Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Burgoo, (Burr-GOO). Unless you’ve hung around Kentucky or folks therefrom, you’ve probably not been blessed with this spicy, thick, game laden stew. You shall be now.
French chef Gustave Jaubert, cooking for Confederate general John Hunt Morgan in 1860, is generally honored as the father of Burgoo. Some folks think that the name came from “Bird Stew” spoken in a thick French accent, since Jaubert’s first effort was reportedly made with blackbirds. After the war ended, the Buffalo Trace distillery hired Jaubert to cook for its employees, and in fact, a couple of his huge iron burgoo kettles still hang at the distillery.
While Jaubert prepared the goods in huge batches, you can do so in more manageable size.
There truly is no standardized Burgoo recipe. ‘Authentic’ and ‘genuine is kinda like chili; there as many recipes as there are cooks. Burgoo was made for game, and contains, to this day, anything from squirrel to game birds, though commercial outfits generally stick to beef, pork, chicken and mutton. Meats may be smoked or not as you see fit.
Vegetables are another free rein area; you can add as few or many as you like, which makes Burgoo making great for a hobo stew approach; have your guests bring a veggie and meat of choice and throw ’em all into the pot.
Finally, Burgoo should be nice and thick. Some folks use a roux, while others use day old bread or cornbread soaked in milk and crumbled, or even ground beans. Ours uses soup bones to thicken, which you should definitely try.
Many Burgoo cooks work in the order of cooking time needed, with the meats first, then the veggies, and finally the thickeners. There’s nothing wrong with throwing everything in at once if you like, either. As with all great stews, the longer and lower you cook, the better it gets.
Some folks really like stuff like cider vinegar, hot sauce, Worcestershire, or chili powder offered at table so they can doctor their own as they see fit. I’ll add that our cranberry BBQ sauce goes great here as well.
Cornbread, like our cheddar version, is the perfect side for Burgoo, along with plenty of nice, cold beer; look for a nice local pilsner or pale ale to cut the richness of the stew.
Here’s our take on a great Burgoo.
1 1/2 Pounds Meats (Venison, Game Birds, Elk, Bear, Moose, Hog, etc.)
2 Cups each Chicken & Beef Stock
2 beef or pork leg bones, with plenty of marrow
1 28 oz can Diced Tomatoes
1 28 oz can Tomato Purée
1 Can White Beans
2 large Red Potatoes
1 large Sweet Onion
2 Stalks Celery
1 Green Pepper
1 Cup Peas
1 Cup Green Beans
1 Cup Corn
3 Cloves Garlic
3/4 Cup Tomato Catsup
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
1/2 Cup Flour for coating
8 Cups Water
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to taste
You’re gonna need a BIG stock pot for this!
Make a nice mix of bird to other game as you see fit; feel free to use chicken, beef, or pork in the mix augmented with game if you wish. Cut all meat into bite sized pieces.
Put flour in a gallon ziplock bag, add meat and shake well to coat.
Add a few shakes of salt to the bottom of the stock pot over medium high heat. Add all the meat and brown evenly.
Add stock and tomatoes to meat and stir well.
Dice all whole veggies evenly, and mince the garlic. Frozen or canned is fine for the veggies that aren’t fresh; rinse the canned stuff thoroughly before adding.
Add water, then throw all the veggies into the pot and mix well.
Allow the stew to heat through; once it starts to boil, reduce heat so it’s just lightly simmering.
Add the catsup, Worcestershire, vinegar, cayenne, liquid smoke, and the bones, then stir well.
Leave uncovered and allow to simmer for at least 4 hours, (more is better); add water as needed throughout.
If you want things a bit thicker, soak a couple pieces of day old bread in milk for about 10 minutes, then wring it dry by hand, and crumble it into the stew and stir well.