On Mallard Creek Barbecue’s Brunswick Stew

Everyone knows that Brunswick stew originated in Brunswick County, Virginia. Or was it the city of Brunswick, Georgia? According to this article on the “complicated” history of the stew by barbecue historian Robert Moss, a claim in 1946 even claimed that the stew was a favorite of Queen Victoria and hailed from Brunswick, Germany. There’s also a Brunswick County in North Carolina but no one really tries to assert that the stew was first made there.

I’m not looking to wade into that war between Virginia and Georgia (for what it’s worth, Moss seemed to come down on the side of Virginia but says that Georgia perfected it). Instead, I’d like to focus on a local version of Brunswick stew served at the venerable Mallard Creek Barbecue. Every year as that 4th Thursday approaches and I link to an article about the preparation for the barbecue in my Wednesday linkdowns, a commenter either on this site or our Instagram or on our Facebook page inevitably comments on the Brunswick stew. Or rather, how the version served at the Mallard Creek Barbecue isn’t really Brunswick stew.

But first, for the uninitiated, the Mallard Creek Barbecue is a one day church barbecue held the 4th Thursday of October every year for the past 90 in North Charlotte. Think about that – in a city where very few things are old, this is a tradition that has been going on for 90 years. Granted, back then the land containing an old school house was vacant farmland not actually a part of Charlotte and has been incorporated in the years since. But my point remains: in a city that doesn’t have many – possibly any – institutions that are 90 years old much less much of a barbecue heritage, Charlotte somehow has a 90 year old annual barbecue. The barbecue is great and any serious barbecue fan in the area should try to attend just once. But back to the Brunswick stew…

Traditional Brunswick stew is a tomato-based thin soup or thick stew that originally was made with squirrel meat along with other a few other meats depending on the location in which it was served (shredded chicken in Virginia, pulled pork and shredded beef in Georgia, shredded chicken and beef and pulled pork in North Carolina). Then, it would have some mixture of potatoes, lima or butter beans, corn, okra, tomatoes, plus potentially a variety of other vegetables. So, to summarize: its either a thick or thin stew but maybe a soup, its made with any number of meats, and its got some veggies but who knows which ones. As you may have gathered, there really is no official recipe.

The recipe for Mallard Creek’s version uses ground chicken, beef, and pork instead of shredded versions of those meats. Lima beans are nowhere in sight and instead only corn and tomatoes are found in the stew. And perhaps most controversially, instead of potatoes, they use rice. Critics argue that the use of rice is filler to make the recipe go longer, but as Charlotte food writer Kathleen Purvis wrote in 2014, their recipe has been used since the 40’s and was more than likely made up by Rebecca “Beck” McLaughlin according to her son Dale since, as he notes “[s]he didn’t go by recipes on hardly anything.” Purvis’ article notes that the breaks from traditional Brunswick stew may have simply been a matter of preference since potatoes got too mushy and lima beans tasted too strong, according to Beck.

The official Mallard Creek Barbecue FAQ even has a question dedicated to the stew, noting “[o]n the practical side, some stews have potatoes – but don’t store/freeze/reheat well, [so] your Mallard Creek Stew will not break down as much, since the rice holds better.” It also notes that rice can’t possibly be used to stretch the recipe since there is “6 times as much meat vs rice (by weight) in each serving of stew.”

While I am really only versed in North Carolina versions of Brunswick stew, I quite like Mallard Creek’s version particularly on days when the sun is shining but the temperature is cooler. Were I to travel extensively in Virginia or Georgia, I have a feeling I’d like those respective versions as well (perhaps Georgia more so than Virginia based on what I’ve read). Regardless, my curiosity is officially piqued and as such, I will be ordering Brunswick stew any chance I get in my barbecue travels now.

I just wish I had gotten a gallon or two from this year’s Mallard Creek Barbecue.

For more on Brunswick stew:

More photos from this year’s 90th Mallard Creek Barbecue:

Linkdown: 8/28/19

Robert Moss’s annual top 50 barbecue list for Southern Living is always worth a read, and this year is no different because of Moss’ inclusion of “not the usual” suspects

Coverage of the list: a SC restaurant topped the list, 8 total SC restaurants (and 3 Midlands) made the list. two Houston restaurants, only one Dallas restaurant

If Moss wasn’t busy enough, he’s got 3 recent barbecue books worth checking out from Sam Jones, Matthew Register, and Jim Auchmutey

More new Charlotte barbecue incoming:

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint’s Charleston location (its 10th) has hit the ground running according to the Charleston City Paper

It’s official: Matt Horn is opening a brick and mortar in the bay area

A “Black Tie BBQ” event is a more budget-friendly barbecue event worth checking out at next year’s Charleston Wine and Food Festival with Rodney Scott, John Lewis, Aaron Siegel, Taylor Garrigan, and Anthony DiBernardo, as well as out-of-towners Amy Mills and Matthew Register

A short article on Lexington Barbecue from the local Fox affiliate

There’s a new brisket option in the lowcountry of SC in Malone Barbecue

Rodney Scott is officially coming to Atlanta

Linkdown: 7/17/19

Required reading from John T. in this month’s Garden & Gun

Former Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis also weighs in on the best new barbecue joints

From this Charlotte Observer article on Noble Smoke’s opening, I found out the interesting tidbit that Joe Kindred (of Kindred and Hello, Sailor) used to work for Jim Noble

He started getting serious about opening a barbecue restaurant around 2008, but he kept getting delayed. Joe Kindred, a former intern for Noble who has since opened his own restaurants, remembers going all across the state with Noble and stopping at barbecue places along the way.

Daniel Vaughn says the best thing on the menu at Franklin Barbecue is the beef rib

A recap of last weekend’s Tex-Mex BBQ Block Party at Houston’s St. Arnold Brewing

L&L B&M incoming:

Howard Conyers on his recent visit to Jones Bar-B-Que in Marianna, Arkansas, which has been open since 1910

North Carolina barbecue is spreading to Orlando via New York-based restaurant, Brother Jimmy’s

An excerpt from Jim Auchmutey’s book Smoke Lore is up on BarbecueBible.com

Heads up, Denver:

The 11th Annual Bedford Blues & BBQ Festival will take place in Bedford, TX during Labor Day weekend 2019. For more information, please visit their site.

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Linkdown: 7/10/19

Robert Moss drops rib knowledge in this well-researched article on the history of pork ribs

Chapel Hill’s TerraVita Food & Drink Festival will end this year but is going out with a bang in terms of barbecue; in addition to Sam Jones, [t]his year’s Hill Fire event will focus on North Carolina barbecue and bring together the state’s new generation of pitmasters, including Matthew Register of Southern Smoke, Chris Prieto of Prime Barbecue, Wyatt Dickson of Picnic in Durham, as well as other chefs who use smoke in their cooking.

Sauceman’s is relocating to Sugar Creek Brewing from its original location on West Boulevard

USA Today has their list of the country’s best regional barbecue joints but somehow includes Bill Spoon’s in Charlotte for North Carolina? Ok.

Southern Smoke by Matthew Register gets reviewed by the Triangle free paper

Where to Eat Barbecue Around D.C. according to Eater

A smoker fire has closed a downtown Atlanta joint

The Story of NC BBQ exhibit is currently showing at the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer

Jim Auchmutey on the south’s most overlooked barbecue states, Alabama and Georgia

More from Auchmutey on five myths regarding barbecue

Author D.G. Martin on what should replace the closed NC barbecue (and other roadside eatery) joints

A glowing profile of Matt Horn, “the future of Bay Area barbecue”

Linkdown: 5/29/19

Robert Moss with a list of iconic barbecue joints in the South

Never drink bourbon with brisket? So says John Lewis

Major FOMO from this past weekend’s Hot Luck Fest in Austin

J.C. Reid: How cities outside of Texas are building a market for barbecue

Beaufort vs Beaufort: in the battle of the two coastal Carolina towns, barbecue probably isn’t the main reason to go, but each has their own longstanding joints in Roland’s Barbecue and Duke’s Bar-B-Que

For rib season

The story behind George Leach, former Indiana University basketball star and owner of OooWee BBQ in Charlotte

The backyard grill took barbecue out of the South, according to an excerpt from Jim Auchmutey’s new barbecue book “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America

ICMYI, a great story on the history of Carolina barbecue from Charlotte Magazine

Linkdown: 5/8/19

North Carolina does not have a third barbecue style, despite Carolina Treet being a perfectly good sauce

Burnt ends in Paris, courtesy of a Kansas City pitmaster

Jim Auchmutey has his book, “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America,” coming out next month

The 10 best barbecue joints in the Triangle, according to Indy Week

The Red Dirt BBQ and Music Festival was last weekend in Tyler, TX and The Smoking Ho has some great photos

A look back at Jiggy with the Piggy Festival which took place last weekend in Kannapolis

The TerraVita Food and Drink Festival turns 10 this year and has a barbecue event with Sam Jones and Wyatt Dickson of Picnic

The Buccaneers and Barbecue Festival is a NC Pork Council Whole Hog Barbecue series and taking place in Bath Memorial Day weekend

A new amateur bbq pitmaster competition show for a streaming service is now casting; more information here