What Is Burgoo and How Do You Make It?

Updated: Feb. 09, 2024

A hearty regional stew, burgoo is chock full of various meats and lots of vegetables simmered long and slow for hours. Invite your friends: It’s meant to feed a crowd!

If you’ve ever spent time in and around Kentucky, especially during Derby time, there’s a chance you’ve tasted burgoo. The rich and hearty stew is one of the best Kentucky recipes and a regional specialty around the Bluegrass State and parts of Illinois and the Ohio River Valley. Learn all about the origins, ingredients and methods of making burgoo for your own Kentucky Derby party (or anytime!).

What is burgoo?

During the Kentucky Derby, you’ll see (and smell!) burgoo cooking in big kettles over open flames for community events, parties and fundraisers, with every cook touting their recipe as the best. There are more versions than anyone can count, with families and home cooks handing burgoo recipes through the generations.

Chock-full of meats, vegetables and spices, some race-goers insist on a bowl of burgoo and a glass of Kentucky bourbon before the big event for luck. But it’s also a year-round staple served at local barbecue joints throughout the state.

What ingredients are in burgoo?

Burgoo can be made with any combination of ingredients, but it’s usually at least three meats and plenty of vegetables like corn, potatoes and lima beans. Some Kentucky burgoo recipes call for cabbage, and some don’t (ours does). There might be a splash of whiskey or other secret ingredients. In general, it’s a good fridge-clearing stew you can eat for days.

At one time, huge community vats were made with ingredients brought by locals, which could be anything raised on the farm or killed in the wild—from chicken and mutton to rabbit, pheasant, squirrel and possum. Now you’re more likely to see Kentucky burgoo made with pork, beef and chicken, like the recipe we’re using here.

Where did burgoo come from?

Like other regional stews across America—including Brunswick stew in the South, booyah in the upper Midwest and New Orleans gumbo—the origin story of burgoo is rife with lore.

Some say it was an import from England in the 1800s; others point to a French chef named Gustave Jaubert as the originator sometime before the Civil War. The word “burgoo” has been documented as far back as the 18th century, possibly Welsh in origin. But it could also simply be a mispronunciation of “bird stew” or “barbecue.”

Anyway you stir it, burgoo is a delicious, rich, thick and soul-fulfilling meal. It takes time to cook, but after one bite you’ll see that it’s worth every minute.

How to Make Kentucky Burgoo

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  • 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder butt roast, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 celery ribs, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cartons (32 ounces each) reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2-1/2 cups frozen lima beans (about 12 ounces)
  • 2-1/2 cups frozen corn (about 12 ounces)
  • 2 cups finely chopped cabbage
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • Hot pepper sauce, optional


Step 1: Brown the meats and soften the vegetables

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In a large stockpot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Start with the pork, browning it on all sides in batches. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside, then repeat with the beef and chicken.

After browning the meat, in the same pot, heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion and green pepper. Cook and stir until tender, five to seven minutes. Add garlic and cook for one minute longer.

Step 2: Add broth and simmer

How To Make BurgooTMB Studio

Add the beef broth, stirring to loosen all the tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Then add the tomatoes, bay leaves, salt, thyme and black pepper. Return the meat to the pot and bring everything to a boil. Then reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer until the meat is very tender, about two hours.

Step 3: Shred the chicken

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Remove the chicken to a plate. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin and bones. Shred that tender meat into bite-size pieces and return to the pot.

Step 4: Add vegetables and finish the stew

How To Make BurgooTMB Studio

Add the potatoes, lima beans, corn and cabbage, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Discard bay leaves and stir in Worcestershire sauce and vinegar.

Step 5: Serve

Ladle the burgoo into deep bowls. Don’t forget the hot sauce (if you like), plus cornbread or crusty bread on the side.

Tips for Making Burgoo

What do you serve with burgoo?

This is a stick-to-your-ribs kind of stew that needs something for sopping up the delicious meats and vegetables. Cornbread, corn muffins and biscuits are the most traditional, but a good crusty bread works too.

Does burgoo make good leftovers?

Absolutely! It tastes even better the next day or two, too. And since just about every burgoo recipe makes a lot of servings, there’s a good chance you’ll have leftovers. Burgoo can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge for up to four days.

Can you freeze burgoo?

Burgoo can be stored in airtight containers in the freezer for four to six months. Reheat in a pot on the stove instead of the microwave.

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