Best Brunswick Stew

Best Brunswick Stew

Getting a Bit Off the Subject

I have strayed a bit from the subject of my blog, which is to document my journey to become a published author. My book Hattie’s Place is out and my next step will be learning how to market the book to readers of women’s historical fiction. I’ll be writing about that shortly. However, I have to confess that I may be procrastinating, due to an introverted nature and to my aversion to the whole area of “sales.” More to my liking, I have started preliminary research on a sequel to Hattie’s Place. That novel will touch on the subject of women’s suffrage. I’ll begin blogging about that as I get further into my reading.


Virginia, Georgia, or North Carolina?

But before I get back to the topic of fiction and publishing, I am going to write about a subject that came up on Facebook a couple of weeks ago: Brunswick Stew. Now, you may wonder why, in this 90+ degree weather, I am talking about a food that is best served steamy hot, and is mostly enjoyed in winter.  And you’d have a point. But the picture of the recipe that was posted looked so good to me that I had to save it to my site. That prompted several responses that got me to thinking about Brunswick Stew and led me to blog about it.


Although I have read that Virginia and Georgia both claim to be the place of origin of Brunswick Stew, most of what I know about it I learned from cooks in Eastern North Carolina. The best Brunswick stew I ever tasted was cooked all day in an iron pot on a wood fire on the Harrington farm in Johnston County, NC.

North Carolina Best

The recipe is posted below. It makes at least two gallons and contains what I have always considered the essential ingredients for an authentic, thick stew. When it’s cooked outdoors all day, tended over an open fire, the taste is indescribably delicious. Nevertheless, it’s awfully good cooked inside in a heavy dutch oven as well. I have often made it to serve to the family on Christmas Day. I got the recipe from our church secretary, in the early 1980’s, when we were living in Buie’s Creek, N.C.

Sue Harrington’s Family Recipe for Brunswick stew
 2 fryer-sized chickens
2 lbs. beef roast
2 lbs. pork roast

The chicken should be cooked first (covered in water) and the bones and skin removed. The beef and pork go into the chicken and broth and simmer until they are tender.
Add to the pot and stir occasionally:

1 lb. of chopped onions
3 quarts of tomatoes
2 quarts of lima beans
1 quart creamed corn
3 lbs. of potatoes, diced small
Season with:
Red pepper flakes
Worchester Sauce
1 tsp. black pepper

When meat and vegetables are almost done, add a 32-ounce bottle of ketchup,1 stick of butter or margarine, and sugar to taste (optional).
 Cut or pull the meat apart in bite-sized portions, stir, and serve.
 Cook approximately 6 hours.

Made to Suit Individual Tastes

This is the recipe I passed on to my children, and over the years we have all modified it to suit our individual tastes and preferences.

My sons Harry and Robert make a mean Brunswick stew that I think tastes better than mine.
Harry adds a bit of vinegar to the seasoning and cuts back on the proportion of vegetables—potatoes, corn, and a 32-ounce can of tomatoes. He leaves out the lima beans altogether. He uses chicken breasts and sometimes will throw in a container of store-bought barbecued pork to give it a smoky flavor. He leaves out the beef.

Robert also uses vinegar and does not overdo the vegetables—corn, tomatoes, potatoes, lima beans—and he sometimes adds okra. He will use chicken breasts for the base, and adds ground beef instead of roast beef. Robert is also an expert at smoking pork shoulders, and the leftovers often go into his stew.

Todd loves vegetables and will add as many as possible to his soups and stews—corn, potatoes, okra, lima beans. He also likes to cook healthy, and will often use only chicken breasts for the meat.

John was never a huge fan of Brunswick stew and, to my knowledge does not cook it for himself; however, there was one recipe that his uncle David served that had him going back for seconds. When we all begged David for the ingredients, he grinned sheepishly. “There are only six and they are all out of a can,” he said. David always could make anything taste good. Here is his recipe:

Uncle David’s Recipe

Uncle David’s Canned Brunswick Stew
1 large can Poss Castlebury Brunswick Stew
2 cans BBQ pork (Castlebury)
2 cans BBQ beef (Castlebury)
16 oz. can of tomatoes, crushed
1 can corn
2 T vinegar
Hot Sauce

Kathy’s Recipe

My own recipe for Brunswick stew has morphed over the years to fit into a 4-6 quart slow cooker and to take advantage of some of the easy prep foods that now are available in the grocery store. I don’t like my stew too thick and I don’t like the tomato to dominate, so I only use a 15 oz. can of tomatoes, rather than 32 ounces, and I use lots of chicken broth.

Kathy’s Brunswick stew
2 large boneless chicken breasts
1 quart or more of chicken broth
1 small container of smoked pork barbeque (e.g., Lloyd’s, Trader Joes)
1 chopped onion
15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 cup baby limas
1 cup corn (freshly cut from the cob or frozen)
1 cup sliced okra (optional)

 Seasoning: Ketchup, Worchester sauce, salt, pepper, garlic, sugar, vinegar, Texas Pete
 Cover the chicken breasts with chicken broth and cook until tender but not falling apart. If using the slow cooker, adjust to high or low, depending on how much time you have for cooking.
Add pork, garlic, onion, tomatoes, limas, corn and okra. Continue cooking until vegetables are soft and chicken is the desired tenderness. (Some people like it to fall completely apart; I prefer it slightly firm).

 When the vegetables are cooked, begin to add the following seasonings to taste: Ketchup (I use about a cup), Worchester sauce (1-2 T), salt (if needed), pepper, sugar (1-2 tsp.), vinegar (1-2 tablespoons), Texas Pete, and more chicken broth if needed.
I can’t tell you the exact portions to use because you have to find your own perfect combination. Just add, stir, taste, and repeat the process. You’ll know when it’s right. It’s not a science at this point; it’s more of an art!

The One That’s Best is the One That Tastes Best to You!

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the best Brunswick stew is the one that tastes best to you. You can start off with any basic Brunswick stew recipe and then tailor the ingredients to your liking. Here are a few tips for creating your own perfect recipe:

  • Use more chicken broth and less meat, if you want a thinner stew; use less broth and more meat, if you like it thick and meaty.
  • Use one 15-ounce can of tomatoes and a small amount of ketchup if you like a broth-y flavor; go for a 32-ounce can and as much as a bottle of ketchup if you like that tomato flavor to dominate.
  • Adjust the vegetables—onions, limas, corn, potatoes, okra, peas—according to your taste for them. Eliminate those you don’t like.
  • Use chicken, pork, and beef if you want a stew that sticks to the ribs; use chicken only if you are health-conscious and want a lower calorie dish. (You may want to use a few drops of liquid smoke to retain the smoky flavor if you eliminate the smoked pork.)
  • If you want heat, go heavy on the Texas Pete and Worchester sauce; if you like a sweeter taste, add sugar.
  • If you have plenty of time to “watch the pot,” cook the meat first and then add the veggies; but if you need to fix it and leave it to cook, just dump all of the ingredients in the slow cooker (use boneless, skinless chicken) and set on low for 8-10 hours. It’s probably best to hold out the ketchup and Worchester sauce until the end. And, of course, you will adjust the seasoning to your taste before you serve it. 

Go Make Some Daiquiris and Tackle the Brunswick Stew When it’s Cooler!

It’s much too hot to do any serious cooking in this summer heat. My advice is to go make some daiquiris or a pitcher of Sangria. But if you decide to create your own version of Brunswick stew when the weather cools down, let me know how it turns out! And, don’t worry, I’ll repost this blog in the fall in case you forget.

P.S. I’m definitely going to try the Hickory House recipe posted on Facebook that inspired this blog. I like the idea of mixing the sauce and adding it all at once; and, I’m sure the brown sugar and mustard can only add to the flavor. From the picture, the consistency looks just right for my taste, buy I may just leave out the peas!



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