“Ow­ing to its French roots, [booyah] is fla­vored with fresh herbs.”

Modern Pioneer - - General -


Hail­ing from the up­per Mid­west, im­mi­grants from Bel­gium de­vel­oped booyah from the French word “bouil­lon.” Like most stews, booyah starts with a stock base. Tra­di­tional meats for the stew in­clude beef short ribs, chicken and of­ten pork.

Fresh lo­cal veg­eta­bles—peas, cel­ery, onions, car­rots, cab­bage, toma­toes, po­ta­toes and rutaba­gas—were added to the meat base. Ow­ing to its French roots, the stew is fla­vored with fresh herbs. Tra­di­tion­ally, the stew was cooked in a large booyah pot, of­ten hold­ing 30 gal­lons or more, over an open fire.

In­ter­est­ingly, the term “booyah” also de­scribes the so­cial event sur­round­ing the dish. These par­ties of­ten last days, while the stew takes as long as 36-48 hours to cook. Res­i­dents from around the area sup­ply pro­duce from their gar­dens or larders and take turns watch­ing over the fire as the stew slowly sim­mers.

Oc­to­ber is booyah-fes­ti­val sea­son through­out Wis­con­sin. Folks at many of these gath­er­ings cook pots of booyah up to 100 gal­lons in size, slow-sim­mered for a day or more, be­fore the fes­ti­val even be­gins.


Move a bit south from tra­di­tional booyah lo­cales and you find burgoo. Pop­u­lar in Ohio, Illi­nois and Ken­tucky, burgoo is an­other stew that’s pop­u­lar for large gath­er­ings. Tra­di­tional meats for burgoo in­cluded pork, mut­ton, chicken, rab­bit, veni­son and squir­rel. To­day, burgoo recipes of­ten omit the wild game, some might say to the fin­ished recipe’s detri­ment. Un­like some other re­gional stews, burgoo meats were of­ten slow-smoked over hick­ory be­fore be­ing added to the pot.

While the ori­gins of burgoo are murky at best, there’s a fairly re­li­able record of French chef Gus­tave Jaubert. Af­ter serv­ing Gen­eral John Hunt Mor­gan in the Civil War, Jaubert was hired as the com­pany cook for what to­day is Buffalo Trace Dis­tillery, then known as the Old

Fired Cop­per Dis­tillery. Jaubert’s fame quickly spread, and his burgoo came to be in high de­mand for large so­cial events.

One such event was cov­ered by the Louisville Courier-jour­nal and reprinted in The New York Times, where the recipe was de­scribed as con­tain­ing, “400 pounds of beef, six dozen chick­ens, four dozen rab­bits, thirty cans of toma­toes, twenty dozen cans of corn, fif­teen bushels of po­ta­toes, and five bushels of onions.”

The ar­ti­cle noted that Jaubert, as­sisted by 10 cooks, slow-sim­mered 1,000 gal­lons of burgoo over a pe­riod of days. The re­sult­ing burgoo was served along­side bar­be­cued meats, a tra­di­tion that lives on to­day in mul­ti­ple burgoo fes­ti­vals around the re­gion.

The Burgoo House still stands at Buffalo Trace, along with two of Jaubert’s large burgoo pots and a copy of Mas­ter Dis­tiller Al­bert Blan­ton’s fa­vorite burgoo recipe from the late1800s. In­ter­est­ingly, Blan­ton’s recipe in­cluded an as­tound­ing 26 in­gre­di­ents.

To­day, al­most all burgoo recipes con­tain smoked mut­ton. Re­gional ar­eas of Ken­tucky have be­come known for cook­ing the strongly fla­vored meat, and its gamy fla­vor has trans­ferred to the stew the area has per­fected.

Brunswick Stew

Head east and south from burgoo coun­try and you find Brunswick stew. Both Brunswick County, Vir­ginia, and Brunswick, Ge­or­gia, take credit for the dish’s in­ven­tion. While the Ge­or­gia ver­sion claims an ori­gin date of 1898, the Vir­ginia claim boasts an even ear­lier date of 1828 when it was first con­cocted at a hunt­ing camp. A third pos­si­ble be­gin­ning for Brunswick stew lies with the Na­tive Amer­i­cans of the re­gion, who were cook­ing and eat­ing a sim­i­lar stew of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents long be­fore the first Euro­pean set­tlers ar­rived.

Re­gard­less of its ori­gin, both stews are tomato-based, heavy on lima or but­ter beans, and both ver­sions started with wild game. The two stews dif­fer in the use of po­ta­toes. The North Carolina ver­sion uses po­ta­toes to thicken the stew, while the Ge­or­gia ver­sion is thin­ner. Along with its thick­ened base, the North Carolina recipe also uses smoked pork as the prin­ci­ple meat, lend­ing an over­all smok­ier fla­vor. Both ver­sions of­ten in­cor­po­rate beef, chicken or other meats.

Like burgoo and booyah, nu­mer­ous fes­ti­vals are held through­out both states each fall. Cook­ers for each fes­ti­val show up a day or two be­fore the start date to build fires and be­gin cook­ing the stews in gi­gan­tic cast-iron ket­tles.

Un­like the stews pop­u­lar in the north, Brunswick stew of­ten in­cor­po­rates okra. Re­gional veg­eta­bles like okra are one of the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics in the area-spe­cific stews of the United States.


Move south­west of the Brunswick stew area to the swamps of east Texas and Louisiana, and you find per­haps Amer­ica’s most well known re­gional stew. Born from a mix­ture of the French-her­itage Cre­ole and Ca­jun set­tlers of the area and their love of roux, and the na­tive Choctaws and their use of pow­dered filé (dried and ground sas­safras leaves), even the word “gumbo” is de­rived from the West African word for okra, a cen­tral in­gre­di­ent in many gumbo recipes.

Per­haps no other stew has as many vari­a­tions as gumbo. De­pend­ing on the cook, gumbo may con­tain ei­ther lo­cal meats or seafood. One thing all gumbo recipes share is a start with a dark roux, which is sim­ply a mix­ture of flour and fat or oil, cooked over low heat and con­stantly stirred un­til it be­comes a deep ma­hogany brown. Walk away while the roux cooks, and it can burn in­stantly.

Once the roux is fin­ished, the meat for gumbo can be seafood, wild game or sausage and chicken. Gen­er­ally, sausage can be added to any gumbo, but seafoods gen­er­ally aren’t mixed with other meats. The cook­ing liq­uid is also the cen­ter of some con­tro­versy. Some recipes call for toma­toes, while other gumbo cooks say stock is the only way to go, and a true gumbo cook would never use toma­toes.

Filé or okra can be used as a thick­ener. Other

recipes don’t call for an ad­di­tional thick­ener, sim­ply re­ly­ing on the flour from the roux to add body to the gumbo. Re­gard­less of the recipe, gum­bos are usu­ally served over a bowl of white rice.

The Pot

Since most of these re­gional stews were first de­signed to feed large gath­er­ings, they were ini­tially cooked in gi­ant iron ket­tles over open fires. While not many of us are feed­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple at a time these days, cast iron is still the way to go when it comes to cook­ing these dishes.

A Dutch oven holds enough to feed a large fam­ily or make plenty of left­overs to freeze for later. If your recipe con­tains lots of high-acid toma­toes, an enam­eled Dutch oven is best. Whether well-sea­soned cast iron or enam­el­coated, these pots will hold an even heat at low tem­per­a­tures over just about any heat source, from kitchen range to camp­fire.

Fine Dining

Mak­ing hearty and his­toric stews like the ones I’ve out­lined here is a great way to pre­serve cul­tural her­itage in our mod­ern so­ci­ety, and they taste phe­nom­e­nal, too. Try them; I be­lieve you’ll agree.

(op­po­site) A large pot of burgoo sim­mers slowly over an open fire. Long on toma­toes and veg­eta­bles, burgoo usu­ally con­tains a mix­ture of meats, in­clud­ing bar­be­cued mut­ton. PHOTO BY MARK MAESTLE

(be­low) Lo­cal pro­duce adds dis­tinc­tion to re­gional stew recipes through­out the United States .

(top) The Burgoo House at Buffalo Trace Dis­tillery still houses the two gi­ant, wood­fired burgoo pots that were used to feed the em­ploy­ees and dis­tillery guests.

PHOTO BY CH­ERYL PEND­LEY (be­low) Some claim that the first Brunswick stew was made on St. Si­mon Is­land, Ge­or­gia, in 1898.


(top) A cast-iron pot over an open fire is a clas­sic way to make any of these re­gional stews. The smoke helps fla­vor the stew, giv­ing it a more tra­di­tional taste ver­sus stew made on a cook­top. (be­low) Mark Maestle tends a pot of burgoo. The stew slowly sim­mers over an open fire for hours. PHOTO BY MARK MAESTLE

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