Saturday we attended the Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook Off. Participants like to cook and are interested in history. According to the American Chuck Wagon Association, we want participants "to project a realistic portrayal of the chuck wagon as it was used on cattle drives. To the public, a chuck wagon cook off should be an informative, an educational, and an entertaining experience."
Cattle and dairy are still Arizona's most valuable farm products. The 1890s were the heydays of Arizona's cattle industry. Chuck wagons provided food for the cowboys on the range and during cattle drives.
Each contestant group in the cook off is given the basic ingredients for food preparation. Cooks furnish their own seasonings. All cooking must be done on site, over wood fires and in cast iron Dutch ovens or frying pans. The beef, potatoes, onions, beans and apricots they needed to prepare food on Saturday for 40 to 60 people were provided. Since everybody starts with the same basic ingredients, seasoning and cooking technique make the difference.
The tickets for food went on sale at 10 am Saturday. Last year, tickets we wanted were sold out before we got to the table, so we arrived about 9:15 to get in line. We weren't the only people there early. Look at this crowd a little before 10.
Some dishes were prepped Friday evening and had been cooking for a while before we arrived Saturday. But we saw some of the pans of food getting started.
It takes a whole lot of cast iron pots and pans, as well as other cookware for coffee and hot water, to feed 40 or more people. It makes my back hurt to look at all the gear they carry around in the wagons.
There were lots of hot fires
and steam involved in the cooking.
The wagons are fascinating. Here are pictures of two we saw yesterday.
To really appreciate them, you have to look at the details. For instance, the hide hanging below the wagon is called the possum belly. That is where the cooks carried their wood. As they drove along in front or behind the cattle herd, they could stop and throw in fuel when they saw it.
I have seen trucks in campgrounds that have a step attached to the rear wheel to enable people to reach into the truck bed. It turns out, shelves on wheels are not a new idea.
Items are stacked and tied on everywhere.
Many of the members of the cooking teams are dressed in period costumes.
Soon, the food was ready to be served.
As lunch time approached, Barbara of Cowgirls Forever, whose food we would be eating, added honey to her pioneer biscuits.
And here are three pots of our food, ready to serve.
Was it ever good! We had smothered beef, cowgirl beans, prairie potatoes, pioneer biscuits and frontier apricot cobbler.
There were lots of people enjoying the food.
Earlier, to tide us over to noon, we had purchased sampler tickets. One sample was of biscuits and gravy. Would you believe, neither of us had ever eaten that? I never could understand the attraction, till yesterday. It was good!