Barbecue Digest: Getting squirrelly over Brunswick stew
June 26th, 2012
12:00 PM ET
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Editor's note: All summer long, the Southern Foodways Alliance will be delving deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. Dig in.

Last week I wrote about hash, the classic South Carolina barbecue side dish, so it seems only fitting this week to address Brunswick stew, the staple side of North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.

Two different Brunswick Counties - one in Georgia and one in Virginia - claim to have originated the famous stew. The Georgia case includes a very physical piece of evidence: a historical monument outside the town of Brunswick with a 25-gallon iron pot on a stone base bearing the inscription: "In this pot the first Brunswick Stew was made on St. Simon Isle, July 2, 1898."

It's a nice touch, but by 1898, Brunswick stew had been served in Virginia for over half a century. It appears in newspaper accounts of Virginia barbecues as far back as 1849, when the Alexandria Gazette described it as "a genuine South-side dish, composed of squirrels, chicken, a little bacon, and corn and tomatoes, ad libitum."

More on Georgia-style Brunswick stew

Brunswick stew seems to have been created in the 1820s by James Matthews, a noted squirrel hunter (what a distinction!) in Brunswick County, VA. Matthews cooked his squirrels in water with bacon and onions until the flesh separated from the bones, which he skimmed out before finishing the stew with butter and breadcrumbs.

After his death, Matthews was succeeded by a series of local stew masters, and over time they added tomato, onion, corn, and potatoes to the recipe. By the 1840s the stew was being served at barbecues throughout the state. It soon snuck into North Carolina and, eventually, to Georgia.

Sorry, Peach State. History is on the side of the Virginians on this one.

Today's installment comes courtesy of Robert Moss, a food writer and restaurant critic for the Charleston City Paper and author of "Barbecue: the History of an American Institution". Follow him on Twitter at @mossr.

Delve into more barbecue goodness from the Southern Foodways Alliance blog

Previously - Bar-B-Que buffet and Give squirrel a whirl and Burgoo with a smidge of squirrel

soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. Thinking things through

    Squirrel is good food. Brunswick stew is overdoing a good meat source. Small ones are best roasted, and larger ones are good in stews, but the recipes I've seen - admittedly not all that are available, I am sure - render the meat down to a tasteless residue of past flavor. Squirrel is not THAT tough! Cooked right, it rivals other sources of mammalian meat.

    June 27, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • What?

      Squirrel is like any other meat. There can be tremendous variation from animal to animal. I killed a squirrel when I was a teenager that was muscled like no other I had ever seen, and I really was looking forward to having the 'extra' meat. That squirrel remains, to this day, by far the toughest meat I ever tried to eat in my life, and I'm past 50 now. Leather couldn't possibly be any tougher than that squirrel was – he must have been 10 years old.

      June 28, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  2. Hypatia

    Only meal I had in Colonial Williamsburg that made me puke.

    June 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  3. Rick

    Wallace s Bar Be Que in Austell Ga had damn fine stew
    Was grateful since I'm from Carolina centric Augusta, and we only have hash

    June 27, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  4. Sydney

    Not to nit pick, but Georgia's Brunswick is a city, not a county. Brunswick (and Saint Simons) are Glynn County.

    June 27, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Sydney

      insert an in between are and Glynn!

      June 27, 2012 at 1:13 am |
  5. Southernbybirthnorthernbychoice

    Those who decry squirrel or pigeon as "gross" or unfit are products of this infantalized culture of the present. Read a little history and then actually have a real experience or two. Eating these animals was what fueled the folks who were busy establishing this country. Go ahead and eat your antibiotic fed, hormone injected, pink slime added-to garbage that you've been convinced is what real food should taste like. Meanwhile , I and my family will continue to supplement our larder with clean living wild animals which taste far better and are far healthier than the crap you are eating. Bon appetit!

    June 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  6. ScuriusMortis

    Preferred ingredients:
    Dead squirrel
    Garbage bag

    June 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  7. South

    The article has nothing to do with the South and the North. Unless you Northerners are just looking to get your stuck up ace's kicked.

    June 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Springsgranny

      Are you still fighting the war? I don't feel comfortable in the South except in areas that are more transient. Came from NY and went to school in Ft Lauderdale in the 50's and was told with attitude "we do it this way, in the South" Whoa! Got my only traffic ticket (with NY plates) in VA. Had my only accident (a truck rearended me while I was stopped at a light) in Charlotte NC. The 19 year old who hit me, had no license, no ins and I wasn't able to collect even though a policeman was at the scene and I had a witness. I was told by the Motor Vehicle Bureau in Charlotte "Y'all are welcome to come down and sue" Thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather live where people aren't out for revenge for something that happened decades ago! Aside from have a very bad SOUTHERN they say!

      June 27, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  8. Garry

    Squirrel is to bony..grew up on squirrel dumplings and was introduced to Brunswick stew a few years ago...but with chicken..NOT squirrel

    June 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  9. Joe

    Biggest problem with eating squirrels is lead from the shot you used to shoot them with. Got to make sure you use 100% steel shot.

    June 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Richp

      Shotgun for squirrel ??? no, that's what 22s are for.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Lee

      Use a sling shot. Makes less noise for the neighbors to complain about, plus less chance of richottes hitting anyone.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • vet4life63

      I just use a .22 head shot.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  10. Richp

    I love gray squirrel, with butter and onions, green peppers, salt pepper on a bed of noodles.

    June 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Joe

      Leeks instead of the green onions.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  11. Peaceful Christian

    Americans are rednecks.
    I thought only Asians eat dogs and rats.

    June 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • razmataz6523

      Nothing was said about dogs and rats, the article was about squirrels, pay attention, Opie!

      June 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Peaceful Christian

      Squirrels are just cuter rats.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
      • LoneStar

        One needn't be a 'redneck' to enjoy different types of cuisine!

        June 26, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
        • fintastic

          Human flesh! yum yum!!

          June 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Zebula

      Agreed, PC, Americans (particularly southerners?) ARE rednecks! Why is it necessary to eat squirrel? How's that go with favre beans and a nice chianti?

      June 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • eso

      Well Obama tells in his book about eating dog and he's not Asian.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • vet4life63

      You must be priveleged. some poor people in the south grew up on the stuff. If you knew the story behind the food that you go to the store and buy,you'd start hunting squirrel too. much better for you, much cleaner, no chemical implants, no pesticides and on and on. The FDA allows a certain % of bugs to be in your cereals and peanut butter, so you HAVE eaten worse.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • WhatNow

      Peaceful, I and many people grew up eating squirrel, rabbits, deer, quail and dove. The meat is leaner and healthier than most things you can buy in the stores. As for your Asian comment, shame on you. Many, Asian cultures do not believe in wasting food. They eat everything. There is nothing wrong with that. At least most Asian food is real as opposed to the science experiments that we call food today.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  12. Honeybee

    It takes a hard hearted person to shoot such an endearing little creature!

    June 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • TXH1953

      When you grow up hungry, then you can make that determination.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • razmataz6523

      But they taste so yummy!!! you've prob'ly never had rabbit stew before eother, huh?

      June 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • razmataz6523

      But they taste so yummy!!! Rabbit stew is awful tasty as well, yum, yum!!!

      June 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Smitty49

      The only difference between a rat & a squirrel is that bushy tail.

      So does that bushy tail make a difference? You bet it does! That's the flavor indicator.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • fintastic

      Some people enjoy killing just for the fun of it.... not for the food.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Jaque Spaghetti

      Says the fool who probably buys meat from supermarkets that comes from animals that get gutted alive. Hunting is 1000x more "humane" than buying meat from a supermarket.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Walker

      Bambi tastes good. Thumper tastes good. Rocky tastes good. So does Bullwinkle. Must be cool sitting up on the pedestal.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • yoder

      'bout as hard as fleecing Mary's little lamb for Easter dinner.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
      • AGeek

        wait .. is that an euphemism? please let it be...

        June 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Texas Rancher

      If you had over $3000 dollars of repairs to a vehicle and over $1500 to another where a squirrel had gone under the hood and destroyed the wiring, then maybe they are not so cute any longer. Squirrel pie sounds far too good for the vermin.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  13. hecep

    Those two Brunswick counties can pound sand. It was my great great great great great great grandfather who made the biggest contribution to the recipe. (signed: Squiggy the Squirrel)

    June 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  14. the I am

    Gray over squirrel yuuumy

    June 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  15. sam

    What wine goes well with squirrel?

    June 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Chmee

      Mad Dog 20/20.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
      • BytraWatches


        June 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Joe

      A rough chianti, or an earthy Argentinian shiraz.


      June 26, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Junior

      A fine Georgia red

      June 27, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  16. Chmee

    I used to eat squirrels and rabbits when I was a kid. They're quite good. But Brunswick stew is not. I never liked it and still don't.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • TXH1953


      Floured and pan fried.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Joe

      Agree as well. For starters, I don't eat corn in anything. But I can make a killer squirrel stew.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
      • AGeek

        Is that a killer stew from squirrel, or a stew made from killer squirrels?

        June 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  17. laterlady

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but apart from cows, isn't the squirrel the only other confirmed source of humans contracting Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, aka Mad Cow Disease? I seem to recall reading an article about it some years back; seems the squirrel hunters in the backwoods of West Va or some such place were diagnosed and the source was tracked to eating 'squirrel brains' or some other part of the animal.

    That possibility is enough for me to say 'no thank you' when offered a mess of squirrel; Stewed, poached, baked, steamed, fried or pickled. I'd rather have the chicken. You never know who a squirrel has been associating with.

    Cheekly little devils... they'll get their revenge on man yet, eh? Gotta love them!

    June 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Joe

      I think you're talking about deer.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • What?

      Not really. Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD) is the name given to the human form of that particular TSE, and has been known for decades. It primarily affects older people in their 60's or beyond. There was a study several years ago that found that a number of CJD patients had also made a habit of consuming squirrel brains. Nothing in the way of a causal relationship was established, and there was no relationship between eating any other part of the squirrel and developing CJD, if memory serves me correctly.

      The human disease that has been associated with BSE has been deemed a 'variant' of the "traditional" CJD, and is called either vCJD or nvCJD, depending on who's talking (or writing). This disease affects primarily younger adults, and the symptoms, while similar, aren't exactly the same as CJD.

      June 27, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  18. Junior

    The best brunswick stew also has pulled pork in it.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Zebula

      Sounds like t squirrel's really just a novelty. Might as well forgo the squirrel altogether.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  19. RodRoderick

    and here I thought Brunswick stew was boston butt in a bbq style sauce... hmmm

    June 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  20. RatPeopleEatRodents

    Only the lowest form of human life eat rodents: Southerners!

    June 26, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Chmee

      You probably eat chicken abortions (eggs) so S_T_F_U

      June 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
      • Tim

        You sound like the complete fool you are. Go back to sleep and do something useful for all of us.

        June 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Ecc 7:17

      Oh you ignorant fool. You don't know anything.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Tim

      I could not agree with you more. The lowest form of human being eats a rodent. The most diseased, disgusting animals on earth.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
      • Texan

        Chickens are the only animals who eat their own S***!.....I'd eat a Squirrel any day

        June 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
        • Joe

          To be fair, rabbits eat their own poo as well.

          June 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
        • Kat Kinsman

          Joe, if we're gonna get technical about it, rabbits eat their cecals, not fecals, so while it *does* come out of the same place, it's not poop.

          Weirdly, I wrote about that last week:

          June 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • fintastic

      Duh! let's kill us some hairy rats..... killing animals is fun!

      June 26, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • vet4life63

      What you don't want to eat your kin? You sound like a stuck up priveleged, RAT.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  21. JustinS

    I like squirrel, with biscuits, mustard and french fried taters. mmmmmmm

    June 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  22. Erika

    So Brunswick stew seems to be kind of like Burgoo without the squirrel. Then again, Burgoo can have just about anything you want to toss in there, also like you can do with jambalaya (although I cook mine without a bunch of extra crap). Many towns claim they invented Burgoo and that theirs is the best. Its cooked outside in places like the City park by Lion's Clubs and Jay-Cees. Plus, isn't Brunswick a city in Georgia rather than a county?

    June 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  23. gaucho420

    Swap the meat for something non-squirrel and its probably good! However, judging by the ingredients lists, it sounds like a rather common stew that can be found anywhere in the world.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  24. PERK

    If the economy gets any worse I may be eating squires:)

    June 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • H. Lecter

      Yes, squires are good, they tend to be rather plump and succulent, and are excellent with some fava beans and nice chianti. Don't care for squirrel, though.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Dover

      Republicans. Can't spell and will never admit that the economy is actually getting better. Unemployment is dropping, the housing market is improving, we are extricating ourselves from Bush's expensive wars.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  25. Engineer

    Attention to the author, the TOWN is called Brunswick, in Georgia, not the county (Brunswick, GA is in Glynn County Georgia.). Did the editor just not look at this article before posting?

    June 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  26. Elizabeth

    If people have no other sources of protein, squirrel, and even the ancient Roman delicacy: mice, could be eaten. However, there are more people with allergies to these meats than one might realize. And if you need any medicine that is made using mice (and that includes some cancer drugs), you might have a terrible reaction if you have been eating these foods. There are parts of the country with such a poor diet that squirrel is a much better option than no squirrel; eating meat sources prevents some serious vitamin B deficiencies for example that can cause dementia, but if you have the option to eat protein without eating squirrel, you might want to avoid it.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  27. saudiwoof

    Good eating stewed, fried or smothered in gravy with biscuits and fried corn on the side.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  28. Why Not?

    Who wouldn't love a nice succulent chunk of squirrel served in a savory sauce?

    June 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  29. Shootmyownfood

    Mmmmmmmm. Squirrel.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  30. jbrockwell

    What a nice surprise to see Brunswick Stew on - I'm from Brunswick County, VA but do not live there anymore. The debate over which Brunswick is the rightful home of the stew has been hotly contested between the two localities for quite some time– and of course, we from Virginia believe we created it. It's been a fun part of our heritage, bringing us regional and national media attention, which is always nice for such a small community. Brunswick Stew is only sold in quarts, freshly cooked, by our local fire departments and civic clubs, made by the official Stewmasters. If you ever are driving through southside Virginia on Interstate 85 or 95, make a pit stop for a bowl - and FYI, it isn't made with squirrel anymore– it's now chicken! :)

    June 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Anthony

      I've have eaten squirrel. It's tough. I imagine that's why the old stewmasters boiiled the squirrels till the meat fell off the bones. But without the squirrel, isn't Brunswick Stew just chicken soup?

      June 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  31. anon

    The squirrel IS cute and all, but it makes perfectly good sense to eat them. They are in abundance, and their diet consists of nuts. Sounds like a clean animal to me; alot cleaner then pig.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  32. muckle

    Is it just me or is there a dude front middle in a dress in that picture?...not that there's anything wrong with that.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Ibrahimovich

      I think that is an apron

      June 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
      • Ibrahimovich

        Or a hairy lady

        June 26, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Grace K.

      He's wearing an apron, not that there's anything wrong with that.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Joe Bob

      Yep he be waring a dres and a holdin dat fellers hand nix to im. You recun they be kin?

      June 27, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  33. auntieotter

    So, is Squirrel Mulligan an offshoot of Brunswick Stew? When and where did Mulligan originate?

    June 26, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  34. 9Edge1st

    My cat loves squirrels too

    June 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  35. PulTab

    Coming next week, Opossum with collard greens.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • anon

      Collard greens are healthy. Nothing wrong with those, but possum is too greasy.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  36. blah9999

    I have caught (and disposed of) many a squirrel during the winter months as they were gnawing on the wooden beams in my house. Maybe cooking them up might not be a bad idea.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  37. jbrockwell

    What a fun surprise to see Brunswick Stew mentioned here – I'm from Brunswick County, Virginia, though I do not live there anymore. The debate over who invented Brunswick Stew has been quite the hotly contested issue between both Brunswicks - and even my boyfriend's father claims that his hometown in North Carolina first created it! It's only sold by the quart, made fresh, by local fire departments and civic clubs, and only made by official Stewmasters - you have to be a Brunswick County native in order to hold such a title. It's a fun part of our heritage, something that has indeed brought regional and national attention to our little community. So if you are ever driving on Hwy 58, or Interstate 85, make a pit stop in our town and buy a bowl - and FYI, it's not made with squirrels anymore, just chicken! :)

    June 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  38. mark0706

    Smithfield's Chicken 'N BAR-B-Q in eastern NC has the best brunswick stew

    June 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  39. SeeBee

    I'm confused about how "Matthews cooked his squirrels in water with bacon and onions ..." and then " ... over time they added tomato, onion ..."

    Did they add more onions?

    (Squirrel doesn't taste like chicken. And I like it in a sandwich rather than a stew.)

    June 26, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  40. John

    I don't see what the story is here? There's squirrel meat in the stew. So? If cooked's perfectly fine to eat. Wouldn't be my first choice as a main course but in a stew....not bad at all. Most wouldn't even know what they're eating. Nothing new or ground breaking here.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • JP

      The story isn't about how to cook the squirrel. It's about where it originated from. Georgia or Virginia...

      June 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • fintastic

      Must be a slow news day.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  41. AndriconBoy

    And this is the part where someone says, “Eww! Squirrel!? What kind of redneck would eat a tree rat?” as they continue to eat bacon – which comes from an animal that rolls in and will eat its own feces.

    Then you have hunter/outdoorsman who replies to belittle everyone who has not eaten a “Moses’ Ark” worth of different animals in their life just because they have not eaten as many different meats as they have.

    And lastly, you’re going to get the people who have eaten squirrel and try to make themself sound worldly and well cultured by telling you all the other meats they have eaten in exotic dishes throughout the country and rest of the world.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • John

      Then there's the common sense reply that wonders what the big deal is here and also wonders why you try to predict other replys instead of offering one of your OWN?

      June 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Yakoo

      Did you mean 'Noah's Ark'? ...not too sure but I dont think Moses had an ark.

      June 26, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • AndriconBoy

      I was trying to sound all redneck-like, thus the quotes.

      Humor fail on my part. :(

      June 26, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
      • biggal195

        Well, actually, Moses did have an ark, but it was a different kind. ;)

        June 26, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Dover

      And then there is the type that have nothing to add so they look down their noses and people that actually contribute content and then pigeonhole them into categories.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  42. SouthernbythegraceofGod

    Why oh why do reporters always make silly mistakes. The "Brunswick" in Georgia is not a county. It's a city in Glynn county. I grew up on St. Simons Island and my mom's Brunswick stew recipe is by far the best I've ever had. In fact, I have some in my freezer right now. I don't use squirrel though cuz then my kids wouldn't eat it!

    June 26, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  43. Jack OShyte

    It appears the author is upset because somebody ate a squirrel. I wonder what he eats himself.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • t3chsupport

      Which author would that be? Looks like this article was more about who was the first to make Brunswick stew.

      June 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  44. M.E.

    Little more explanation for those of us north of the Mason Dixon please?

    June 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • CatSh

      Here in the South, a favorite group picnic involves barbecue. Pork that has been slow-cooked over a grill marrinated in a sauce. The two main camps are the tomato-based and the vinegar-based barbecue sauces. There's a lively competition regarding the best sauce. One classic side-dish is Brunswick Stew. The contents vary, but a purist insists it must contain squirrel. In the South we have an abundance of grey squirrels. After they trash your bird feeders and chew into your attic, you are more than willing to eat a few if nothing more than to cut down the population. The meat doesn't taste bad at al, but it's very lean and is best stewed.

      June 26, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  45. lindaluttrell

    Leave my cute little "tree rats" outta the stew!

    June 26, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
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