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Chuck wagon cook-off

A chuck wagon cook-off isn't just a food competition, it's a tribute to the Wild West

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (CIRCA) - The chuck wagon cook-off at Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo attracted teams from around the country. It was both a competition between cooks and a celebration of the Wild West.

“It’s a very important part of history,” said Jack Ramey, a national champion chuck wagon chef. “You know, if it wouldn't have been for the cattle drives back then, we probably wouldn’t be eating beef today.”

Chuck wagon cook-off
A caravan of wooden barrels, canvas tarps, large wooden wheels and cast-iron pans lined the entrance to the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. (Circa/Ryan Eskalis and Veronica Yurowski)

A caravan of wooden barrels, canvas tarps, large wooden wheels and cast-iron pans lined the entrance to the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. Passersby stared in awe at the men, women and children -- all adorned in 1800s-style cowboy attire -- cooking country-fried steaks over open fires. The air was saturated with the aroma of homemade blueberry pies, cornbread, biscuits, beans, gravy, mashed potatoes and deep-fried meats.

Chuck wagon cook-off
Teams of chefs work against each other and the clock to make a winning plate of old Western delicacies. (Circa/Ryan Eskalis and Veronica Yurowski)

Teams of chefs work against each other and the clock to make a winning plate of old Western delicacies. But they’re being judged not only on the quality of their food, but also aesthetics far beyond the meal.

Aside from a mouthwatering meal, to win a chuck wagon cook-off, competitors need to curate and present an authentic campsite and cooking area. They’re judged on everything from the appearance of their wheel axles and kerosene lanterns to their coffee grinders and Dutch ovens.

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Chuck wagon cook-off
For these chefs, the competition isn’t everything. (Circa/Ryan Eskalis and Veronica Yurowski)

But for these chefs, the competition isn’t everything. For them, it’s about leaving behind the trials and tribulations of the city and embracing the simple retreat of nature.

“This is where we live, this is what it's about -- this is where the horses are,” said Jim Patrick, a veteran chuck wagon chef. “I mean, it’s a whole different experience.”

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