A Brief History of a Great Kentucky Tradition

Along with country ham, Hot Browns, bourbon balls, and barbecue, burgoo is a dish long associated with culinary delight and good times in Kentucky. For way over a century after the first settlers moved into Kentucky, burgoo was an essential feature of all sorts of public gatherings – political rallies, church camp meetings, and such. During the last half of the 20th Century, the popularity of burgoo faded a bit, now this legendary dish is making a comeback due to the efforts of regional burgoomeisters like Goodwood Brewing Company’s Russ Kennedy and other traditional food enthusiasts. 

The true origins of burgoo are obscure – some trace the basic recipe all the way back to Wales. On the early Kentucky frontier, burgoo seems to have been the result of community efforts. Everybody brought to big events whatever meat they could provide – very often wild game such as venison, squirrel, wild turkey, quail, opossum, rabbit, and raccoon – and into huge iron pots of water it all went along with generous portions of whatever vegetables and seasonings might be at hand. This rich blend was cooked over open fires very slowly and stirred constantly until the meat nearly dissolved into the thick broth.

Over time, the ingredients of burgoo were tamed a bit. By the early 1900s, common recipes called for squirrel, quail, partridge, pheasant, turkey, corn, barley, tomatoes, flour, celery, turnips, butter, cream, and (no big surprise) bourbon whiskey. In the 1930s, “Burgoo King” Jim Looney was tossing beef, chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, and lots of other vegetables in his kettles and stirring the pots for fifteen to twenty hours. He only added a few dozen squirrels “in season.” Regardless of the contents, the cooking technique remained fairly constant, and burgoo was cooked up in truly enormous quantities. Legendary burgoo maker Gus Jaubert prepared 6000 gallons of burgoo for a Louisville Civil War veterans’ reunion in 1895.

If you are curious about the contents of Kentucky’s Best Burgoo – you will have to ask our burgoomeister yourself. But whatever you do, get yourself a big bowl and enjoy!