05 January 2022

Brunswick Stew: What Is & What Should Never Be -- The History & Variations of this Tasty Tradition

The impetus behind this post goes back a couple of months ago to a FB group I'm a part of  in which a member shared a picture of their "Brunswick Stew" (see image below). 

I responded to this one along the lines of: "Yeah, that's just what we call stew."

Later, another person shared a picture of their Brunswick Stew..

I responded to this one along the lines of: "Yeah, that's what we call soup..."

My goodness. Apparently some of these folks just hate America or something. 

I've been aware of the differences related to this food item for several years & I've been familiar with a good bit of the history & backstory related to it but realized that perhaps a good number of folks aren't, so I decided to do a post about it here as my first one in the new era of TPC. 

Before we go any further, here's a pic of some proper Brunswick Stew (at least as it's considered in the GA Piedmont), compliments of Josh & Faith Henderson: 

Obviously these are some good God-fearin' Folk (and their stew is one of the best I've ever had)

Notice how everything has been properly ground up; there aren't any intact pieces of potato. There aren't any beans of any sort of any size & there sure as hell ain't NO peas! The key is that you can tell it's thick. The old saying about Brunswick Stew, at least the way I was raised, is the paddle, stick or large spoon you're using should be able to stick up straight in the concoction if you've done it right. 

As we'll see in just a bit, there are multiple variations of Brunswick Stew. A lot of these differences relate to where the stew has originated from. Furthermore, there are many questions as to the true origins of this dish. 


Some History on Brunswick Stew 

The two main claimants are Brunswick Co., Virginia & the City of Brunswick, GA. 

While there is a monument in the Brunswick, GA area that lays claim to the area originating this dish & while many in Georgia feel that their version is the most authentic, based on historical records, it's clear that the Virginia variation was the one first recorded in the annals of American history, going all the way back to the early 1800s.

But was that truly the first Brunswick Stew? 

There is documentation that Native Americans had a dish that resembled it well before. Like the aforementioned ones, this pot stew originally used small wild game such as rabbits, squirrels & possums, and that's why it had to simmer so long as to soften the natural toughness of those meats. However, there is evidence that perhaps a version of this dish goes back to the old country as well with the Duchy of Brunswick-Luneburg (located in the northern section of modern-day Germany). Certainly, the name seems to possibly confirm this hypothesis, but really - who knows? 

Regardless of who was first, it can be agreed that the keys to this meal are as follows: 

- some type of meat(s)
- tomatoes
- potatoes 
- corn 
- a long, slow cooking time

Now, depending on the location, there will be more ingredients & that's the key to this whole thing - the location. 

We'll start with the two main American styles, then branch out to the others, but then we also have to appreciate the sub-variations therein. 

Virginia Style 

First off, the traditional VA recipe calls for NO grinding of anything (yeah, weird, I know). Furthermore, it only calls for chicken (crazy, right?). In addition to tomatoes, potatoes & corn, these people also put in butter beans (they obviously hate God). Finally, it has much more liquid that just about any other type, it's basically a soup. 

Brunwick, GA (GA Coastal) Style

It's funny to me that the Brunswick/St. Simon's/GA Coast folks have worked so hard to try to lay claim to being the originators of Brunswick Stew considering how second-rate & unimpressive theirs is. Similar to the Virginia edition, they put Lima beans in theirs & they also don't grind anything! The one thing you can give these poor bastards is the fact that their rendition is much less soupier than VA's, and the fact that they do add pork. 

North Carolina Style 

Oh yes, NC has their take on this thing & they actually think they've got the best one out there! Theirs is extremely weird, folks. They do add pork, so we'll give 'em points for that but they don't add potatoes. Like the coastal Georgia style, they have much less liquid, but somehow theirs comes out very chunky. Again, it's just really strange. 

GA Mountain Style 

Apparently an amalgamation of Virginia & North Carolina traditions, but then with their own strange bent. I remember as a 12-yr kid ordering some in Cornelia, GA & thinking to myself -- "this ain't Brunswick Stew!" 

And now we finally get to the 
pièce de ré·sis·tance

GA Piedmont Style

And to take a quick moment for Yours Truly, this is what took me so long to do this piece. I really had to research this thing. And as far as I can tell, there is a difference in Brunswick Stew between the mountains & the fall line -- our glorious home, the Georgia Piedmont. 

One thing you can do to confirm my theory is to look up Brunswick Stew recipes on the internets. Seriously, do it. 

If you live in C-town, Monroe, or Athens, or in & around Atlanta, or even Macon or Augusta, or Commerce or Comer, Villa Rica, Zebulon or Sparta, you will find most of these recipes to be odd & foreign, unlike anything you've ever experienced when it comes to this awe-inspiring dish. In fact, I only found one recipe from the traditional recipe sites that came close to what we all know & love here in our lovely neck of the woods, and that was Trisha Yearwood's recipe that is actually her Daddy's. Makes sense, considering she's a Monticello gal & all... 

So, let's talk about REAL Brunswick Stew, which shall now henceforth be referred to as Georgia Piedmont Style

Three meats. Beef, Chicken & Pork. 

Grind EVERYTHING (except, usually, the corn, but I've had versions where the corn was ground too & I think it might even be better!). 

The first few months I worked at Bess's Place in the late 90s Andy Wilson was still making Brunswick Stew & I got to witness the magic first hand. It was glorious. It's similar to most other recipes that I've been made aware of in & around our beautiful, magical area. 

Lovejoy Methodist, Red Oak Methodist & multiple other churches do amazing versions every fall. 

A fella named Richard L.Veneable makes one that would literally make you slap your mama. 

The aforementioned one from the Hendersons is as good as any I've ever had. 

Most BBQ restaurants around these parts have great ones as well. I'd have to give the nod to Jack's BBQ for the best non-church-or-private-party one around the home city & county in my humble estimation. 

When it comes to the GA Piedmont region & Brunswick Stew, in the words of Tina Turner -- we're simply the best. 


So, that's my write-up on Brunswick Stew. Hope you enjoyed it. 

- Marshall McCart