Down-Home Comfort: Slow-Cooker Brunswick Stew

by in Recipes, January 8th, 2014

Steamy kitchen windows and tantalizing aromas in the air often mean a slowly cooked winter stew is simmering and gently burbling away in the kitchen. When it’s cold and wet outside, very few meals satisfy and satiate our souls and stomachs like a steaming bowl of hearty, thick goodness. Brunswick stew, a thick, substantial stew of meat and vegetables, fits the bill of down-home comfort.

There are many food myths surrounding Brunswick stew. Recipes vary wildly, with some claiming authentic Brunswick stew contains squirrel, others insisting it’s made from beef and chicken, and still others vehemently protesting it’s a combination of chicken and pork. Some recipes claim rabbit as the other white meat. Brunswick County, Virginia, maintains the first Brunswick stew was cooked on the banks of the Nottaway River in 1828. And Saint Simon’s, Georgia, has a cast-iron pot enshrined as a monument to the supposed sight of the first pot of Brunswick stew cooked in 1898.

No disrespect intended, but Brunswick stew is far too totemic to be tied to one place or one recipe. Slow-cooked meat and vegetables cooked in a pot is a dish as old as time. It’s a satisfying, rib-sticking stew made from the bits and pieces of leftover meat to feed a family with limited means, and an enticing, vote-bending plate at a political rally. It’s an old-time-religion church fundraiser served up by little old ladies, and a decidedly profane hunt-camp staple relished with sips of whiskey. It’s a slow-cooked BBQ staple, the meats carefully, reverently smoked over an open pit of glowing coals, and a dump-and-stir dish tossed together in a slow cooker by a harried mom using a rattling series of cans, bottles and jars.

Brunswick stew vegetables
The latter I am less fond of, but slow cookers are the Modern-Day Mom’s Little Helper. They help get home-cooked food on the table for many busy families. I suggest they can be used and still maintain the quality of the ingredients — for example, fresh or frozen vegetables can be used instead of canned ones.

In this recipe I am sharing the process for both. The one rule is that Brunswick stew should be thick enough that a spoon should stand up in it. And, I swear to you, this photo is not trickery; this stew is the real deal.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.

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Comments (19)

  1. David Galloway says:

    Without power and heat at my apartment,. This would be an excellent antidote to the bone chill. Thanks Chef.

  2. Tom Carr says:

    Virginia Willis is one of the most creative (and kindest) recipe makers out there, folks. And her books are coffee-table beautiful, too — filled to the brim with easy–to-follow, robust recipes which pay tribute to her warm Southern heritage but which are also flavored and presented in a manner to appeal to any eater anywhere. You rock, Georgia girl!

    • virginiawillis says:

      Tom – thank you, thank you! I am so grateful to be at your table and in your kitchen. I've got some great recipes lined up for the next year. Let's see next week? Shrimp and Grits!! Stay tuned! Best VA

  3. Heather says:

    Finally! A true Southern chef on Food Network. Virginia Willis is talented as she is gracious, I can't wait to try this recipe

  4. JosephineTomato says:

    Virginia, could you clarify the meat items: One 2-pound roast or BBQ chicken, meat coarsely shredded (skin and bones discarded) and 1 pound chopped or pulled BBQ pork. If they to be cooked prior to placing in crock pot for 4 hours, won't they overcook or get tough? Also, any particular cut of meat for the 'roast'? Finished product sounds delicious.

    • virginiawillis says:

      Thanks so much for reading Josephine – they pretty much just fall apart. What happens is it cookes beyond the toughness and the protein strands literally fall apart – which is what happens with old-fashioned Brunswick Stew. Let me know what you think! Best VA

    • Pat says:

      I still do not understand the meat part of this recipe. It sounds so divine that I want to sever it NOW.
      Football week end is perfect for this. Could someone please guide me on this? I was almost under the impression you purchased the BBQ meats somewhere else. Does one just cook it all themselves? How does this work?

      • virginiawillis says:

        Hey Pat — yes, the chicken is a store bought roasted or BBQ chicken as is the pulled pork.
        Make sense? thanks so much for reading.

        • Pat says:

          Going to hop into this recipe to day! Can't wait. There was an older recipe using the old Castlebury products that was fabalous but they are out of business. This is just the replacement I have been praying to find. Great ballgames on today and it's raining…. Brunswick Stew, football and a rainy day. Perfect! Thank you.

  5. Tamie says:

    Can't wait to try this! You know it's freezing down here at home in Georgia!
    I also want to say, that if you're new to Virginia Willis and her work, you are in for a treat! Not only is she the definition of a true Southern lady, but her food is REAL Southern food! So glad the Food Network has finally seen fit to authentically represent the South!

  6. Lana Stuart says:

    Brunswick stew is one of those southern recipes that "outsiders" have a hard time understanding from a written description but once they taste it, they're hooked! When my husband and I were young and stationed in the northeast with the Navy, one of my favorite things was to cook a traditional southern meal and invite over some of his co-workers who were not familiar with southern food. One of the things I loved to cook for them was Brunswick Stew. They would nearly lick the plates clean :-)

    • virginiawillis says:

      Thanks for reading Lana! I love me some Brunswick Stew. And, this one really is thick enough to hold a spoon! Bon Appetit, Y'all! Best VA

  7. Lucy Brewer says:

    I'm actually eating Brunswick stew right now, although I didn't make it :) So excited to see one of my favorite chefs, Virginia Willis, finally having a presence on Food Network. Her recipes will bring you home to your Granny's table right in your own kitchen.

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