Burgoo in Owensboro, Kentucky, 1887

In 1887, Bonfort’s Wine and Spirit Circular had an item on Kentucky burgoo amongst all the trade news (typical fare: “light, perfect ventilation and dryness” are perfect to store whiskey).

To say humour was involved is an understatement, but that was the Kentucky style, and still is. Relaxed, down-home. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the state, and learned this.

Bonfort’s offered a tableau of town life that would vanish with Prohibition’s clanging door, the alcohol part anyway.

Burgoo, of distant English origin, survives in the South and Midwest to this day. As for many foods from afar, it evolved in a new direction once in the New World.

Burgoo is not a roasted or pit-cooked dish; as the article notes, it is a stew. The term BBQ as used in Bonfort’s appears simply to mean any outdoor gathering where food is served. Today, Kentucky would consider its specialty of mutton slathered BBQ more strictly a BBQ dish.

Here is what Bonfort’s had to say about burgoo:

One of the features of Owensboro life is a burgoo club of about seventy-five members, consisting of the leading business men of the place. This club gives a burgoo (which, by way of explanation, is a barbecue, where birds, chickens, squirrels, beef, pork and dog, if one is handy, are thrown into an immense pot, stewed together, seasoned and eaten between drinks) every two weeks during the summer, and the fun these meetings afford keep the boys laughing for the balance of the twelve months. When you attend a burgoo you are first asked to drink, and if you decline, you are made to drink. This drink is big enough to put you in fine shape, and you must then ascend a platform and dance before the crowd. It’s no use to ask a man who has attended one of these burgoos if he danced, because he simply has to dance. Before the day is over every man is called upon for a speech, and a speech he is bound to deliver. It makes no difference how old a man is nor what position in society he holds; if he attends an Owensboro burgoo he must walk the chalk line and do as he is bid. The record for the past summer shows that Fred Clarke of the Sour Mash Distilling Company received several prizes as the best dancer on the grounds, while M.P. Mattingly got the prize for oratory.

One of the best places to find burgoo outside a community event is the renowned Moonlite Bar-B-Q, in Owensboro. It is sold in a bowl to eat soup-style, and in gallon jugs for take away. You see Moonlight’s stand below amongst many food offerings at the Owensboro BBQ Festival in 2008. Appropriately, mutton is typically a component in Owensboro burgoo.




The image above was sourced here. Attribution is as follows: By Afreeman (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. It is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcome.