The cross-country cattle drives may have ended over a century ago but chuck-wagon cookin’ is still running strong on ranches today and as competitions at events of their own.
There are still many ranches out there that pull out the ol’ chuck-wagon during the cowboy works. With large pastures and herds of cattle, it’s much easier to have a central camp out in the middle of those pastures, then to have to drive all the cowboys all the way back to someone’s house to eat for both breakfast, lunch, and supper.
Because of the popularity of chuck-wagon cookin’, you can now find all sorts of competitions across the US. It’s common for ranch rodeos to hold chuck-wagon cook-offs and this is where I was introduced to how real cowboy cooking is done.
Back when we worked for the Fulton Quien Sabe Ranch, up by Amarillo-TX, we would go to two ranch rodeos every year where chuck-wagon competitions were held. The one held in Amarillo was by far the most work in my opinion because we had to cook for the public and for the judges. They would provide you with the main ingredients like 50lbs of meat, 20lbs of taters, and tons of beans! Each year the menu was basically the same–Chicken Fried Steak, Mash Taters, Beans, Rolls/Biscuits and a Cobbler.
The chuck-wagon competition held in Wichita Falls, TX was much more fun but lordy it was hot & humid! How you did in that competition affected the overall score the cowboys got during the ranch rodeo.
Lots of competitions and I’m proud to say that I have won 1st place for Mexican Cornbread and a couple of 2nd place prizes/points.
And you see the fella sitting down? He taught me how to make the best white gravy ever which I’ll share with you soon!
The Dutch Oven
Anything you can cook at home, can be cooked in a dutch oven. They are built for holding heat which makes for excellent baking and frying. The stubby little legs are for sitting on hot coals and the lip on the lid allows for coals to sit on top for baking. And by simply flipping the lid, you can easily fry up some bacon.
We like to cook cornbread, cobbler, and rolls in dutch ovens. Everything is always cooked so evenly but you definitely need some practice before you attempt dutch oven cooking. It’s an experience for sure but one you have to try at least once!
For more info on a competition near you, check out Chuckwagon.org!