Youth News

JMH: Cowboys Need Food, Too

March 30, 2011

Long live cowboy cooking!

In the 1870s, cowboy recruitment was down, but the need was high. Cattle drives were moving millions of cattle from Texas to the Midwest. Because of the competition among the different cattle drivers, recruiting a good cowboy was difficult. The co-founder of the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail, Col. Charles Goodnight, decided to gain interest in his trail through good cooking.

Col. Goodnight needed a mobile kitchen and a good cook. He used a military wagon to hold supplies and a makeshift kitchen. The military wagon was strong enough for all the supplies and could withstand harsh weather and bumpy trails. With the help of his cook, Col. Goodnight developed an efficient layout that was soon adopted by all trail drivers across the west.  It was named the chuck wagon after “Chuck” Goodnight.

The cooks were the kings of the chuck wagon. You wouldn’t want to annoy the person handling your food, would you? The cook enforced the rules of the wagon. For example, cowboys would ride downwind so dust would not blow into the food, and no horses could be tied to the chuck wagon wheels. The cook worked the hardest with the least amount of sleep. He had to get up before the rest of the cowboys to prepare the food and had to clean up the dishes after them.

A typical day’s food on the trail was meat like beef or pork, hot bread or biscuits, dried fruit and coffee for breakfast. The lunch and dinner meals included roast beef, boiled potatoes, beans, brown gravy, bread or biscuits and coffee. Dessert consisted of dried fruit pies, stewed dried fruit and spiced cake made without butter or eggs. These items would be cooked in a Dutch oven or skillet over hot coals.

Chuck wagon cooking sounds like a lot of fun, and the food sounds delicious! Do you want to try it at home? Here are some recipes you can try out to be like a real cowboy:

Chuck Wagon Stew
• 2 1/2 lb beef cubes (5 cups)
• 2 Tb all-purpose flour
• 1 Tb paprika
• 1 tsp chili powder
• 2 tsp salt
• 3 Tb lard
• 2 sliced onions
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 28-oz can tomatoes
• 3 Tb chili powder
• 1 Tb cinnamon
• 1 tsp ground cloves
• 1/2 tsp dry crushed red peppers
• 2 cups chopped potatoes
• 2 cups chopped carrots
Coat beef in a mixture of flour, paprika, 1 tsp. chili powder and salt. Brown in hot fat in a large Dutch oven. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft. Then add tomatoes, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves and peppers. Cover and simmer 2 hours. Add potatoes and carrots and cook until vegetables are done, about 45 minutes. This serves six people.

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake
• 1 ½ cups of sugar
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 7 Tb cocoa
• 2 tsp baking powder
• ¼ tsp salt
• ½ cup milk
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1/3 cup melted butter
• 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
• 1 ¼ cups hot water
In a bowl, stir together ¾ cup sugar, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 3 Tb. cocoa, 2 tsp. baking powder, and ¼ tsp. salt. Stir in ½ cup milk, 1/3 cup melted butter and 1 ½  tsp. vanilla extract and beat until smooth.  Pour the batter into an ungreased 8-inch Dutch oven.
In the same bowl used above, stir together ¾ cup sugar, ½ cup brown sugar and 4 Tb. cocoa. Sprinkle this evenly over the batter.  Pour 1 ¼ cups hot water over the top, but do not stir.  Bake with 6 charcoal briquettes on the bottom of the oven, and 12 charcoal briquettes on the top for 35-40 minutes or until the center is almost set. Let stand 15 minutes before spooning into dessert dishes. Spoon the sauce from the bottom of the Dutch oven over the top. Garnish with a whipped topping if desired. This serves eight.

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