Brunswick Stew is a staple barbecue side in the South, and is often found at football tailgates alongside pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, coleslaw, and potato salad. I decided to take a stab at this highly controversial dish by making the ultimate Brunswick Stew. Well, in my humble opinion, at least.
I've discovered that most people's ideal Brunswick Stew is whatever tastes the most like what they ate as a child (this is also true with meatloaf. And spaghetti. And most other comfort foods of one's youth). Take Walt for instance. He wanted his pureed into baby food. Me, I like a little texture, but who's to say one or the other is wrong. One thing we did agree on, though, is that our definitive Brunswick Stew is made with pork and only pork. No chicken or beef or squirrel.
And while Walt's famous all-day smoked pork butt would be ideal for this recipe, it's not always feasible. In comes my easy, breezy oven pulled pork. Some may call it cheating. I just call it delicious. You can make the pulled pork in advance if you'd like, the day of, or if you are really lazy or time-strapped, you could swing by your favorite barbecue joint to pick up the 'que, but then you just might as well buy the stew. Where would the fun be in that?
To create my perfect recipe, I returned to sixth grade science class and devised my own little science experiment -- dividing the stew up in separate bowls (with a control group, of course), adjusting various ingredients and quantities, and tasting and discussing as necessary. Many thanks to Walt, Drew, and neighbor Mike for offering up their expert palates as well as their "colorful" opinions. When you're making this stew, feel free to taste and adjust as necessary; there is no definitive amount of brown sugar or vinegar or salt.
Lastly, we had to settle on the consistency: "chunky stew" or " brown mush." Immersion blender in hand, Walt ground it to a pulp, finally declaring his brunswick stew finito. Let's just say my version looks the same as what you see pictured. I'll let you decide which one you prefer.
Side note - Just when I thought the recipe was complete, Walt emerged from the kitchen -- hotdog bun in hand -- with a look of smug satisfaction and announced the "Stew Dog." The what? It's a steamed hot dog bun piled high with the blended Brunswick Stew (and Walt's own creation). It may not be our claim to fame, but even I have to admit it was pretty damn tasty. Mush and all.
Yields: 8 - 10 servings (12 cups)
3 pounds cooked pulled pork (recipe below)
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped (medium to large)
3 cups chicken stock, plus more as needed
2 pounds (yukon gold) potatoes, diced
1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes with juices, chopped
1 (10 ounce) bag frozen corn
1 (10 ounce) bag frozen lima beans
1/4 cup brown sugar, or to taste
1/4 cup hot pepper vinegar (or apple cider vinegar), or to taste
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons Frank's Hot Sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 - 2 teaspoons hickory flavored liquid smoke
Kosher salt, to taste White sandwich bread, for serving
In a large stock pot, heat butter over medium high heat. Saute onions until soft, about 7 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and juices, corn, lima beans, brown sugar, vinegar, chili powder, hot sauce, worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke. Add more chicken stock, if desired (this will depend on whether you like your stew thick or soupy). Season generously with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes to an hour (or more).
OVEN PULLED PORK
1 (4 pound) boneless pork shoulder
Southern spice blend (see below)
1/2 cup lager-style beer
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon hickory flavored liquid smoke
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Rub pork shoulder thoroughly with spice blend. Place shoulder in a large dutch oven; add beer, cider vinegar, and liquid smoke. Cover and cook for 3 hours. Immediately shred pork using two forks. Use immediately or refrigerate. NOTE: This will yield around 3 pounds of pulled pork.
Kitchen tip: If you want to use this recipe for pulled pork sandwiches, arrange the cooked, shredded pork on a sheet pan and pop it under the broiler for a few minutes. This will crisp it up a bit, more like your favorite barbecue house. Serve with white hamburger buns (the cheaper the better), Carolina Red Sauce, and homemade slaw.
SOUTHERN SPICE BLEND
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients until well-blended.