Kentucky Burgoo

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    6 to 8


Appears in

The Glory of Southern Cooking

The Glory of Southern Cooking

By James Villas

Published 2007

  • About

“No, no, no, that’s all wrong,” exclaimed a local at a Kentucky Derby party I attended in Louisville when I began telling how I make burgoo and failed to mention pork and veal shank, chopped cabbage, okra, and a slew of seasonings. Of course, Kentuckians are as sensitive about their burgoo as Virginians are about their Brunswick stew and Louisianians their jambalaya. It’s said that more than one political election has been lost in Kentucky because a candidate served some corrupt version of this sacred stew at a rally. Nobody yet knows the derivation of the stew’s name—a mispronunciation of barbecue or bird stew?—but the word appeared in print as early as 1750, and, ever since, burgoo has been Kentucky’s unofficial state dish, prepared at times for literally thousands of people. I do have a so-called authentic recipe, once printed in the Louisville Courier-Journal, but being a Carolina Tarheel, I’ll stick with this same burgoo I’ve been stewing up for a mere eight to ten guests for at least three decades. (If I find some beautiful fresh okra, I’ll also throw that in the pot.)


  • One 4- to 5-pound stewing hen, cut into serving pieces
  • 2 pounds beef shank, trimmed of excess fat
  • pounds boneless lamb shoulder or shank, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 medium fresh hot red chile pepper, seeded
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 quarts water
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, scraped and cut into rounds
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin slices
  • 5 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, with the juice retained
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • ½ pound green beans, cut in half
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped


In a large, heavy pot, combine the chicken, beef shank, lamb, chile pepper, salt and pepper, and water and bring to a boil, skimming any foam from the top. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer till the meats are almost tender, 2 to 2½ hours. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meats to a cutting board and discard the pepper. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 hour longer, adding a little more water if the liquid looks too thick.

Remove and discard the skin and bones from the chicken and cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Remove the beef from the bone, discard the bone, and cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Cut the lamb into bite-size pieces. Return all the meats to the pot and stir well. Return the stew to a simmer, cover, and cook till the meats are very tender, 30 to 45 minutes.