Brunswick Stew

Brunswick Stew

Georgia-born or Virginia-bred? You be the judge.

In a waterfront park on the coast of Brunswick, Georgia, sits an old, weathered 25-gallon iron pot atop a stone pedestal. “In this pot,” the words inscribed in the base read, “the first Brunswick stew was made on St. Simon Isle July 2, 1898.” A seven-hour drive northward, a town of 16,000 also named Brunswick in southern Virginia begs to differ.

Brunswick stew is a hearty, meaty concoction that, like some of the South’s most loved dishes, has a hazy history. The Peach State has long claimed ownership of the dish, but beyond the iron pot monument (one of two in the area) and the town’s name, factual evidence proving that Georgia was the birthplace of Brunswick stew is hard to come by. Virginians, however, dish up a more convincing narrative that dates back to 1828 when a man named Jimmy Matthews got creative. As the story goes, Jimmy was the enslaved camp cook for Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and on one of Dr. Haskins’s hunting trips, Jimmy created a thick, rich stew that the cold, hungry hunters could not get enough of. He combined squirrel he’d hunted with onions, stale bread, and plenty of butter and seasonings to create the oh-so-satisfying dish that became known as Brunswick stew. Published accounts in 1849 in the Alexandria Gazette, and then again in 1855 in the Petersburg Intelligencer, are even more convincing of Virginia’s role in the founding of Brunswick stew. In 1988, the Virginia General Assembly even issued a decree stating that Brunswick, Virginia, was the original home of Brunswick stew, but that’s not to say you won’t find some passionate Georgians who will argue otherwise.

Throughout history, the communal stew was made by combining wild game, such as squirrel, like Jimmy Matthews did, or rabbit, with seasonal vegetables and cooking the mixture nice and slow in a massive pot. Though the battle of Brunswick stew always pairs up the two Brunswick towns, the roots of this dish likely began with Native Americans who were known to make rich stews with whatever protein and vegetables were available.

Today’s Brunswick stew is less reliant on wild game. Squirrel and rabbit are often swapped for pork and chicken, and corn and lima beans are the mainstay veggies in the tomato-based stew. In Georgia, Brunswick stew is commonly made in small batches and served as a side at barbecue joints. In Virginia, Brunswick stew takes center stage as the main dish served with bread on the side. Virginians even pegged the title “stewmaster” for the folks who make it at events and fundraisers. There, Brunswick stew remains the communal food it began as.

Whether Georgia or Virginia deserve the bragging rights, Brunswick stew will continue to be a cold-weather favorite in Southern kitchens.

Brunswick Stew
Makes about 8 servings
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 pound pork loin roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 ounces salt pork
  • 8 cups chicken stock, divided
  • 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1½ cups chopped yellow onion
  • 1 (12-ounce) bag frozen butter beans
  • 3½ teaspoons dry rub barbecue seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.25-ounce) can cream-style corn
  • Garnish: chopped fresh parsley, ground black pepper
  1. In a large cast-iron Dutch oven, combine chicken, pork, salt pork, and 4 cups stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 1 hour. Discard salt pork. Shred chicken with 2 forks.
  2. Add remaining 4 cups stock, potatoes, onion, butter beans, barbecue seasoning, and Worcestershire. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Stir in tomatoes and corn. Reduce heat to low and cook until soup reaches desired consistency, about 30 minutes. Garnish with parsley and pepper, if desired.