“Brunswick Stew is what happens when small mammals carrying ears of corn fall into barbeque pits.”– Roy Blount Jr.
I couldn’t leave the subject of pork without adding my notes about Brunswick Stew. This is one of the great iconic Southern dishes that is almost unknown outside the south. Most people know or have heard of grits, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, etc. etc. But mention Brunswick Stew and you get a glassy-eyed stare or the question, “Don’t they make that with squirrels?” My answer is “Maybe, but not at my house.”
I grew up eating Brunswick Stew with barbecue. The two were always served together for some reason. The stew has been traditionally considered a side dish to ‘cue. A typical barbecue plate at my family’s table was a healthy serving of chopped (not sliced) barbecued Boston Butt (slow smoked with sauce on the side), Brunswick Stew, cole slaw, “light” bread, and a stack of napkins. The beverage of choice was, of course, sweet iced tea. Later on, in college, I replaced tea with Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The dish is a thick stew, not a soup. Depending on your state, neighborhood, and financial condition, the meat(s) included any combination of pork, beef, chicken, venison, rabbit and sometimes the aforementioned squirrel. My grandmother used pork and beef and didn’t mess around with a lot of vegetables. Corn, tomatoes, onions, and sometimes lima beans (we called them butter beans) about summed it up. Her recipe and methods stemmed back from the eighteen-hundreds when it was simmered outdoors over an open wood fire in a 25-gallon iron pot. The ingredients were slowly cooked until the meats were broken down into small bits and the mixture merged into a thick, rich magical elixir.
I am including both her original recipe and my update in case you don’t want to cook a batch for 75 people or don’t have access to a hog’s head or don’t have a 25-gallon iron pot. The stew will not – can not – be the same but judging by my taste memory, it is a pretty fair approximation.
Alabama Brunswick Stew
(This is my grandmother’s original recipe from the farm, circa 1950. A contemporary version follows below)
Yield: 75 Bowls
- ½ dozen lemons, quartered and seeded
- 1-pint vinegar
- 3 bottles ketchup
- 1 bottle of Worcestershire Sauce
- ¼ pound butter
- 1 hog’s head
- 4 lb. boned beef stew meat
- 3 large boned hams
- 6 cans tomatoes
- 6 cans cream corn
- 2-3 Tablespoons Tabasco sauce
- Boil hog’s head in a large pot. Cook it down until the meat falls off the bone. Remove all meat, but discard the skull, brains, eyeballs, bones, and skin. Reserve broth.
- Mix all liquid ingredients (including strained broth from hog’s head) into the pot and cook for awhile until it has thickened a little bit.
- Add meat from hog’s head, stew meat and ham, cook for 2 hours over low heat
- Add remaining ingredients, cook for 2 more hours over low heat. Serve with light (white) bread.
(This version will not taste the same but is a close approximation.)
Yield: 8 Bowls
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¾ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cups homemade chicken broth
- ½ large lemon
- 4 Tablespoons lard
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- ¾ pound boneless beef stew meat in large chunks
- 1 pound boneless pork shoulder in large chunks
- 1 cup chopped Roma tomatoes
- 2 ears corn kernels, scrap corn cobs with the back of a knife to capture the corn “milk”
- ½ teaspoon Tobacco sauce
- Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
- Mix first four ingredients in a large stew pot. Add the juice and zest of the lemon. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes.
- Season the meat with salt and pepper. Melt the lard in a large cast iron skillet and brown all of the meat. Remove meat, coarsely chop and add to the stew pot.
- Add the butter to the same skillet and lightly saute the tomatoes, corn and corn milk. Add the vegetables to the stew pot along with any pan drippings.
- Season with Tobasco sauce.
- Simmer covered on a stovetop, stirring frequently, until flavors have all melded and meat is fork tender – about two hours. Stew should be very soupy. Add more broth or some water if needed. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Serve steaming hot with either fresh cornbread or simply slices of “light” bread.