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Burgoo: Celebrating the History of Bold Flavors, Big Pots, and the Kentucky Derby

A Kentucky Derby tradition: a hearty bowl of Bugoo Stew full of meat, potatoes, carrots and herbs

Keeping A Kentucky Tradition Alive

Burgoo Recipe Courtesy of Lehmans

Introduction to Burgoo

Burgoo stew, deeply embedded in Kentucky’s culinary heritage, embodies the historical spirit of the region. Originating as a survival dish for early settlers like the renowned Daniel Boone, it was originally made with any available game, such as squirrel, rabbit, or possum, combined with vegetables like corn, potatoes, and lima beans. Over time, this dish evolved to incorporate various leftover meats and vegetables, making it a versatile and economical stew.

Burgoo’s Role in Owensboro

In Owensboro, Kentucky, also known as the burgoo capital of the world, this stew is more than just a meal; it’s a significant part of the community’s identity and economic life. Local establishments like the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn serve burgoo all year round, and the dish is a focal point of the annual International Bar-B-Q Festival. However, despite its local popularity, the allure of burgoo is waning in other regions as franchise restaurants overshadow local culinary traditions, raising concerns about the fading of this unique American culinary heritage.

Burgoo at the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby, often called “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” also celebrates this traditional stew. During the Derby, burgoo becomes as central as the event’s official drink, the mint julep. Served in large pots that simmer over open flames, the stew enhances the festive atmosphere, welcoming guests with its hearty aroma and fostering a sense of community.

A large kettle over an open fire with hot steam emitting as people ladle out burgoo stew

Preserving Burgoo’s Legacy

The versatility and rich flavor of burgoo, often enhanced by a secret ingredient like brown sugar or hot sauce, make it a favorite at such prestigious events. As the Derby highlights the best of horse racing, burgoo showcases the best of Kentucky’s culinary traditions, offering a glimpse into the state’s rustic past with every bite. However, with dwindling interest among younger generations, the challenge of preserving this culinary tradition grows, underscoring the broader struggle to maintain cultural heritage amid contemporary changes.

Burgoo Stew Recipe: A Hearty Kentucky Tradition


  • Meats:
    • 2 pounds of chicken breast
    • 2 pounds roast beef
    • 2 pounds steak or sausage
  • Vegetables:
    • 3 medium carrots, chopped
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 celery ribs, chopped
    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 1 large green pepper, chopped
    • 2 medium potatoes, diced
    • 2 cups corn
    • 2 cups lima beans
    • 2 cups finely chopped cabbage (optional)
  • Liquids and Seasonings:
    • 64 oz. beef broth
    • 28 oz. crushed tomatoes
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
    • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    • 3 bay leaves


  1. Prepare the Ingredients:
    • Dice and chop all the meats and vegetables. For a deeper flavor, brown the meats in a skillet over medium-high heat with olive oil until they are nicely seared.
  2. Sauté the Vegetables:
    • In the same pan, sauté the garlic, onions, celery, and green pepper until soft and translucent, adding more oil if needed.
  3. Combine and Cook:
    • Transfer the browned meats and sautéed vegetables to a large pot. Add the diced potatoes, corn, lima beans, and optional cabbage.
    • Pour in the beef broth and crushed tomatoes. Stir in salt, thyme, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and bay leaves.
    • Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for at least two hours. The longer it simmers, the better the flavors will meld together.
  4. Serve:
    • Remove the bay leaves before serving. Serve hot with a side of cornbread or biscuits for a complete meal.


  • Customizable Ingredients: Feel free to substitute any meats or vegetables based on what you have on hand or your family’s preferences. Burgoo is traditionally made with whatever is available, making it perfect for using leftovers.
  • Cooking Tip: The key to a great burgoo is giving it enough time to simmer. This enhances the flavors and tenderizes all the ingredients, making for a rich and satisfying stew.

This traditional Kentucky burgoo stew recipe brings a taste of Southern hospitality right into your kitchen. Whether for a family dinner or a larger gathering, it’s a perfect dish to warm up and fill up your guests!

For more delicious recipes, visit Compass Ohio Cuisine.

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