You don’t have to travel to Texas to enjoy great chuckwagon cooking. Just buy a Camping Dutch oven and get started in your own backyard.
“It’s a part of our Old West culture and heritage,” said John Schaffer, organizer of the “King of the Cowboys” chuckwagon cookoff competition in Apple Valley.
“Texas is where the chuckwagon was born,” said Schaffer. “These teams own extremely authentic rigs that are judged on everything from the look of their wagon and camp to the demeanor of the cooking team and how well the food is cooked.”
Las Vegas resident Clint Combs purchased his 100-year-old Peter Schuttler chuckwagon from fellow devotee Kathy Christensen of the Quarter Circle KC cooking team in Texas.
“I’ve always been an admirer of chuckwagons, so after three years, I got into the sport,” said Combs. “Since then, I’ve been going gangbusters to make it as authentic as possible.”
Combs said that most chuckwagon teams get their gear from online auction sites such as Ebay or through fellow chuckwagon members.
“It’s got to look just like you’re on the cattle drive,” Combs said. “The judges are checking to see if you have the shaving kit, the spice tins and the whiskey jug. “They even pop the jug to see if you have whiskey in it.”
That’s just half of the competition, says Combs. The chuckwagon food must also be authentic.
Some typical foods found in the chuckwagons included dried beans, coffee, dried fruits, salt pork, potatoes, spices and flour. “You have a very limited ingredient list because you have to stick to what was available at that time,“ said Combs. “It wasn’t a very tasty meal.”
Cowboy Coffee was often made by placing coffee grounds into a sock, which was boiled in water over the fire. “After you removed it from fire, you put in a little cool water to settle the grounds,” Schaffer said.
Combs said the cowboys mostly ate biscuits and gravy for every meal. If they were lucky, chicken fried steak. There were no eggs, vegetables or cheese available on the trail, so they had to be pretty creative.
One of the most popular methods of preparing chuckwagon recipes was in a Dutch oven, a cast iron kettle with lid that was made popular in the 1700s by the Pennsylvania Dutch, who peddled the product.
The kettle, built with three sturdy legs for outdoor cooking, was packed with charcoal on top and on bottom, creating an even heat.
“It was the perfect way to cook because the wind didn’t affect it,” said Combs. “Plus, you could leave it if you had to go work the cattle. You just put hot coals on it, left it there for several hours, and it was ready when you came back.”
Following are several chuckwagon recipes courtesy of Clint Combs and the Curley Cue Cooking Team. If you don’t have an outdoor Dutch oven, these recipes can be prepared in a covered casserole dish or indoor Dutch oven at about 350 F, unless temperature is otherwise noted.
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar optional
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 eggs beaten
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
- Blend all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add milk and eggs; beat well. Add hot butter. Mix and pour into well-greased 8- inch square pan. Bake at 450 F for about 25 minutes.
Chuckwagon Cowboy Beans
- 1 pound dried pinto beans
- 2 1/2 cups cold water
- 1/2 pound salt pork cut up
- 1 red chili pepper
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
- Wash and pick over beans. Put in mixing bowl. Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight. Next morning, put beans and water into a Dutch oven and bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Stir in remaining ingredients; cover and simmer 3 hours or until tender. Add more water if necessary.
Chuckwagon Raspberry Cobbler
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 4 cups raspberries
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sifted flour
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2/3 cup milk or cream
- Berry Filling: In a medium saucepan, blend sugar and cornstarch. Stir in berries and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil and goes thick. Remove from fire and let cool while you prepare the crust.
- Cobbler Crust: Measure flour, salt, baking powder and sugar into a bowl. Add butter and milk. Cut the butter into mixture, and mix until dough forms a ball. Spoon on to the hot fruit. Bake at about 400 F until the topping is golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.
- Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or just plain.
Chuckwagon BBQ Beef Sandwiches
- 1 roast 1/4 pound per sandwich
- 1 large bottle hickory barbecue sauce
- Salt pepper and Accent seasoning
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil or margarine
- Chopped onions
- Use a 10 to 12-inch Dutch oven, depending on how much you fix. Because you will be using this for sandwiches, an economy cut of meat is fine. They have a good flavor and with a little extra cooking time will come out fine when they are cut up.
- Make your oven level. Pour in oil. Brown roast on all sides, then salt and pepper and Accent to taste. Cover, add heat to the top and let simmer, checking every 15 minutes or so.
- Depending on the size and shape of the roast, in about an hour it should be ready for you to take the meat off the bone, if any.
- Pull meat apart in strips, removing all excess fat and bone. While doing this, let the juice from the roast simmer slowly. Using a spoon, dip out any extra grease, then pour in the barbecue sauce to thicken the juice that was in the oven. It may take the whole bottle.
- Add the prepared meat to the flavorful mixture of roast juice and hickory barbecue sauce. Simmer for about 30 minutes to let the meat absorb the flavor.