Cooks to hit trail for Chandler’s Chuck Wagon Cook-Off - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Cooks to hit trail for Chandler’s Chuck Wagon Cook-Off

November 2nd, 2017 development
Cooks to hit trail for Chandler’s Chuck Wagon Cook-Off


Campfire smoke will be blowing at Tumbleweed Ranch as teams working out of 1800s-style chuck wagons cook meat, beans and other foods in a culinary competition and historical party.

The eighth annual Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-Off is coming to the dusty trails Nov. 10 and 11 at the ranch inside Tumbleweed Park at 2250 S. McQueen Road. Kicking off the event, children and teens will get help cooking desserts in a Dutch oven over a wood fire Nov. 10 in the Junior Chuck Wagon Cook-Off.

The Chandler Museum and nonprofit organization Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch co-produce the Chuck Wagon Cook-Off.

Adults from the Valley, as well as Texas, Colorado and Las Vegas, will be stationed out of several chuck wagons. They will compete in teams making meat, beans, bread, potatoes and dessert using only the ingredients and tools ranchers driving their herds of cattle to railheads would have had in the 1880s.

They will wear cowboy boots, dresses and other clothes from that time period and cook the food in a Dutch oven over a fire pit heated with mesquite wood as they aim to earn one of more than 20 prizes.

Prizes are in categories including best individual courses and overall meals, as well as the Charlie Goodnight Award for the team with the most spirit. It’s named after Goodnight, who is credited for inventing the chuck wagon.

“They’ve spent the time and the money, they’ve done the research often times on these wagons to try to ensure they’re the most authentic as they can,” said Jody Crago, Chandler Museum administrator. “They can’t use any prepared sauces or anything. We give them raw materials…they make up their own meal. You might get beef stew, chicken fried steak, something they could have gotten on the trail.

“It’s a fun day,” Crago added. “Families come, older adults that just want a different kind of experience come. Foodies come that like the different styles of cooking, Western enthusiasts, people that like country or (the) outdoors.”

Ranchers in the 1880s drove their herds of cattle to railheads, where the cattle were loaded onto trains and taken to cities in the Midwest and East to be slaughtered at stockyards, he said.

Often, cowboys would have to travel several hundreds of miles on trails to the railhead, so the chuck wagon would ride ahead and start a fire and begin cooking food so it was ready for the cowboys, Crago said.

“Chuck” is a slang term for food. A cook, often called a “cookie,” usually an older cowboy was the “manager,” barber, entertainer and the one to settle any fights in the chuckwagon crew, he said.

The history of chuck wagons intrigues Barb Kennedy, who is competing at the cook-off with her team, Cowgirls Forever, named after the company she owns that makes and delivers chuck wagon-style meals. She has competed in the Chandler culinary contest and other chuck wagon events for several years.

“It really makes you think how people did this every day,” Kennedy said. “We think that we work hard and we’re tired now. The ingenuity and the determination is unimaginable in today’s society. I always thought I was born 100 years too late. I’ve always loved the West, and I grew up in a big family, so we always cooked. We’ve always cooked for a lot of people. I love to cook and love to feed people.”

Kennedy bought her chuck wagon in the Valley and believes it’s an 1886 model. Her husband built the chuck box for it out of products from that time period.

Crago said many of the competitors have spent “lots of funds to restore” their chuck wagons. Often they get them from old farms, but some modern-day ranches still use chuck wagons.

The Chuck Wagon Cook-Off is free for anyone to attend, but the lunch the competitors make costs $15 per meal. The food sells out quickly, and last year, 550 meals were sold in 23 minutes, Crago said.

While cooking the meals is hard work, it’s also fun and the chuck wagon contestants have been known to play pranks on each other, Kennedy said.

“Sometimes things will disappear out of your chuck box,” she said.

Kennedy, 55, said one night she awakened and found people from a competing chuck wagon team branding one of the serving tables outside her tent.

“It’s so fun,” she said. “We only see each other a few times a year; it’s like you’ve been friends forever. It’s a great group of people; they’re all hard-working. They’re salt of the earth.”

Besides sampling food, people who come to the Cook-Off can find other entertainment. On Nov. 10, a farmers market will be set up with local vendors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The band Barefoot and Pregnant will perform, and the Arizona Historical Society will do demonstrations. Visitors can also take wagon rides to the Arizona Railway Museum. The Junior Cook-Off goes from 10 to 11:30 a.m. that day.

The Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch is having its Sunset Dinner at the Ranch fundraising event from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 10. For $40, diners will get top sirloin, salad, a potato, bread and dessert, made by local restaurant Ginger Monkey.

Rick and Tony Martinez, a father and son, will perform Western trail songs and classic country tunes. Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Pardners’ mission of teaching the community about Chandler’s agricultural heritage.

Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch helps interpret the city’s agricultural heritage with programs and events, as well as making improvements to the ranch.

People can get into the spirit of the Cook-Off from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 10 with a Campfire Glow, where they can roast s’mores and Chip Hanna will play music.

The gates open and the meal ticket line forms at 9 a.m. on Nov. 11. The chuck wagon competitors’ meals will be served at 12:30 p.m. Bands Valley Fever, as well as Pick & Holler and August Manley’s Premier Waylon Jennings Tribute Band will perform that day. The awards will be given at 2:30 p.m.