How do you burgoo? Kentucky cooks answer that question with everything from venison and rabbit to butter beans and chopped cabbage. Some cooks even add a splash of whiskey. There’s room for all that and more in the meat-and-vegetable melting pot.
If you’re looking for a definitive version, though, one of the best people to ask is the seasoned burgoo cook Rick Caudle. His pedigree as a stewmaster stretches back to the 1930s fish camp where an uncle and his friends simmered cast-iron kettles of squirrel, rabbit, dove, and venison, crafting a recipe inherited by cousins and descendants who have been serving burgoo at festivals and fundraisers ever since.
Caudle, in fact, has been a burgoo mentor to Ouita Michel, a classically trained Kentucky chef who serves local favorites like kil’t greens, beaten biscuits, and burgoo at her flagship restaurant, Holly Hill Inn in Midway. “I’ve cooked deconstructed burgoos with squab and lamb, but I like Rick’s version the best,” she says. “It’s really the only burgoo I’ve eaten for the past few years.” Her riff on his tried-and-true recipe makes about a gallon, far less than the old cast-iron pot recipes, and calls for chicken, pork, and beef in place of game, though you can substitute whatever you have in the freezer.
One thing you can’t do is rush it. This crowd-pleasing stew needs at least four hours on the stove. “You want to cook the meat and vegetables until they melt into each other,” Michel says. “I’ve seen some pictures online, and here’s a hint: If it looks pretty in a bowl, it’s not authentic.”