Brunswick, Georgia or Brunswick County, Virginia - who had the first Brunswick stew? One of six roadside historical markers going into Brunswick County, VA boldly makes the claim for Virginia. The marker proclaims that the stew originated in 1828 from “Uncle Jimmy Matthews”, a camp cook for a Dr. Creed Haskins (a member of the Virginia legislature). The Matthews stew combined squirrel, butter, onions, stale bread and seasoning in a cast iron pot cooked over a wood fire.
Yet a similar marker in the form of an iconic cast iron pot sits at an I-95 rest stop outside the seacoast town of Brunswick, Georgia. The marker states the first Brunswick stew was cooked in an iron pot on St. Simons Island during the colonial period. Each state legislature has declared that Brunswick stew originated in their respective state. These acts precipitated a cook-off to determine which state could “legitimately” claim rights to the stew.
An article in Southern Living Magazine described the heated (and tongue-in-cheek) competition as “the Stew Wars”. Each year the competition grows as the crowds gather to celebrate the folk heritage tradition of Brunswick stew.
The Virginia version is not typically associated with barbecue. Unlike the Matthews recipe, which included squirrel, Virginia Brunswick stew is usually made with chicken. The Georgia (and North Carolina) versions of the stew are associated closely with barbecue traditions. The earliest recollections of Brunswick stew in these areas involve farms where hogs head and organ meats (the lights) were added to stews. Today, regional barbecue meats, sauces, and recipe variations distinguish the taste of the Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia stews.