Burgoo for a Kentucky Christmas


It’s Christmas morning in Kentucky and I have burgoo simmering on the stove–my first attempt.  I don’t think it’s traditionally served at Christmas, but it’s famously served at the Kentucky Derby, Keeneland and other iconic Kentucky events.  Sounds like a special occasion dish to me!

I looked at a lot of burgoo recipes online and ended up cobbling together the elements that worked for me.  Apparently authentic burgoo should be made in large quantities in a huge cast iron kettle over an open fire, but I just made a big family-sized pot of it on my kitchen stove.

cast iron kettle_waveland_august 2014_2

A typical cast iron pot used for burgoo. This one is outside the slave quarters at Waveland, Lexington.

“If gumbo is the national stew of Cajun country, burgoo is the stew of Kentucky,” Ronni Lundy asserts in her book Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes, and Honest Fried Chicken. Because the stew is made in many different ways with a variety of ingredients, the “Burgoo Song” by Robert Myles claims, “You can toss in almost anything that ever walked or flew.” Many early recipes for burgoo include squirrel in addition to chicken, beef, and pork….

Burgoo makers agree

• Burgoo should be made in stages: cook the meat first, and then add the vegetables.
• No less than 4—6 hours should be devoted to making burgoo. Some recipes call for a 24-hour cooking period.
• Burgoo should contain more than one meat.
• Burgoo should be prepared outdoors over an open fire.


I’d only eaten burgoo one time before this, at Woodshed Pit Bar-B-Que & Restaurant in Hopkinsville in western Kentucky.  It was pretty amazing:  slightly sweet with shredded beef brisket and ground beef and all the usual vegetables.  I immediately thought, “I want to make this!”  It was served with corn muffins and delicious homemade Chess Pie.



Cooking purists should cover their eyes and skip over the next part.  😉  Since it was my first time and I wasn’t sure what constituted a “good” burgoo recipe, I started with a packet mix from Lexington’s Flag Fork Farms.  You can  find it in Lexington at Good Foods Coop and Liquor Barn and in Berea at the Kentucky Artisan Center.  It includes dried beans, vegetables and herbs, which they hand mix and package.  I wish it had specified what herbs, but I’ll figure it out.  I did spot a bay leaf.  😉

Here’s Flag Fork Farm’s teaser:

Since frontier days “Burgoo” has been cooked in large black kettles over an open fire utilizing whatever vegetables, meat & game were available.  Traditionally served at horse races, political rallies & other social functions with corn bread, iced tea & a slice of pie for dessert, it makes a hearty meal for any occasion!

Cast iron kettle at the Waveland slave quarters, Lexington, Kentucky

A typical kettle. Waveland Historic Site.

Some of the vegetables that I used were from the freezer, but, hey, I wanted to get the burgoo on the stove and sit down with my morning coffee  And, really, a stew is all about using whatever is at hand and clearing out the fridge, right?!  I used speckled butter beans, corn, green beans, peas, carrots, jalapenos, tomatoes and onions.

For the meats, I wanted to have at least three varieties, so I chose beef stew meat and ground beef, as well as some smoked pulled chicken from City Barbeque in Lexington.  The meats should be cooked and shredded before adding to the vegetables.


All those wonderful ingredients are tossed into the stew pot and left to simmer for 2 hours or so.  Whatever it takes.  The smell, of course, is lovely.

This recipe for Kentucky Burgoo from  Simply Recipes seems pretty representative and “serves a small army. Or 12-16.”  You can easily adjust it to suit your needs.  

20150920_210024Burgoo is traditionally served with cornbread, and I cheated a bit on this, too.  The best cornbread I’ve ever had is one I make myself using Fleischmann’s Simply Homemade Cornbread Baking Mix–seriously, it’s the best.  I “clabber” the milk using lemon juice and I also add about a cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese, so it’s a tender, moist cornbread.  You can also add some whole kernel corn.


They say that burgoo is “just a stew” if you can’t stand a spoon in it.   If so, my burgoo was a success!  I’d heard that it’s even better the second day and I won’t argue with that either.  My burgoo couldn’t have been better if I’d been making it for years.  🙂


Even better the 2nd day and the spoon does, indeed, stand up in the pot!


5 thoughts on “Burgoo for a Kentucky Christmas

  1. I don’t even like meat, and I’m hungry reading about this kettle dish. I can visualize easily the men bringing home whatever they’d snared and shot, skinning and cleaning it, dumping it in the pot, while the women and children scavenged for edible greens, roots and nuts. It must have felt like a filling, nutritious feast back then. Your photos and description made me want a bowl. Now, what’s a chess pie?


  2. LOL. Chess pie dates back to the same time as burgoo, so it’s a traditional southern pie much like buttermilk pie, except chess pie also has cornmeal. Or I suppose you could liken it to a pecan pie without the pecans (and made with sugar rather than corn syrup). So rich, so delicious! You’ll often find it offered at restaurants, here at least. I used to make it back in Kansas.


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