A Burgoo Barbeque in Kentucky


In Speaker John G. Carlisle's Congressional district, Boone County , Ky., there was recently celebrated a mighty Democratic feast, in the fine old style peculiar to that section of the country, and upon a scale which ought to give it a place in history. For weeks previous to the event, posters headed, “Beauty, Burgoo, Barbecue and Baskets —Especially Baskets,” had been plastered over all the neighborhood. These seductive words, and the announcement that Speaker Carlisle, Senator Blackburn and other eminent orators would be present, attracted a vast assemblage, numbering over 15,000 people, to Gray's Grove, near the town of Erlanger.

It was a splendid gathering. Beauty, talent, enthusiasm, all were there, and all anticipations, both as to the intellectual and the materialistic feast, were more than realized. Hundreds of vehicles were “stacked” about the grove, and there were mountains of baskets, all filled with good things for the feeding of the multitudes. Twenty oxen, forty Southdown sheep and one hundred and fifty lambs had been slaughtered, dressed, and roasted in a long trench dug in the ground for a distance of three or four hundred feet. In two colossal kettles, holding over a thousand gallons between them, steamed the savory burgoo, the real, traditional and inimitable Boone County brand, prepared by one of the old masters of the culinary art. Often as it has been described, the precise nature of burgoo soup is not generally known—at least, the recipe for its concoction is still a private trust. The secret in Boone County has been handed down from father to son generation after generation. It is said that the recipe was first given Daniel Boone by a half-breed French-Indian, and he in turn imparted it to one of Kentucky's earliest pioneers. It is known that the boiling process goes on for several days, and it is suspected that green corn, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, squirrels, pigeons, chickens and choice bits of lamb and beef are boiled up until nothing but the quintessence of all that is good remains. At any rate, there is not a particle of solid substance left. The meat is boiled down until only a delicate skein of tissue remains, and burgoo in true barbecue fashion is drunk from a tin cup.

When dinner was ready, the ebony-hued attendants ladled out the savory broth a gallon or two at a time. Boiling hot, it was emptied in buckets and “toted” off to the various tables. The beef and mutton were taken by the attendants to great tables and carved up. Several barrels of salt were on the grounds, and the people would get a supply of salt on a shallow wooden dish, and then draw their rations of beef and mutton.

To the barbecue rations were added the home delicacies from the private family baskets. The speakers dealt out Democratic doctrine piping hot; the bands played “Old Kentucky Home,” “Dixie,” “Star-spangled Banner,” and other patriotic selections, and the all-day festival went on blithely as a marriage-bell.


Frank Leslie's Weekly, October 6, 1888