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B is for Burgoo & D is for Derby

Consider this fair warning that this post has claimed the award for “longest yet” at Peanut Butter & Dill Pickles.  I should also note there isn’t a recipe at the end of this post but fear not; I’ve included the link to the source…if you’re so daring.  You’ll understand what I mean in a bit.

Burgoo (+ blood, sweat, tears, & a whole lotta love)

This post is one of the reasons why I love having a blog; sharing such a fun, family tradition and the story behind it.  Please grab a cup of coffee or tea and read on.

Ever since I was little in the early 90’s, my parents have been throwing a Kentucky Derby party.  It’s been a wonderful tradition; one that my sister and I have taken over with my parents move to Chicago, then London.

The veggie and broth station

Side note: The Kentucky Derby is always the first Saturday in May so expect a followup post in a few weeks highlighting this year’s party.

Back to the topic at hand.

When my mom decided to start this party all those years ago she didn’t know where to begin.  She called down to the Louisville Chamber of Commerce to ask about any party stores that may have advice (keep in mind this was pre-internet and Google!).

She connected with a lovely woman with the best southern drawl.  My favorite exchange of their conversation:

Mom:I’m thinking of having a Kentucky Derby Party.”

Lovely Kentucky Woman:Well darlin’ I think you should.”

*Not sure what about her comment sticks out so much to me but I’ve contemplated moving to the south and picking up the accent just to say that phrase often and do it justice.*

1 of the 3 bowls of meat

In their conversation, the woman suggested serving burgoo and described it as a stew.  My mom had never heard of such a dish but decided to locate a recipe and prepare it for the party, especially since it was recommended by one of the locals.

2 of the 3 bowls of meat.

The recipe my mom chose (and what we still make to this day) was written by the famous Paul Prudhomme.  Here are some stats for this behemoth of a recipe:

11 different spices (equalling close to 1 cup total)
10 types vegetables (29 cups)
3 kinds of meat (9 lbs)

A portion of the 7 cups of onions.

It’s also 3 pages and requires 2 stock pots that I could have used for hide and seek when younger.  I should note that the first time my mom made burgoo she enlisted the help of my aunt and they had no clue what they were getting into.  The preparation took hours and both swore up and down if it wasn’t the best thing they’d put in their mouths then someone was gonna pay.

I need a bigger stove.

After almost 20 years of making this recipe, we’ve gotten it down to a science and the flow in the kitchen is like a well composed Cirque du Soleil show (minus the acrobats, contortionists, and face paint).  There is a lot of “transferring” and “adding” at certain moments:

Brown this here.  Boil this over there.  Combine into here.  Remove 4 cups and set over there.  Sprinkle this over here. Dump everything over there.

Repeat above x20.

Sautéing vegetables

Yesterday my husband and I made it together for the first time.  He was glued to the cutting board (remember I said 29 cups of vegetables?) and I manned the stove and the two stock pots.

The last thing to chop…1/2 cup of parsley.

It took us several hours but we cranked music and bonded the whole day.  Last night when we crawled into bed he said, “You know, I had a really fun day with you.”  He’s a keeper.

The next Top Chef, ladies and gentlemen.

Since the very first party people have lost their minds over this burgoo.  Countless have begged for the recipe, even after the pleading from my mother that they don’t know what they are asking for.  In fact, she kept the stapled sheets in the kitchen during the party to show people when they insist they don’t care; they want it anyway.

Veggie bowl #3

Today those pages are covered in countless notes and lessons learned.  Certain sentences are highlighted to ensure you’re keeping everything straight and are on the right step. I smile every time I dig it out in preparation for the party.  I foresee framing it one day.  Only after several copies have made for my future children who carry on the tradition of course.

Veggie bowl #?? I lost track at this point.

There is something about the smell of it when it all comes together.  The burgoo smells amazing the whole time you’re cooking and preparing each step but when it’s all in one pot, completed, simmering away the smell totally changes and it’s A-MAZ-ING.  I can’t explain it but it’s a smell I’d know anywhere and relish in once a year.

Oh, the seasoning.  One whole cup!

Doesn’t everyone have that one recipe that is so complicated and consuming but worth every ounce of time and energy?  This burgoo is it for me.

So there you have it.  The reasons why, 20 years later, we still delve into a day dedicated to a single recipe for the sake of a single party:

Family, tradition, fun, and flavor.

This post was brought to you by the letter M.

P.S. Making burgoo helps if you have a cheering squad penned up in the family room.

The burgoo judges.


Filed under: Traditions


Writer of recipes. Storyteller with a food twist. Sarcasm/humor served on the side.


  1. Great post. This sounds so delicious and I enjoyed reading your story. Too bad it has suddenly gotten too warm to make this. I’ll have to keep it in mind for the fall–sounds right up my alley.

    • Thanks Sage Trifle! It’s funny you mention the weather being too warm because we only eat this during the Derby in May. I totally agree it seems like a fall/winter dish but we serve it with ham, biscuits, and a light spinach salad and it disappears before our eyes!

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