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Kentucky burgoo served with various side dishes
Place of originNorth America, Great Britain
Region or stateKentucky, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia
Main ingredientsMeat (pork, chicken, or mutton)

Burgoo is a stew, similar to Irish or Mulligan stew, often served with cornbread or corn muffins that originated in Kentucky. It is often prepared communally as a social gathering. It is popular as the basis for civic fundraisers in the Upland South.


The term is of uncertain origin, possibly from the combination of the Welsh words for "yeast" and "cabbage".[1] Oxford English Dictionary lists the origin as "Arabic: būrgu̇l cooked, parched, and crushed wheat, ultimately [from] Turkish bulgur".[2]


The first OED reference in English is from 1743 in J. Isham Observ. Hudsons Bay, defined as "a soup or stew made with a variety of meat and vegetables, used especially at outdoor feasts. North American." A 1753 reference from Chambers's Cycl. Suppl. reads "Burgoo, a sea-faring dish", likely with associations to the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy (United Kingdom). An 1863 reference to G. A. Sala, Strange Adventures Capt. Dangerous (II.i.15)' specifies meat as an ingredient: "[He] had the best Beef and Burgoo at the Skipper's table."[3]


Traditional burgoo was made using whatever meats and vegetables were available—sometimes including venison, squirrel, opossum, raccoon, or even game birds—and was often associated with autumn and the harvest season. Today, local barbecue restaurants use a specific meat in their recipes, usually pork, chicken, or mutton, which along with the spices used, creates a flavor unique to each restaurant.

A typical burgoo is a combination of meats and vegetables: Common meats are pork, chicken, beef, and/or mutton, often hickory-smoked, but other meats are seen occasionally. Common vegetables are lima beans, corn, okra, tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes. Typically, since burgoo is a slow-cooked dish, the starch from the added vegetables results in thickening of the stew. A thickening agent, such as cornmeal, ground beans, whole wheat, or potato starch, can be used when cooked in a nontraditional way. In addition, soup bone stocks can be added for taste and thickening.

The ingredients are combined in order of cooking time required, with meat first, vegetables next, and thickening agents as necessary. A spoon reportedly can stand up in a good burgoo. Cider vinegar, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or chili powder are common condiments.

Regional popularity

Cooking burgoo in Kentucky often serves as a communal effort at social event in which each attendee brings one or more ingredients. In Kentucky and surrounding states, such as Indiana, burgoo is often used for school fundraising. This has been claimed as an invention of the family of Ollie Beard, a former Major League Baseball player.[4]

Many places hold great pride in their burgoos. It is a common feature in local events. The village of Arenzville, Illinois, asserts itself as the home of the world's best burgoo and holds a yearly burgoo festival,[5] as do Chandlerville, Illinois,[6] in Cass County and Utica, Illinois, in LaSalle County. Several cities claim to be the burgoo capital of the world, including Lawrenceburg, Kentucky,[7] Owensboro, Kentucky,[8] and Franklin, Illinois.[9] In Brighton, Illinois, a local traditional burgoo is prepared and served annually at the village's summer festival, the Betsey Ann Picnic.[10] At the Kentucky Derby, Burgoo is often served and is considered an iconic dish.[11]

See also


  1. ^ "burgoo". Wiktionary. Retrieved 2019-03-30.
  2. ^ "burgoo". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. ^ "burgoo". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  4. ^ Nemec, Davis (1994). The Beer And Whiskey League: The Illustrated History of the American Association--Baseball's Renegade Major League. Lyons and Burford. p. 178. ISBN 1-59228-188-5.
  5. ^ "Arenzville, IL - Home of the World's Best Burgoo". Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  6. ^ "Chandlerville Burgoo, Illinois". Facebook. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  7. ^ Canning Homemade. "Kentucky Burgoo - Canning a Crazy Soup!". Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  8. ^ "Burgoo: A Kentucky Specialty". One Sixty K. Archived from the original on 26 February 2021. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  9. ^ "Franklin, Illinois - Franklin History Book - Burgoo". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  10. ^ "Betsey Ann Picnic". Village of Brighton Illinois. 2019-10-07. Retrieved 2020-06-16.
  11. ^ "Burgoo and the Kentucky Derby History". 3 May 2018.