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 Chandler’s Tumbleweed Ranch next weekend.
The main event is the Dutch oven cooking competition on Nov. 9, featuring 1880s style chuck wagon teams cooking five courses over a wood fire: meat, potatoes, beans, bread and dessert.
The meals judged the tastiest get cash prizes at the event, sponsored by the Chandler Museum in partnership with Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch. The Ranch is an event space within Tumbleweed Park, 2250 S. McQueen Road.
Pardners of Tumbleweed Ranch is a nonprofit organization of volunteers who help interpret Chandler’s agricultural heritage through programs and events, while also enhancing Tumbleweed Ranch’s amenities through the donation of money, resources and time.
While the main culinary competition is on Saturday, this year’s event has expanded into Friday evening, Nov. 8, with a beer garden, live music, dancing and food from 6-10 p.m.
The five-piece classic country band, Rhondavous, will entertain and a limited amount of small plates will be available for purchase from some of the participating chuck wagon teams. Admission is $10.
On Saturday, the Chuck Wagon Cook-off runs from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with free parking, admission and activities. A limited number of tickets for Saturday’s noon meal are available to purchase starting at 10 a.m.
Each wagon cooks 60 meals and the tickets always sell out quickly. Meals are served at noon, for one hour, tickets are $15 and available on a first-come, first-served basis; there are no pre-sales for competition meals.
“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. Both of them will be center stage at this year’s Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-off,” said Dave McDowell, 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,” McDowell added.
Saturday’s entertainment and activities include music from bluegrass band Old Blue, cooking demonstrations from the Gidgee Gang Aussie Bush Kitchen, trick roping with Cowboy Steve, a Lil’ Rustlers kids’ area, educational activities from the Chandler Museum and more.
Vendors selling unique gift items, western wares, and food are onsite throughout the event.
“We’re excited to celebrate 10 years of the Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-off this year,” said museum Administrator Jody Crago. “We started the first year with just five chuckwagons and this year we will have 11 wagons. It’s exciting to see the growth and popularity of this event in the community.”
Adults will be dressed in cowboy boots, dresses and other clothes worn in the 1880s as they work out of the chuck wagons. 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.
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.
The flavor of the past appeals to people who attend the Chuck Wagon Cook-off, museum officials have said in the past, noting people enjoy seeing the historic methods and how they differ from what everyday food is like today.
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.
Often, cowboys would have to travel several hundreds of miles on trails to the railhead, so the chuckwagon would ride ahead and start a fire and begin cooking food so it was ready for the cowboys.
“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.
Information: pardnersoftumbleweedranch.org 480-782-2717.