Burgoo is a spicy stew that has its roots in the Irish or mulligan stew. Traditionally, the idea was to make a stew using whatever meats and vegetables were available and in good supply. That meant game meats, deer, but also squirrel, opossum (though not in modern recipes), honeybees, meat from game birds or whatever the hunt brought back. The local Kentucky barbecue restaurants use specific meats--usually pork, chicken or mutton--in their recipes which creates (along with spice choices) a distinct flavor unique to each restaurant. Cornbread or corn muffins are served on the side.
Kentucky burgoo recipes are somewhat like chili recipes, in that there are many different recipes each calling for different set of ingredients. Currently, burgoo serves mainly as a tool for social gathering among Kentuckians and their friends. Typically, each person brings one or more ingredients and all the ingredients will be cooked in a big pot. Locally in Kentucky and surrounding areas such Indiana, burgoo is often used as a drawing ticket during fund-raisers at schools with no stigma.
No standardized recipe exists, but it is a combination of at least three things. Today, the meat is usually pork or mutton, often hickory-smoked, but not limited to these more popular meats. A combination of beef, pork, chicken and mutton are frequently used, both hickory-smoked and non-smoked. Historically, however, it could have been any game animal during lean times, like during the Civil War. Today, for example, the Hilltop Inn of Evansville, Indiana (as featured on Alton Brown's Feasting on Asphalt television series) serves a variety made with squirrel meat. Vegetables such as lima beans, corn, okra and potatoes have always been popular. A thickening agent of cornmeal, ground beans, whole wheat or potato starch liberated from potatoes in the stew is all that most cookbook recipes use today, but it is traditional to add soup bones for taste and thickening.
The ingredients are combined together in order of time needed to cook to the same doneness, with meat usually going in first, vegetables second and, if necessary, thickening agents last. A good burgoo is said to be able to have a spoon stand up in it. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and other savory spices can be added much like in Cincinnati chili. Some varieties use cider vinegar, hot sauce, worcestershire sauce or dry chili powder. These condiments are usually made available for people to spice up their own bowl, as well.