If you’re looking for the perfect, most delicious side dish for your next barbecue, then I have the solution for you right here. This is the best Old Fashioned Brunswick Stew recipe! Not only is it a Georgia staple, it’s an iconic Southern barbecue side dish containing the most delicious combination of meat and vegetables you’ve ever tasted.
If there was a list somewhere of iconic Southern recipes, somewhere near the top of that list would be Brunswick Stew. It is part-and-parcel of any Southern cook’s repertoire although its origins are somewhat murky.
My recipe is for old-fashioned Georgia style Brunswick stew made with ham, chicken, potatoes, butter beans, corn, onions, and diced tomatoes. All that goodness is slowly stewed together until it reaches a deliciously rich, slow-cooked barbecue flavor.
History of Brunswick Stew
Brunswick Stew has quite an interesting history involving a long-standing rivalry between two cities with the same name — Brunswick. Of course, Brunswick, Georgia, claims bragging rights to the delicious recipe as does Brunswick County, Virginia.
There just happens to be a large rusted pot sitting on top of a cement block on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia which the local residents claim to be the pot in which Brunswick stew was first made in 1898.
There also happens to be another large pot in Brunswick, Virginia, sitting on a cement block that is claimed to be the pot used to cook the very first batch in “early colonial days.” It’s a friendly rivalry that has been going on for over a century.
Who really knows where it originated? I’m sure I don’t, but I know this – it is one of the most delicious combinations of meat and vegetables ever created. And, frankly, no Southern barbecue would be complete without a steaming pot of it. This particular recipe has Georgia roots – that’s the only thing I can tell you for certain!
All through the South, there are thousands of local, mom-and-pop barbecue restaurants. Every one of them serves up their own special barbecued meats, sauces, and stew. They’re all different and delicious in their own unique way.
Depending on the cook, Brunswick Stew may have a base of all pork, all chicken, or a mixture of the two. I prefer all chicken for mine. In years past, rabbit and other wild game meats were used, but that’s quite rare these days.
The two things, however, that all Brunswick Stews must be are “smoky” and “sweet.” The smoky aspect usually comes from the meat and the sweet from the addition of barbecue sauce.
Equipment You’ll Need
To make this delicious southern classic, all you’ll need is one large pot. I am not talking about your standard large pot either. You need a POT with a capital P! One large enough to cook a whole chicken with plenty of room for the broth and vegetables. The one I use holds 15 quarts.
- Ham bone (Preferably from a smoked ham. The ham bone is optional but highly recommended.)
- Stewing hen (Look for a hen with a total weight of 4 to 5 pounds.)
- Butter beans (I’m talking about petite, green butterbeans – sometimes called baby limas – not the big white mealy type. See my post on Southern Butter Beans for an explanation.)
- Bottled barbecue sauce (I rarely use a purchased barbecue sauce because I prefer my family’s secret recipe, but for this recipe I do recommend the Kraft original brand. If you’re not using a ham bone, make sure the sauce you choose has a smoky flavor.)
- All the remaining ingredients are fairly common and need no explanation.
You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.
How to Make Old Fashioned Brunswick Stew
Let’s Go Step-by-Step
I always like to show you the photos and step-by-step instructions for my recipes to help you picture how to make them in your own kitchen. If you just want to print out a copy, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you’ll find the recipe card.
Don’t be put off by the seemingly long list of steps! I promise you it’s worth it. And the best thing about this recipe is that it makes more than enough for leftovers. So, while it may take a bit more time than other recipes, you’ll reap the rewards for many meals to come!
For Deep Smoky Flavor Start with a Ham Bone
Put the ham bone in a large cooking pot with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
If you don’t happen to have a ham bone readily available, check to see if there’s a HoneyBaked Ham store near you. They’ll gladly sell you a ham bone. Also, lots of grocery stores have them if you just ask the butcher.
Using the ham bone is optional, but it gives an extra smoky depth of flavor to the Brunswick stew. If you don’t have a ham bone, you may start with the simmering of the chicken and aromatic herbs. Use a barbecue sauce with a smoky flavor where called for later in the recipe.
Cook and Shred the Chicken
Add the chicken to the pot along with the bay leaves, thyme, parsley, celery, onions, and peppercorns. Simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through and tender – approximately 1 ½ hours.
When the chicken is tender, set it aside until it’s cool enough to handle.
I suggest preparing the chicken in advance. Place the chicken and its broth in separate containers in the refrigerator overnight. That gives an opportunity for the fat to rise to the top of the broth and it can easily be removed before finishing the recipe.
Remove and discard the bones and skin from the chicken. Finely shred the chicken meat and return to the broth.
Add Remaining Ingredients to the Pot
Add the onion, butterbeans (or baby lima beans), corn, potatoes, diced tomatoes, barbecue sauce, catsup, salt, and red pepper flakes, if using. If needed, add more water to make a thick soupy stew.
Simmer Until Done
Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender. Makes 15-18 servings.
How to Serve
In my part of the south, Brunswick Stew is always served as a side dish for barbecued chicken or pork, along with baked beans, and potato salad. I’m quite sure I’ve never known anyone who served it on its own as a main course. But if that takes your fancy, go ahead and dish some up in a big bowl with saltine crackers or freshly baked cornbread on the side.
You’ll likely have leftovers because this recipe makes a lot of stew! Any leftovers should be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. To freeze, fill freezer-safe zip-top bags and freeze for up to 3 months.
When you’re ready to enjoy your stew again, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat on the stovetop over low heat just until warmed through or in the microwave on 50% power.
Variations and Substitutions
- To make your life easier, you can totally skip the steps of cooking the chicken and broth. Simply substitute the meat from a rotisserie chicken and use about 8 cups (or more) of purchased chicken broth or stock.
- Some recipes don’t include potatoes. I think they’re essential to the stew, but omit them if you like.
- Add a cup of frozen, sliced okra along with the other vegetables.
- A couple tablespoons of hot pepper sauce add a nice background kick of spice.
Brunswick Stew should be quite thick. Thicker than you would likely think of the usual stew. If you feel like it’s just too thick, you can always stir in a little water or stock to get your desired consistency. If the stew seems too thin, remove the cover and let it cook until it has reduced to the consistency you want.
Well, since Brunswick Stew was originally made with small game animals like squirrel, rabbit, and/or possum, I’d say you can use pretty much anything you like. Even though a pork shoulder roast would work well, chicken is most commonly used these days.
There seems to be a common misconception that Brunswick Stew is a main dish stew like beef stew. It’s not. Brunswick Stew itself is a side dish. It’s served as an accompaniment to barbecued chicken or pork.
No, they’re different. The state of Kentucky lays claim to burgoo. Burgoo is a similarly thick stew flavored with chicken and mutton. Brunswick Stew doesn’t (and shouldn’t) contain any mutton.
Old Fashioned Brunswick Stew
- 1 ham bone preferably from a smoked ham
- 3 quarts water
- 4 pound stewing hen
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme or several sprigs fresh
- 6 stems fresh parsley
- 2 ribs celery
- 2 small onions
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
- 14.5 ounces canned diced tomatoes
- 1 large onion chopped
- 4 medium potatoes cubed
- 2 cups butterbeans or baby lima beans
- 19 ounces canned whole kernel corn drained (two cans)
- 18 ounces bottled sweet and smoky barbecue sauce recommend Kraft original
- 1 cup catsup
- 2 teaspoons salt or to taste
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1 red chili pepper chopped (optional)
- Put the ham bone in a large cooking pot with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
- Add the chicken to the pot along with the bay leaves, thyme, parsley, celery, onions and peppercorns.
- Simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through and tender – approximately 1 1/2 hours. When tender, set the chicken aside until cool enough to handle.
- Remove and discard the bones and skin from the chicken.
- Finely shred the chicken meat and return to the broth.
- Add the onion, butterbeans or baby lima beans, corn, potatoes, diced tomatoes, barbecue sauce, catsup, salt and red pepper flakes, if using. Add more water if needed to make a thick soupy stew.
- Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender
Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.
— This post was originally published on February 22, 2011. It has been updated with additional information.