It’s Time for the Derby, Part 2: Woohoo for Burgoo

By Gerry Fischer

Derby time has always been a huge event in Kentucky with parties and good things to eat. Burgoo, bar-b-que, and roast pork are standards, but, burgoo reigns as Kentucky’s king. What are the origins of this storied dish, and from whence did it come? In every culture there has always been a dish, to feed the multitudes, often stews. They were made in large kettles and ladled into bowls as soon as soon as it was ready. That’s the beauty of burgoo, you add whatever you had, to water, meat, vegetables, herbs and seasonings as needed. In Ireland and Scotland this dish was called, Irish or Mulligan Stew. In Spain it was known as Olla Podrida, in hunting camps it’s What’cha Got Stew, and Brunswick Stew in Alabama and Mississippi. I suppose some gumbo’s, are a Louisiana variation.

Each region added its common spices and vegetables as they came in season.

The name burgoo, likely originated from West Africa. In the African nation of Zimbabwe, the word for okra is “gombu.” This vegetable is a native staple of Africa. Its seeds and pods, were brought here by enslaved people. It grew well in the south but, its name became Americanized becoming “gumbo.” No gumbo is made without okra.

My quick recipe for Burgoo

This recipe will make about 2 ½ gallons or so, 24 servings but, if you want less or more proportionally reduce or increase the ingredient amounts. You will need a large stock pot, at least 3 or 4 gallons, a sharp butcher knife, cutting board, ladle, all ingredients, and several hours. Most any meat can go into this stew. This recipe can be made the day before or you can slow cook it outside overnight. Lots of fun for the guys and gals. It can be frozen in bags and used year-round. I can hear people complaining that several hours is not quick. Actually, it is, since “Burgoo proper”, takes 18 hours or so of slow cooking. I will guarantee you this will taste as good.


One 3 to 4 lb. Chicken (you can use a larger size, but at least 3 lb.)

1 ½ lb. lean stewing beef

1 ½ lb. pork shoulder (I use Boston Butt)

Here you can add a lb. or two of wild game, venison, turkey, squirrel, rabbit or turtle will fit right in. (I have found it best to keep that little secret to yourself)

7 quarts water (Note you can use canned stock, water or bouillon, but I don’t recommend it unless you want to thin the stew later in the cooking process)

5 cups fresh diced tomatoes (yes, you can use canned, I sometimes do)

2 cups fresh Lima Beans (this is a very important ingredient, frozen will also work)

1 diced hot-red pepper

4 diced green peppers, seeds and all but the stem

1 ½ to 2 cups diced onion

2 cups fresh carrots sliced or diced (I tried canned, and they don’t hold up well)

1 cup rough diced celery

2 cups fresh okra sliced

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce.

4 cups of fresh corn sliced from the cob. (nothing else works as well, but you can get by with frozen or canned)

Season to your taste with salt and pepper. (I use a little sage and sometimes a splash or two of Tobasco Sauce)

Boil the disjointed chicken in the stockpot and water, skin on, with one carrot and one or two stalks of celery cut in pieces, one medium onion quartered, 15 peppercorns and a pinch of salt. Bring the pot to a boil for at least an hour, before reducing the heat, then boil for two hours, or until the meat falls from the bone. Note: you will find it necessary to skim the fat from the surface of the water and discard. Let the broth cool and remove the chicken separating the meat and any remaining skin from the bones. After removing the onion carrot and celery pieces add the meat back to the pot, including the cubed beef and pork.

Bring the pot back to a boil for an hour, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, then add all the ingredients except the corn. Stir often. When the pork and beef begin to fall apart, with frequent stirring, the stew will thicken. Note, you will have to skim fat coming from the cubed meat and discard. Simmer the whole mixture for an hour over reduced heat. Add the corn and simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve in bowls over cornbread, biscuits, or any firm bread you like. Garnish with fresh parsley. This dish goes well with roast pork, bar-b-que, Derby pie and Mint Juleps. (See part 2, next week, with Derby coming early September we need to check our menu).

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