Old Fashioned Brunswick Stew
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 Old-Fashioned 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 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, the city of 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 iron 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 pulled pork, all chicken, or a mixture of the two. I prefer all chicken for mine. In years past, squirrel 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.
💗 Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- It encapsulates the essence of southern barbecue in every spoonful
- It’s versatile – change the ingredients to suit your tastes.
- Stores and freezes well.
- It’s a one-pot recipe!
🥄 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.
🥘 Ingredient Notes
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- 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 bbq 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
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 or Dutch oven with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
If there was any usable cooked meat on the bone, remove it and return it to the broth in the pan. Discard the ham bone.
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.
👉 PRO TIP: 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.
👉 PRO TIP: I suggest preparing the chicken in advance. Place the chicken and chicken stock 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 it to the broth.
Add Remaining Ingredients to the Pot
Add the onion, butterbeans (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.
🍚 Storing Leftovers
You’ll likely have leftover stew because this recipe makes a lot! Any leftovers should be stored in an airtight container 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 of tablespoons of hot pepper sauce add a nice background kick of spice.
❓ Questions about Brunswick Stew
The traditional Brunswick Stew recipe is quite thick. Thicker than you would likely think of 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 or pork butt 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 such as 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.
🧾 More Popular Stew Recipes
- Oxtail Stew
- Sunday Beef Stew
- Slow Cooker Pork and Black Bean Stew
- Oyster Stew
- Slow Cooker Chicken Stew
- Mexican Beef Stew
HAVE YOU TRIED THIS RECIPE?
I’d LOVE to know what you thought!
Leave a rating below in the comments and let me know how you liked it!
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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 (also called baby or "petite" 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
- Brunswick stew may be made with all pulled pork, all shredded chicken, or any combination of the two. I prefer all chicken.
- The ham bone is optional and used only to provide a smoky background flavor for the stew. A good source for purchasing a ham bone is HoneyBaked Ham. Or check with the butcher at your grocery store. They often have them and will often provide you a bone free of charge.
- If you can’t find a ham bone, you can start with cooking the chicken and aromatic herbs and use a barbecue sauce with a smoky flavor where called for later in the recipe.
- For a much faster preparation, skip cooking the chicken and substitute the shredded meat from a purchased rotisserie chicken in its place. When using this option, be sure to use a very smoky barbecue sauce.
- Keeps in the refrigerator in a tightly closed container for about 4 days. May be frozen for up to 3 months.
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.
My family LOVED this stew 💕
Great! It’s always a hit at our house, too.
What happens to the peppercorns do they remain hard and in the finished stew?
Peppercorns become soft and mellow when cooked. I’ve never even noticed them in a finished recipe.
Thanks, have not used them before. Have a great weekend!
Mine did not turn out at all like your photos, I slow cooked it for hours and it never got stew like. More like a soup. Very Disappointed
If yours is too soupy, don’t toss it! Add more shredded chicken (from a rotisserie chicken), more potatoes, and more butterbeans(baby limas) and cook until the potatoes are done. Do not add more liquid. You can always salvage a too-thin stew by adding more ingredients or by thickening with cornstarch.
I am surprised that you did not include okra, but then I am a Yankee and what do I know. I will be sure to try your recipe, it sounds really good.
You can include some okra if you like. I prefer my Brunswick Stew without it.
I have never had Brunswick stew prepared this way, and my husband wanted something different from what we were used to. This is an excellent recipe and is great for a crowd. So so good! Love it
Hi Taylor – thanks for taking the time to let me know you enjoyed the recipe! This is how most home cooks and restaurants make Brunswick stew in the area where I grew up so it’s my favorite.
Love your recipes BUT…if it doesn’t have squirrel in it, it is NOT Brunswick Stew…old recipes will die away when make something similar and then tack the name of an original on it…I am a grumpy old man who likes sushi, menudo, and chitlins if done right…that’s my story and I am stickin’ to it…
Whatever. This is my family’s recipe for Brunswick Stew. This is how my grandmother (born in 1915) made it and how my mother makes it. I’m probably as old as you are and I’ve never had Brunswick Stew with squirrel in it. Things change. Recipes evolve. It doesn’t make the newer version invalid. But, you’re welcome to your opinion.
There always seems to be that one guy who has to be an expert on someone else’s recipe. Looks like Jim is the winner for this one.
Appreciate your input Jim. We were all wondering what to do with that pound & half of squirrel meat we all have sitting in the freezer.
Thanks for a great laugh, Scott! My thoughts exactly.
This came out EXACTLY the way I hoped it would: AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS! Thanks for posting it!
Great! I’m glad you liked it.
As a native of Brunswick County Virginia we have the best recipe for Brunswick stew. Our recipe won the title Home of the Original Brunswick stew against Brunswick Georgia. Try the recipe from the Home of the Original Brunswick Stew!
It’s actually best from the mountains of NC where we call a “Chicken Stew” a party around a fire that starts in the morning, the stew is cooked over and last’s all night, bring your own stringed instrument
This recipe turned out perfect for me ! Thank you so much.
Happy to hear that! And you’re welcome.
I made this but used a rotisserie chicken from Costco to shorten the prep time. I threw all the ingredients into a crockpot for 8 hours. It was perfect. Thanks so much!
I’m so glad it worked out well for you, Aileen.
We serve Brunswick stew with peanut butter sandwiches or grilled cheese.we cook it in a 10,15,20, or 90 gallon cast iron pot.our recipe is different since lt’s cooked outside
Outside in a big stew pot with a wood fire is the only way to go. Nothing like a big bowl of stew after church on a cold windy Sunday.
Wow, all these comments. Did anyone actually make this stew. That’s what I look for.
Margaret, Brunswick Stew is a very old, traditional recipe that people have been making and enjoying for well over 100 years.
what size can of tomatoes?
It’s a 14.5 ounce can.
OMG. My prayers have been answered! Brunswick Stew was a wonderful dish I remember from my married years living in Albany, GA many moons ago. There was a little shack down by the railroad tracks where they had the best BBQ and Brunswick stew, oh and they always gave you a couple of slices of white bread; unfortunately, I haven’t had it since but your recipe reminds me of what I had. So thick a spoon almost stood up. Corn, beans, potatoes, the ham bone, and chicken with all those great flavors. I’ll be making a grocery trip this week and cannot wait to make this! As a ‘Yankee’ (from Delaware) living in Georgia, Brunswick Stew, BBQ – and crispy cornbread out of an iron skillet, and cheese grits…mmm good! Nuthin’ better. Thanks, Lana!
I remember when South Georgia recipes for Brunswick Stew started with a hog head, which must be prepared with utmost care.
It’s nice to see a recipe with amounts. My Grandad made Brunswick Stew regularly, and shortly before he passed at least three different relatives (my Mom, my aunt, and a cousin) asked for the recipe… Of course, each one got something different. We laugh now about how he just wanted to keep his own version a secret, but really it’s just that he used whatever was in season, leftover, or about to go over in the freezer. It always had pork and chicken, plus any game that was easily had – yes, squirrel wasn’t unusual – and baby Limas/butterbeans, corn, and that smoky flavor you talk about here. Mmmm, might have to go get this started.
Thank you for this recipe! I LOVE stew over white rice! I can’t wait to make this!
You’re welcome, Angie! I’d love to know how it turns out for you.