The Story of Burgoo Soup:

"Who, excepting Kentuckians and their favored Southern Friends and kinsmen has ever really known the bliss of genuine burgoo?"  - 1906 Washington Post 16 June 6

Moonlite Burgoo


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bur·goo [ búr g(oograve)] (plural bur·goos)
Function: noun
Derivation Unknown: 
Date: 1700's
1 : oatmeal gruel or thick porridge chiefly used by seamen; loblolly
2 : hardtack and molasses cooked together
3 a : U.S., a stew or thick soup of meat and vegetables orig. served at outdoor gatherings in Southern States 
    b : a picnic at which burgoo is served 

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What is Burgoo?

Burgoo is a soup or stew made from meats and vegetables. Historically it was cooked outdoors in iron kettles over an open wood fire; cooking would take 12 hours or more. 

History of Burgoo

1906 H. O. Pittman Bell of Bluegrass C. xix 272 The old timers smacked there lip as they, fancy,..tasted burgout. 

(Burgout - The alt spelling burgout appears back to the 1800's and to be due to the notion that the word was French; close to the French "ragout."  

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) Ragout  (A dish made of pieces of meat, stewed and highly seasoned; as a ragout of mutton.) 

Some people maintain that Burgoo could be from a mispronunciation of the word barbecue, or a mispronunciation of bird stew.  More likely, as the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press , Volume 1 A-B and supplement, 1978) suggests, burgoo was originally a thin gruel or porridge made by sailors in the 17th century. The name came from "bulghur," a form of parched crushed wheat, and "ragout," a French word for a well-seasoned stew. 

Today, burgoo is most often cook in stainless steel steam kettles. When asked why burgoo recipes differed so much yet the stew was consistently similar, Ken Bosley of Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn (who's restaurant cooks some 35 to 70 gallons of soup a day, seven days a week), said, "it is more of a concept than a recipe...because there are as many different ways to make burgoo as there are people who prepare first people just put in the pot what they had, then those family recipes became tradition...meats could include anything from wild game to mutton (sheep/lamb), beef, pork, chicken, veal...You always find some combination of vegetables like potatoes, corn, lima beans, tomatoes, or even for spices, if it could be found in the kitchen, it probably has been found in someone's burgoo, but generally salt and pepper head up the list.  

The Owensboro, Kentucky
Burgoo Connection.

The center of the burgoo universe is Owensboro, Kentucky. Owensboro is located on the Ohio River, about mid-way between Cincinnati, OH and St. Louis, MO. The largest city in western Kentucky, Owensboro is known as "The Bar-B-Q Capital of the World." This is due, in part, to the world renowned International Bar-B-Q Festival held on the Riverfront the second weekend in May on the Friday and Saturday before Mother's Day. The festival attracts 60,000 people to the Owensboro Riverfront.  As part of the festival, teams from charitable organizations, churches and businesses compete for the best chicken, mutton and burgoo titles, as well as the Governor's Cup for the "Best Overall Bar-B-Q Cooking Team." During the festival over 1,500 GALLONS of burgoo will be served up, by the cup (with a slice of white bread) or by the gallon (wide-mouth glass or plastic jar), not to mention the, more than 10 tons of mutton, and 5,000 chickens that will be prepared and sold at the festival with proceeds benefiting local churches and charitable groups.  

     Owensboro Kentucky’s burgoo is a hearty soup made from mutton, chicken,  and a variety of vegetables. No two cooks prepare it the same way and most keep their recipes a closely guarded secret.

     Tradition says that Owensboro's Daviess County burgoo came to the local area from Wales, and that it found it’s way to the then  Kentucky frontier through Virginia, but Daviess Countians have long claimed that the Welsh-Virginian dish was a low quality soup, not burgoo.

     The evolution of burgoo, and its contents in its early days, seem markedly similar to those of Brunswick Stew. Burgoo developed in this region in the early 1800’s as a squirrel and wild game stew with vegetables and it was first served to crowds at political rallies and later at church picnics.

     Burgoo experts disagree about what meats actually go into burgoo. Each area of Kentucky, and even individual burgoo cooks use different types of meat in their burgoo. In Owensboro, cooks prefer to use mutton, beef, and chicken. Mutton gives burgoo a wild game like flavor that holds its own against the pepper and vegetables in the burgoo. Mutton gives the burgoo the same oomph that squirrel and other wild game formerly provided.

     About the only point on which burgoo experts agree is the consistency of the soup. A good burgoo should be thick, but still soupy. This is the reason for the long, slow cooking time. It gives the burgoo time to thicken naturally.

Burgoo and the Catholic Church    

Many of the area Catholic churches have annual picnics during the summer months. People travel from miles around to their favorite picnics. 

Owensboro Area - 2011 BBQ PICNIC SCHEDULE

May 13th - 14th   International Bar-B-Q Festival   4pm
  Carmel Home  
  St Mary of the Woods  
  Precious Blood Parish  
  St. Pius X Parish  
  St Williams parish  
  Our Lady of Lourdes Parish  
  Immaculate Conception (Hawesville)  
  St Mary Magdalene Parish  
  St Augustine Parish (Reed)  
    St. Alphonsus Parish  
  St Peter Parish  
   St Lawrence Parish  
  St Martin Parish  
  Blessed Sacrament Parish  
  Blessed Mother Parish  
  St Columbia Parish (Lewisport)  
  Ursulin Sisters-Mount Saint Joseph  
  St Williams Parish at St Lawrence  
  Immaculate Parish  
  St Mary of the Woods Parish  
  St Stephen Cathedral  



What Do You Eat With Burgoo?

Most often you would have mutton (barbecued sheep/lamb). Western Kentucky is the Mutton Capital of the world; another related story. Mutton is barbecue'd over hickory fires in open pits for about 12 hours then sliced or chopped, and made into a sandwiches or served on a plate with sides.  Either sliced or finely chopped. Mutton sandwiches are best topped with dill pickle and onion slices. Usually the mutton is served on hamburger buns or white bread. Cole slaw, BBQ Beans, and potato salad are the most popular sides and in high demand. Not the bland, boring and beige potato served in the Northern sections of the US, but spicy potato salad with relish, and mustard (some add boiled eggs).

Ways to Transport Burgoo

Burgoo is a regional dish, and as many people travel back home  to the area, they naturally, while they are there they will have some bar-b-q and burgoo, as well as a desperate need to take some back home where no one knows what real burgoo and barbecue is.  Here are a couple of ways to take some back with you if you are flying. Buy a gallon of fresh hot burgoo, and chill it down in the relatives fridge. Now ladle it into freezer bags. Be sure to keep stirring as you do this or you will get all solids in some bags and all liquid in others. Remove all the air from the bags and seal them. Now lay them flat on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for about 24 hours. Once frozen you can place the bags in a cooler or wrap them individually in several layers of newspaper and just stuff them in your suitcase. They'll stay solid for 6-8 hours depending on the weather. Another option is to freeze a PLASTIC gallon jar and place it in one of those disposable coolers (eat a little sample to allow some room for the burgoo to expand). Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn Sells Burgoo frozen by the gallon, and has canned burgoo in 15 and 30 oz cans as well as 32oz Jars.

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Burgoo and the Kentucky Derby 

burgoo King
"Burgoo King," Winner of 1932 Kentucky Derby, "Bred in Old Kentucky" 
A little trivia: “Kentucky Burgoo” is the celebrated stew which is served in Kentucky on Derby Day, at Political Rallies, Horse Sales and other outdoor events. Mr. J. T. Looney, of Lexington, is one of Kentucky’s most famous Burgoo-makers and it was for him that Mr. E. R. Bradley named his 1932 Kentucky Derby winner “Burgoo King”. The blanket of roses designed in 1931, by Mrs. Kingsley Walker for the Kentucky Derby winner was first worn in 1932 by “Burgoo King”.  Burgoo King, chestnut colt, by Bubbling Over - Minawand by Lonawand, Winner 1932 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. His sire, Bubbling Over, won Kentucky Derby in 1926. Owned by Col. E.R. Bradley, Idle Hour Farm, Lexington, Ky.


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