By COLLEEN SPARKS
GET OUT Staff
A taste of history with meat, beans, bread and other food cooked outside of chuck wagons is coming to Tumbleweed Ranch next weekend.
The Ninth Annual Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-off is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the ranch inside Tumbleweed Park at 2250 S. McQueen Road. A Junior Camp Cooking Clinic, for those ages 10 to 15, will follow at the same location.
Adults dressed in cowboy boots, dresses and other clothes worn in the 1880s and working out of chuck wagons will compete in teams cooking meat, beans, bread, potatoes and dessert in Dutch ovens over wood-burning fire pits.
Cooks may use only ingredients and tools that 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. A limited number of tickets will be available to the public to buy on a first-come, first-served basis.
Eight cooking teams, all of Arizona residents, will compete. The Chandler Museum and nonprofit Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch are producing the 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.”
Barefoot and Pregnant will perform 10-11:30 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. Food purchase is available from Can’t Stop Smokin’ BBQ, TAS Old Fashioned Soda, Due Sorelle Gourmet Italian Ice and Nitro Live Icecreamery. Trick roper CowBoy Steve will show his fast-moving roping skills.
One change is that the cook-off will be on Saturday only. The cutback is largely because the new Chandler Museum is busy getting ready for its grand opening.
Another change is that the Junior Camp Cooking Clinic will teach children and teens methods of cooking over open fires, whereas last year it was a competition.
The Charlie Goodnight award will be given to the individual or wagon team that “goes above and beyond,” including helping another team or visiting with the public, Tiffani Egnor, curator of education for the Chandler Museum said.
Cash prizes are awarded for the top three places for each course and best lunch. The Charlie Goodnight winner gets a bean pot. He was a cattle rancher.
The flavor of the past appeals to people who attend, Egnor said.
“I think they really enjoy seeing the historic methods. It’s just so different from what our everyday food is like,” she said.
Russ Richins and his wife, Susan, will compete on the Rockin’ RR Chuckwagon team. They have competied for about 13 years. He has been cooking since he was 10, 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, bread making and desserts, and helps others on the team.
“All the teams are pretty much friends,” he said. “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.
“We enjoy teaching people and talking to the public and showing people the way it sort of was in historic times,” Russ said.
Ranchers in the 1880s drove their cattle to railheads, where they were loaded onto trains and taken to the Midwest and East to be slaughtered, said Jody Crago, Chandler Museum administrator.
Cowboys would travel several-hundred miles to the railhead. Chuck wagons went ahead and began cooking food so it was ready, he said.
Meal tickets for $15 go on sale at 10 a.m. on Nov. 10.
Parking and entrance to the cook-off are free.