That’s How We Stew It

Virginia stakes its claim on Brunswick stew. 

Photo courtesy of Smohk

Brunswick stew may be a humble dish, but it’s special enough to get its own holiday in Virginia—and inspire a long-running rivalry with Georgia. While there’s still some debate over where the stew actually originated, Virginians will tell you that it was invented in our Brunswick County. That’s where slave Jimmy Matthews made it for his master’s hunting party in 1828. Some food historians will tell you its roots reach back even further, to the American Indians.

Whatever its origins, Brunswick stew has evolved since it started out as a simple simmer of squirrel and whatever vegetables were on hand. Today’s offerings are typically based on chicken or pork with vegetables like tomatoes, butter beans, and corn. Seasonings tend to be simple: salt, pepper, sugar.

USA Today named Smohk barbecue restaurant in Richmond home of the best Brunswick stew in the state in its 2019 Readers’ Choice poll. Smohk’s hearty version combines Virginia and Georgia styles with chicken and pork, along with its own twist thanks to house-made seasonings and smoky apple barbecue sauce.

“It kind of warms the soul,” Smohk owner Roby Williams says of the dish.

“You start eating it on a cooler day, and it’s a wonderful combination of sweet and tangy, with a little bit of heat—just enough to say hi and leave you alone. And there’s this richness of flavor that makes you feel good. It’s very satisfying.”

Celebrate Brunswick Stew Day on the fourth Wednesday in January. For recipes, click here.


This article originally appeared in our Smoke + Salt 2019 issue.

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