Chuckwagon Teams To Serve Taste Of History At Popular Event - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chuckwagon Teams To Serve Taste Of History At Popular Event

November 6th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Chuckwagon Teams To Serve Taste Of History At Popular Event
Family Fun

By Colleen Sparks

Managing Editor

A popular event where people get a taste of history as they chow down on meat, beans, bread and other food cooked outside of old-fashioned chuck wagons is coming to Tumbleweed Ranch next weekend.

The Ninth Annual Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-off will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the ranch inside Tumbleweed Park at 2250 S. McQueen Road. After the Cook-off, a Junior Camp Cooking Clinic for budding cooks ages 10 to 15 will be held at the same location.

Adults dressed in cowboy boots, dresses and other clothes worn in the 1880s working out of several chuck wagons will compete in teams cooking meat, beans, bread, potatoes and dessert in Dutch ovens over fire pits heated with wood.

The cooks can only use ingredients and tools ranchers who drove their herds of cattle to railheads would have had access to in the 1880s. Every team will cook 50 five-course meals, and a limited number of tickets will be available to the public to buy on a first-come, first-served basis.

This year eight cooking teams, all made up of Arizona residents, will compete in the Cook-off.

The Chandler Museum and nonprofit organization Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch are producing the Chuck Wagon Cook-off.

“The Old West chuck wagon was the first food truck and the black iron pot, called a Dutch oven or camp oven, was the original slow cooker,” said Dave McDowell, a member of the Biscuitflats Chuck Wagon team and president of the Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch. “These meals are prepared by some of the best and most creative open fire cooks in the Southwest. It will be comfort food at its best.”

Besides feasting on freshly cooked lunches, people can also listen to live musical entertainment Valley Fever is producing. Barefoot and Pregnant will perform from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and Jim Bachmann and the Good Timin’ Friends Band will take the stage from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Vendors will sell unusual gift items and Western wares and the public can also buy food from these businesses: Can’t Stop Smokin’ BBQ, TAS Old Fashioned Soda, Due Sorelle Gourmet Italian Ice and Nitro Live Icecreamery. Trick roper CowBoy Steve will also show off his fast-moving roping skills at the event.

One change this year to the Chuck Wagon Cook-off is it will be held just on Saturday and not over two days as it has been in the past. The reason for the cutback in hours is largely because the new Chandler Museum is busy getting ready to hold its grand opening in December.

Another change for this year’s event is the Junior Camp Cooking Clinic will teach children and teens methods of cooking over open fires, whereas last year the Junior Chuck Wagon Cook-off was a competition.

For the adults in the competition earlier in the day, prizes will be given to the first-, second- and third-place teams for each course of the meals, as well as best overall lunch.

The Charlie Goodnight award will be given to the individual or wagon team that “goes above and beyond,” including possibly helping another team or visiting with the public, Tiffani Egnor, curator of education for the Chandler Museum said.

Cash prizes are awarded for those who get first, second and third places for each course and the best overall lunch, while the Charlie Goodnight winner will receive a bean pot. Goodnight was a cattle rancher.

The flavor of the past appeals to people who attend the Chuck Wagon Cook-off, Egnor said.

“I think they really enjoy seeing the historic methods, and it’s just so different from what our everyday food is like,” she said. “It’s just really fun and interesting to see that.”

Russ Richins and his wife, Susan Richins, will compete on the Rockin’ RR Chuckwagon team in the Chuck Wagon Cook-off. They have been competing for about 13 years in chuckwagon competitions and plan to have four other people on their team at the Chandler gathering.

Russ has also competed in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Phoenix and Sonoita, and he has been cooking since he was 10 years old, when he was a Boy Scout.

“That’s the way I learned how to cook, in Dutch ovens,” Russ said. “If it’s real windy it gets a little bit more complicated or harder because the coals are gonna burn hotter. You’ve gotta pay a lot closer attention.”

During competitions, Russ said he does most of the baking, making bread and desserts, and he helps others on the team.

He said the Chandler cook-off is generally not too stressful and he likes the camaraderie with other cooking teams.

“If we have a schedule and we’ll normally take and plan on having everything done early instead of right on time,” Russ said. “When we’re doing that, it’s pretty relaxed on our team anyway, unless something’s going wrong. We’re all pretty good friends. All the teams are pretty much friends. … If anybody needs anything, there’s no problem with walking to the next wagon and asking them. They don’t give recipes away.”

Retired from Arizona Game and Fish Department, Russ said Dutch oven cooking is “almost an obsession” and the Chandler cook-off has “always been run really well.”

“We enjoy teaching people and talking to the public and showing people the way it sort of was in historic times,” Russ said. “It’s a lot of fun, but it is work.”

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, said Jody Crago, Chandler Museum administrator.

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, he said.

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

Meal tickets for $15 each go on sale for the Chandler cook-off at 10 a.m. on Nov. 10. Some people start lining up as early as an hour early to buy meal tickets, Egnor said. Parking and entrance to the cook-off are free.