Kentucky Burgoo

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:


    1 cup Servings.

Appears in

Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking

Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking

By Craig Claiborne

Published 1987

  • About

Some people believe that the word burgoo is related to a mispronunciation of the word barbecue, and the dish is, of course, frequently cooked out of doors for one or another festival or political rally. But John Mariani, in The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, states that the word was known to British sailors in the mid-1700s as an oatmeal porridge, and that the name then was associated with the Turkish cracked-wheat product known as burghul or bulgur. He adds that around the turn of the century a so-called Kentucky burgoo king named James T. Looney was used to serving crowds of people numbering up to ten thousand.

This is the recipe of a friend of mine who told me that in making a burgoo, which is first cousin to a Louisiana gumbo, “It is customary to begin with chicken, then add to the kettle something that happens to run by—a squirrel, possum, or rabbit.” He added that nothing ran by when he made this version, so he added ham for depth of flavor.


  • 1 fowl (4½ to 5 pounds)
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 6 large ripe tomatoes, cut up
  • 2 medium-size onions, whole and unpeeled
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt, if desired
  • cups 100-proof bourbon
  • 2 chicken breasts, skinned, boned, and cut into large pieces
  • 1 cup diced country ham trimmings, optional
  • 2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen and thawed
  • 1 cup diced raw potatoes
  • 2 cups shelled fresh lima beans
  • cups okra, trimmed of stems and cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon filé powder, optional


  • Place the whole, cleaned fowl in a large stockpot with 3 quarts water and the beef stock. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, and skim off foam as it rises to the surface. When the broth is clear, add the tomatoes, onions, curry powder, pepper, and salt. Simmer gently but steadily, partly covered, for 2 hours.
  • Add 1 cup bourbon and simmer gently but steadily, partly covered, for 4 more hours.
  • Remove all the chicken. Trim off and discard skin and bones. Reserve the meat in large pieces.
  • Strain the soup, removing the onion skin and rubbing any remaining tomato and onion solids through a sieve into the broth. Cool completely, then skim fat from the surface.
  • Return the soup to a rinsed pot. Add the remaining ½ cup bourbon, the reserved cooked chicken, raw breast meat, ham, and all the vegetables. Simmer gently but steadily, partly covered, for 30 minutes. Adjust the seasonings. If you are using filé powder, add it to the hot soup as soon as it is removed from the heat. If filé has been added, the soup should not be reheated because it will become gummy, so do not add filé to any more burgoo than you expect to serve at one time.
  • Traditionally, burgoo is ladled into the mugs from which mint juleps are drunk, but any mugs or bowls can, of course, be substituted. Eat with spoons.