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Chuckwagon

A chuckwagon was originally a wagon that carried food and cooking equipment on the prairies of the United States and Canada. They would form a part of a wagon train of settlers or feed nomadic workers like cowboys or loggers. It was common for the "cookie" who ran the wagon to be second only to the "trailboss" on a cattle drive. The cookie would often act as cook, barber, dentist, and banker.

A historical recreation of a chuckwagon at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo in Austin.While some form of mobile kitchens had existed for generations, the invention of the chuckwagon is attributed to Charles Goodnight, a Texas rancher who introduced the concept in 1866. Chuck is not taken from the nickname for "Charles", but for the then-common slang term for food.

Chuckwagon food included easy-to-preserve items like beans and salted meats, coffee, and sourdough biscuits. Food would also be gathered en route.

Cook-offs

The American Chuckwagon Association is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the heritage of the chuckwagon. Its members participate in chuckwagon cook-offs throughout much of the US. Through these events, the members educate the public on the history and traditions surrounding the chuckwagon.

At a chuckwagon cook off, each wagon is judged on the authenticity of the wagon. Wagons must be in sound drivable condition, with equipment and construction available in the late 1800s. Contents of the chuck-box, including utensils, must also match what would have been used during the era. Wagons are also judged on the attire of their cooks.

A typical chuckwagon cookoff is composed of 5 food categories: Meat (usually chicken-fried steak), Beans (pinto), Bread (sourdough or yeast), Dessert (usually peach cobbler), and potatoes. A team of judges evaluates the entries from each wagon, giving each a score. Once scores are tabulated, prizes are awarded to the top wagons.

One of the most famous chuckwagon cook-offs is the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium. Held annually for nearly 20 years, this event attracts thousands to Ruidoso, New Mexico.

Among the few chuckwagon cook-offs east of the Mississippi River takes place during SaddleUp! each February in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Held just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, SaddleUp! also features a cowboy symphony and cowboy church services over a four-day period.

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