Barbecue Digest: Burgoo who?
September 27th, 2012
11:30 AM ET
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Editor's note: All summer long, the Southern Foodways Alliance delved deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. Dig in.

For years, the history of barbecue has been shrouded in misty myths and tall tales, from angels delivering sauce recipes in dreams to convoluted explanations for the origins of barbecue terminology. A few weeks ago my fellow blogger Daniel Vaughn dug into the spelling and origins of the word “barbecue” itself, including the oft-repeated claim that the word comes from the French phrase barbe a queue, meaning “beard to tail”, a shorthand for cooking a whole hog. The Oxford English Dictionary, in what ranks as one of the all-time gems of lexicographical disdain, sniffs this derivation away as “an absurd conjecture suggested merely by the sound of the word.”

Similarly absurd conjectures surround burgoo, the signature stew from Kentucky that often accompanies barbecue. The most-repeated account of its origins involves a Civil War soldier named Gus Jaubert creating a stew in a pinch as a way to serve blackbirds, the only meat his unit could find. Depending on the account, Jaubert either had a thick French accent or a harelip (or both), so when he announced his “blackbird stew,” it came out “burgoo.”

It’s a cute story, but facts get in the way. Gus Jaubert was a real person, the undisputed “Burgoo King” of Kentucky in the late 19th century. His parents were French immigrants, but Jaubert himself was born in New York and raised in Kentucky, so he was unlikely to have had a foreign accent. By his own account, his famous stew was something he learned from other barbecue men after the Civil War was over.

In a newspaper interview, Jaubert explained that burgoo originated as a Welsh stew in the British maritime service and was brought by sailors to Virginia. Originally it was made from a shank of beef, chickens, corn, tomatoes, onions, and bacon, but he omitted the bacon, increased the beef and chicken, and added potatoes to thicken it up.

No blackbirds required.

Is your stomach rumbling for burgoo? Here's our recipe - with or without the traditional squirrel

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 - Getting squirrelly over Brunswick stew and How to spot a great barbecue joint

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Krandal

    Another day, another BBQ article. You'd think its the only way people eat.

    October 1, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  2. Kiko

    It reminds me of the myth surrounding chili. Mexican vaqueros the original cowboys always carried a small sack of beans and chilies for flavoring and would add meat or chicken rarely available on the trail. They also carried dry cinnamon sticks called canela. They were often derided for their use of these ancient Mexican staples but Euro American cowboys adopted these foods and later took it as their own calling it simply chili for the spicy heated flavor French immigrants from Acadia were introduced to chilies by Mexicans in the then Spanish colony of Louisiana who preferred Them dried and then ground and called it cayenne. In Mexican cooking today chili powder and chili paste bricks are still used .People must realize that Mexicans are an ancient people of the Americas. They domesticated corn 9,000 years ago

    October 1, 2012 at 3:55 am |
  3. Kathryn

    Burgoo is found year-round in Owensboro KY, where mutton reigns as the meat most used for Barbeque. And unlike the Carolinas, when we cook our mutton, we slather the wonderful spicy, yet thin sauce over the meat with mops while it cooks for hours. Burgoo is almost always made with mutton around here. Eating those tiny pieces of corn and potatoe with the mutton and spices is a moment of heaven, especially when yu add a slab of cornbread with it. YUM!

    September 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  4. Keith

    What does Burgoo have to do with Bar-B-Que?

    September 29, 2012 at 4:07 am |
    • Andrew

      How i love how white europeans try to take credit for everything ! It s a native America word as they were the first to slow smoke and B-b-q their food in the southern part of the U.S. The Spanish were the first to notice it and adopt it as their own. Hence the word barbacoa , which to this day is a mexican slow cooked and smoked meat ! but hey you can listen to this guy! Tom cruis was the last samurai too! lol

      September 30, 2012 at 12:20 am |
      • Keith

        I live in Texas, so I agree with you that the Spanish/Mexican folks came up with Bar-B-Que. Today barbacoa is slow cooked goat, in my local community.

        I still don't know what Burgoo is or why it has anything to do with Bar-B-Que

        September 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  5. Linda

    Is Samuel L. Jackson a RACIST.... Yes is iS..............................!!!!!

    September 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Linda

      Get the watermellon out for WAKE the F**K Up Racist Sam L. Jackson.... !

      September 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Mary

      @Linda – he isn't a racist – he is a stupid stuttering elite hollywood scum – like all the rest of Los Angeles Actors.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Just sayin'

      The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know My name is the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon thee.

      October 1, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  6. Dawg Fan

    Hard to be the "stew" at Zeb's about 20 miles NE of Athens, GA...I am sure there are a ton of other good ones out there as well. My Dad has been going to this place for over 50 years and come to think of have I since I just turned 55. Their Bar-B-Q is good too although some folks don't care for their vinegary sauce with tons of black and red pepper (those might be the only ingredients?). Still you can buy a pound of the meat and use your own sauce if you want.

    September 28, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  7. Don Sparks

    Some people think the McRib is consistently good every time...

    September 28, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Frank Moore

      What an a-hole!! Posting political crap in story about Burgoo. Put your tinfoil helmet back on and craw back under the rock you came from.

      September 28, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  8. LilCoffinHunter

    give me Sonny's. I know it isn't the absolute best, but it's been consistently good every time. Never, ever, had a bad meal there.

    September 27, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  9. ieeta cornbread

    Has anyone tried Paradise Country Barbeque in Millidgeville Georgia? It's the one from Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I'd sure love to try it but the drive is too far.

    Two Brothers Barbecue in BallGround Georgia is ok but we are looking for something better and closer to Roswell/Alpharetta.

    September 27, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
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