red-hot vegetable/meat stew.
Old time ‘burgoomaster’ Jim Looney of Lexington, Kentucky, claimed that his burgoo predecessor, Colonel Gus Jaubart, introduced the stew to Kentucky around 1810, and that it was indeed a version of a stew fed to French sailors at sea. Looney claimed the original version dictated 800 pounds of lean beef, a dozen squirrels (provided they were in season) for every hundred gallons, 240 pounds of fat hens, plus a bunch of vegetables. Noted Kentucky historian Thomas Clark looked at burgoo’s beginnings a bit differently: ‘(Burgoo) originated back in the days when hunters counted up their day’s kill in the thousands of squirrels and when pigeons flew through the woods in veritable clouds and bear, deer, buffalo and hundreds of turkeys were available. The idea came from Virginia, where Brunswick stew was popular. Vegetables of all kinds were boiled along with the game meats, and the whole mas were highly seasoned with spices. This was a fine temptation with which to attract a crowd.’
Over the years, the recipe has been adapted to replace the game and reduce the quantity. This is just one of many respectable version out there, but venison is also acceptable to use.
- 2.5 lbs. pork loin roast
- 3.5 lbs. whole chicken
- 3 quarts water
- 4 lbs. ground beef
- 6 cups whole kernel corn frozen
- 5 cups peas frozen
- 5 cups lima beans frozen
- 3 cups cabbage chopped
- 3 cups russet potato diced
- 3 cups yellow onion chopped
- 1 bottle tomato or vegetable juice 32 ounces
- 28 oz crushed tomatoes undrained and chopped
- 2 cups okra cut and frozen
- 3 cups carrots diced
- 1 1/2 cups green bell pepper chopped
- 3/4 cup celery chopped
- 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley chopped
- 1 tbsp. crushed red pepper
- 1 tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. celery salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- Combine pork, chicken, and water in a large Dutch oven; bring to a boil over medium-high. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 2 hours.
- Remove meat, reserving cooking liquid in Dutch oven. Let meat cool about 15 minutes. Remove and discard bone from pork; shred pork. Shred chicken, discarding skin and bones. Refrigerate shredded chicken and pork in airtight containers.
- Brown one-third of ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high, stirring to crumble, until no longer pink, 6 to 7 minutes; drain. Transfer beef to a large bowl. Repeat procedure twice with remaining ground beef.
- Stir ground beef, corn, peas, lima beans, cabbage, potato, yellow onion, tomato juice, tomatoes, okra, carrots, green bell pepper, celery, parsley, red pepper, kosher salt, celery salt, and black pepper into reserved cooking liquid in Dutch oven.
- Bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring often, 2 hours, adding in shredded pork and chicken during last 15 minutes.