Stella’s Kentucky Burgoo Stew

The Kentucky Burgoo dish
Burgoo / Photo courtesy of Stella’s Kentucky Deli

Courtesy Lester Miller, chef, Stella’s Kentucky Deli, Lexington, KY

Once made from blackbirds, opossum, raccoons, squirrels or anything else you could find (hence its moniker, “roadkill stew”), this thick, spicy stew is as much a local staple as Bourbon or the Kentucky Derby. The town of Lawrenceburg, 25 miles west of Lexington, calls itself the “Burgoo Capital of the World,” and it hosts the Anderson County Burgoo Festival each September.

This recipe was adapted by Lester Miller from the one used in his kitchen at the beloved Stella’s Kentucky Deli in Lexington. He says that traditional burgoo is cooked outdoors over wood coals in massive pots for up to 24 hours.

“This is more of a road map than a specific route,” he says. “The low-and-slow process is more important than the particular ingredients used, as no two burgoo chefs in the Bluegrass make theirs with the same recipe. Lima beans, okra and mushrooms are common inclusions, as are fresh rosemary, oregano, thyme and other aromatics. Burgoo is also an ideal outlet for wild game such as venison, boar, duck or rabbit.”

Lexington, Kentucky Beyond Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ
  • ⅔ cup bacon grease, divided
  • 1½ pounds bone-in pork shoulder
  • 1½ pounds bone-in beef or lamb shoulder, or cross-cut shanks
  • 2 pounds skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • ⅔ cup flour
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 quarts chicken or beef stock
  • 2 large potatoes, scrubbed and diced
  • 1½ cups corn kernels
  • 1½ cups green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
Ingredients for Seasoning Mix
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat ⅓ cup bacon grease in heavy bottomed, large stockpot (at least 2 gallon) over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sear all sides of pork, beef and chicken. Set aside in bowl.

Reduce heat to medium, and add remaining bacon grease. When hot, add onion, garlic and celery. Stir vigorously. Cook until vegetables have softened and released a fair amount of moisture, about 10 minutes. Add flour, and stir vigorously to avoid sticking. After flour has incorporated into fats and cooked about 2 minutes, add tomatoes and stock.

Stir vigorously until bottom of pot is smooth and without trace of sticking. Once the liquid has incorporated, add meats. Fill pot with more stock or water to cover meat by 2 inches. Add seasoning mix. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until it boils.

Once the first bubbles emerge, reduce to low heat. Simmer for 3 hours. Stir frequently, and skim fat from surface. The meats should fall apart when pulled with tongs.

Remove meats to bowl. Add potatoes, corn and beans to pot.  Cook for 45 minutes, stirring regularly, or until potatoes are tender. While vegetables cook, pull meat from bones and shred or chop coarsely. Add meats to pot, and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with cornbread or cornmeal muffins. Serves 6–8.

Pair It

Kevin White 2015 En Hommage Syrah (Yakima Valley); 93 points, $28Editor’s Choice. This wine is 100% Syrah from Boushey, Olsen and Elephant Mountain vineyards. Alluring aromas of herb, blackberry, bramble, green olive, flower and smoked meat lead to a richly flavored palate that explodes with abundant savory, meaty flavors. It drinks like a charcuterie plate, with plenty of fresh herbs that round it out.

Published on September 13, 2017