“…Who, excepting Kentuckians and their favored Southern friends and kinsmen, has ever really known the bliss of genuine burgoo…?” – from The Washington Post, June 6, 1906
Burgoo is a soup or stew made from meats and vegetables, somewhat of an offshoot, a bit of an imitator, and a close cousin to the Brunswick Stews of Virginia, Carolina and Georgia fame. It’s origins appear to be the heady frontier days of Kentucky, when hunters and trappers used whatever meats they had captured, trapped, or shot, vegetables from those same local regions, and combined it all in cast iron pots over campfires. Just as the people of the New England region love their chowders, Southerner’s love their Brunswick Stew, and Louisianians love their Gumbo, burgoo is a genuine Kentucky phenomenon and definitely a staple in that state’s claim to culinary fame. Over the years, genuine burgoo, even with all it’s iterations, has clearly become “Kentucky Burgoo,” and as Louisiana Gumbo is that state’s gastronomical delight, so too has Kentucky Burgoo come to be associated with the Bluegrass state, and it’s origins indelibly linked to its frontier history. Think “Daniel Boone cooks up a stew,” and you won’t be far from being accurate as to this wonderful and tasty stew’s origins.
Historically it was cooked outdoors in iron kettles over an open wood fire; cooking would take 12 hours or more; some of the older recipes attributed to famed Frenchman and Lexington, Kentucky chef Gus Jaubert and his buddy and fellow Lexington chef, J.T. Looney, called for 600 lbs of meat and 200 lbs of potatoes, which purportedly would serve about 10,000 people. Traditional burgoo was made using whatever meats and vegetables were available—typically, venison, squirrel, opossum, raccoon or game birds, and was often associated with autumn and the harvest season. Today, most cooks use a specific meat (or meats) in their recipes, usually pork, chicken, or mutton, which, along with the spices used, creates a distinct flavor unique to every batch. There is also a variety of vegetables like potatoes, corn, lima beans, tomatoes, or even okra…and although every kind of spice found in the kitchens of the world have found their way into this recipe, at the end of the day, salt & pepper rule! And, fortunately, today’s versions of this frontier-based epicurean delight are typically scaled down to family-sized recipes.
All of which simply serves to prove that recipes…especially those from “back in the day”…or from “days of old,” or from “yore,” or even from “Grandma’s pantry”…often have many iterations, modifications, adaptations, generational changes and so on. The “burgoo” you consume today may be quite different the the “burgoo” of one or two hundred years ago. But there is always the constant core element of all these kinds of recipes. They were founded on solid principles, often by hunters and pioneers, who used whatever ingredients were at hand, game or otherwise, and lovingly prepared by those chefs and cooks and ordinary people who just wanted to whip up something that was hearty and tasted good. I can guarantee that whether you use this particular recipe or one of the many variations that are available, you will end up with a superb, hearty, delicious, and satisfying stew.
As with a lot of recipes, this one is multi-generational with several iterations. Although this recipe produces a smaller quantity than the original version, you will still end up with a lot of stew.
Prep time: 15-30 minutes
Cook time: About 3-4 hours
Total Prep and cooking time about 4-5 hours.
Yield: About 10-12 servings
1 pound lean beaf, cubed
1 whole chicken, approx 3-4 pounds in size
3 cups water, plus more as needed
4 cups beef stock
1 cup peeled, washed & diced potatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced white onions
3 carrots, peeled & diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 cups frozen or canned corn
3 cans (14.5oz ea) diced tomatoes
6 stalks celery, chopped
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper, or to taste
1 1/2 tsps salt, or to taste
1 cup frozen butterbeans
1 cup fresh or frozen cut okra
1/8 cup lemon juice
1. Place beef, chicken, water and beef stock in large (at least 12-quart) stockpot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until meat is tender (about 45 min to 1 hr)
2. Remove chicken and allow meat to cool slightly before removing bones and returning chicken to pot.
3. Add one at a time the potatoes, garlic, onion, carrots, peppers, corn, celery, tomatoes and their juices, the spices, salt and pepper, stirring with each addition to incorporate ingredients.
4. Cook over medium-low heat 2 hrs, stirring occasionally so that contents don’t stick to bottom of pot.
5. Monitor amount of liquid in pot and add more water if stew becomes too dry.
6. Tumble in the butter beans, okra & lemon juice, stir together, and taste to determine if additional salt or pepper is needed.
7. Simmer another hour or two, stirring, tasting seasonings, and adding more water as needed.
8. When finished, stew will be thick and rich in flavor.
Adapted from a recipe published in the food section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2008, which is loosely based upon one found in the late John Edgerton’s “Southern Food.” Edgerton adapted his recipe from Kentucky newspaper columnist James Tandy Ellis‘ “Steps for 1-1/2 Gallons of Burgoo,” which appears to be replicated here. Ellis’s recipe was learned from famed Lexington Kentucky chefs, Gus Jaubert and J.T. Looney.
Bon Appetit, Y’all!