Who made it first? If you guessed Brunswick, Georgia you might be right. If you guessed Brunswick County, Virginia you might be right.
There is a plaque on an old iron pot in Brunswick, Georgia, that says the first Brunswick stew was made in it on July 2, 1898, on St. Simons Island. A competing story claims a Virginia state legislator’s chef made it first in 1828 while hunting. No one will ever know for sure who coined the phrase the first time, but one thing is for certain—the recipe has persisted all across the Southern states and a version of it may well have been made by the American Indians too. I imagine they were making stew with wild game and whatever vegetables were on hand long before plantation owners decided to give it an established name.
Traditionally, Brunswick Stew is cooked in an iron pot over a fire and it’s made for a crowd, but it is just as easily made in smaller quantities. In days gone by, a cook would use whatever ingredients were at hand (such as squirrel, rabbit or possum meat) but it is most often made with chicken or pork and plenty of vegetables. It is generally a tomato based stew containing vegetables like potatoes, lima beans, okra, etc. In Virginia, chicken is more often added with rabbit being the second choice. In Georgia, the protein is usually pork or chicken, although you may still find it with rabbit or beef. We tend to use hotter spices here in the Peach State and the stew is often served with barbecue. Every Southern state has a preferred version of the delicious stew. While the vegetables, protein, and spices may change with each region, most cooks agree that the stew should be thick.
Recipes abound on the internet and I haven’t cooked for any large groups lately, but here is a recipe given to me by a family friend who has used it many times to feed her own family of six. She makes it in a slow cooker and it is true comfort food, prepared southern style, and easy to fix. Her recipe uses pulled pork, but you could as easily substitute chicken and chop the meat any way you like.
Trish’s Brunswick Stew
With all fresh ingredients prep time might be about 20-25 minutes; using frozen vegetables, tomatoes and pulled pork takeout, prep time is about 10 minutes.
1 ½ lbs. precooked cubed or pulled pork and/or chicken
2-3 medium sized potatoes
1 medium red onion
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 can 15 oz. chicken stock
2 Tablespoon Worcester sauce
18-20 oz. bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce
1 dash of hot sauce
8 oz. bag frozen lima beans
8 oz. bag frozen whole kernel corn
8 oz. bag frozen peas and carrots
1 cup sliced okra (optional)
¼ C. brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Coarsely chop the meat so there aren’t any clumps- add to slow cooker. Chop onion and potatoes into bite-sized cubes and add to pot. Add remaining ingredients and stir.
Cover and cook on LOW 6 to 8 hours (or on HIGH 4 to 5 hours) or until potatoes are fork-tender. With a tall glass of sweet tea and cornbread for an authentic southern experience, this recipe feeds 8-10.
Of course, substitute any vegetables you like into the recipe, and use the meat of your choice. That’s the great thing about this stew, versatility!