Originally published on 25 October 2020 (hence the pandemic reference), this brief burgoo primer is reprinted here today as a prelude to the forthcoming 2nd annual Burgoo Bash at Against the Grain on Saturday, March 18th at 3:00 p.m.

It’s a pro-am cook-off aimed at bringing out the best amateur and professional burgoo makers in the region, about which I’ll have more to say tomorrow. 

Today’s Jeopardy! category is “Indigenous Stews.”

In sourdough baking, a living culture of yeast is refreshed daily, living from loaf to loaf, and sometimes from generation to generation. For Kentucky “burgoomeisters” like Russ (Kennedy), culture is transmitted from batch to batch. It’s a culture not of yeast, but of storytelling, memory and community, reminding us that we are bound to one another—bound not only to those in the present but also to those who came before us and to those who will come after.

In a delightful essay at Kentucky Monthly, Joel Sams focuses on burgoo, which should be considered as much a part of the state’s legacy of edibles and potables as bourbon.

Russ claims to be retired, but don’t let him fool you. His various hobbies, side jobs and volunteer projects amount to at least a full-time gig—not the least of which is Kentucky’s Best Burgoo, LLC. With help from longtime friend David Snyder, Russ supplies the traditional Kentucky dish to the Firehouse Sandwich Shop at Buffalo Trace Distillery and Staxx BBQ in Frankfort, in addition to cooking burgoo at about eight events each year. Kentucky’s Best Burgoo LLC lived up to its name in 2019, when it was named the best in Kentucky in the USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice contest. 

A quick search yielded déjà vu, as well as a burgoo recipe, courtesy of our own Ron Mikulak right here in 2015 at F&D.

Burgoo is among those regional dishes as legendary as cassoulet, cioppino, Brunswick and Mulligatawny stews, slumgullion and gumbo. These hearty, single-bowl meals date back centuries in some cases, varying with each generation and relocation and spurring heated debates about “authentic” recipes, even though the provenance of all such “recipes” is clear: All of these dishes surely began as communal efforts, composed of whatever might be available in local larders.

Burgoo — A Kentucky Original

Ron’s recipe feeds 10-15, perhaps an excessive number during these pandemic times in the absence of forethought for social distancing. However, if the acreage is lacking, just scale it down for family dining and purposeful leftovers.

Cover photo credit: Kentucky’s Best Burgoo LLC.