What is a Burgoo?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Since the 1700s, burgoo has been a favorite type of meal in the United States for many people. A stew or porridge, its components and cooking methods vary depending on the region where it is served. A thick, spicy food inspired by Irish Mulligan stew, it is usually made from a large variety of vegetables, meats, and spices. Burgoo is often served during outdoor events, such as barbecues, family reunions, and picnics.

Boiled eggs may be served with burgoo.
Boiled eggs may be served with burgoo.

Also known as burgout or sailor's stew, this meal was once a thin porridge or gruel used as a food source on ships by sailors. Sailors would make the meal out of whatever catch they had for the day along with any herbs and spices on board. Some ship chefs may have also added alcohol to the stew.

Burgoo is one of the most versatile stews. Tradition dictates that no two cooks can make the same version of the meal. Cooks can prepare the soup with any items they have on hand. The meat in the stew can range from chicken to pork to sheep to venison, and any vegetables and stock can be added to make the flavorful broth. Salt and pepper are always added to burgoo, along with any other spices that the chef prefers.

Corn, potatoes, and tomatoes are the most common vegetables associated with this stew. Onions, celery, and other crunchy vegetables are also popular additions. Any other vegetables preferred, such as okra, carrots, peas, or bell peppers, can be included. For the soup's broth, chicken or beef stock may be used or combined. Vegetable stock is another option.

For vegetarian-based stews, vegan meat alternatives may be used as a protein source. Beans are also often included in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes. To cook this stew, combine any meats or meat alternatives, stocks, vegetables, and herbs preferred and simmer for at least two hours over a stove top.

Barbecued mutton, or sheep, is often served with the dish. Burgoo is a popular dish in the town of Owensboro, located in the American state of Kentucky, which known as the barbecue capital of the world. As such, other traditional barbecue fixings are also often served with the stew. These can include potato salad, cole slaw, corn on the cob, boiled eggs, barbecued or baked beans, baked potatoes or French fries, and any other traditional Western picnic foods.

In addition to stews and porridges, this term can describe other foods. When molasses and hardtack, a type of cracker, are mixed together and cooked, the result can be called burgoo. When people attend a picnic or fish fry where burgoo porridge or stew is served, the event may also be referred to as a burgoo.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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