This comfort food certainly has a long and controversial history.   

By Corey Williams
September 06, 2019

Brunswick stew is cheap, filling, and apparently quite divisive. Here’s what you need to know about the one-pot meal, including where it was created and how to make it: 

Brunswick Stew 101 

Brunswick stew is a tomato-based mish-mash of ingredients. It originally called for small game meat—like squirrel, rabbit, and opossum—but is now most often made with chicken or pork. 

“Brunswick stew,” humorist Roy Blount Jr. famously said, “is what happens when small mammals carrying ears of corn fall into barbecue pits.”

In addition to some kind of meat, the notorious comfort food contains corn, butter beans, okra, potatoes, and whatever else the cook decides to throw in. 

Though it was originally intended for big-batch serving and prepared in large cast-iron cauldrons, today’s Brunswick stews are stove-, Crock-Pot-, and Instant Pot-friendly. 

Origins

Brunswick County, Virginia and Brunswick, Georgia both claim to be the stew’s birthplace. 

Just how seriously do people take this issue? The Virginia General Assembly and the Georgia House of Representatives have both passed resolutions declaring that their state deserves the credit. 

The controversy over the stew’s origins has given rise to a (mostly) friendly rivalry. Brunswick County hosts an annual Taste of Brunswick Festival, where contestants from both states compete for the esteemed title of Brunswick County Stewmaster.

North Carolina is also thought by some to be the place of origin, though North Carolinians are seemingly less vocal about it. 

Regardless of where exactly in the South the stew was invented, many experts agree that Native Americans were the first to make stew from squirrels, groundhogs, bears, deer, hominy (dried corn kernels), corn, and squash.   

Get the recipe: Squirrel Stew

Virginia Brunswick Stew vs. Georgia Brunswick Stew

“I think there are two different dishes that are called the same thing,” Ron Adams, an organizer of Georgia festival Stewbilee, told American Food Roots. “There’s a Virginia Brunswick stew and there’s a Georgia Brunswick stew.”

Some notable differences between the styles of Brunswick stew found in Georgia and Virginia include:

  • Virginia’s stew tends to include chicken, while Georgia’s most often includes pork.
  • Georgia Brunswick stew is spicier, and sometimes features barbecue flavors. 
  • Virginia Brunswick stew is usually cooked longer in bigger batches, which makes it thicker than Georgia’s version. According to many Virginian “stewmasters,” the concoction isn’t ready until the paddle stands up in the thick mixture.

How to Make Brunswick Stew 

Brunswick stew is popular in part because of its cheap ingredients and relatively simple recipes. 

Making a batch is as easy as throwing meat and vegetables, along with some broth, in a slow cooker. Find our easiest Brunswick stew recipe here

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