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The Chuck Wagon: More Than 150 Years of Forging Friendships Over Food

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Central to the legend that is the cowboy of the American West, the chuck wagon is also quite central to the history of the Lone Star State and has long been overlooked for its full contributions to settlement and growth in the state, until 2005. That was when the state legislature named the chuck wagon the official State Vehicle of Texas. It was also when Senate Concurrent Resolution S.C.R. No. 8 recognized the importance of this vehicle to the state’s history and culture.

The Chuck Wagon: More Than 150 Years of Forging Friendships Over Food

Photo: Pinterest/cartermuseum.org

Prior to the Civil War, it’s believed that some form of mobile kitchen most likely existed, but it was Texas rancher, Charles Goodnight, who is credited with inventing the chuck wagon in 1866 when a form of such amenity was required on long cattle drives. Unbeknownst to Goodnight back then, the chuck wagon would become the backbone of the state’s economy post-Civil War, leading to its recognition in 2005, but not before inciting Texas traditions, famous trail recipes, and cook-offs!

The Chuck Wagon: More Than 150 Years of Forging Friendships Over Food

Photo: Facebook/Chuckwagon cooking Via Roger Edison

“Chuck” is a slang term for food, hence the name, and carrying food items such as salted meats, beans, all the fixings for biscuits, and coffee, it was a cattle driver’s reward at the end of long day, and his fuel first thing in the morning. Food would also be gathered along the trail when driving cattle (i.e. chili peppers were rumored to be planted along the routes for future use), and the “cookie” was known as the person in charge of the chuckwagon, second only to the trail boss. They were also known to hold the roles of barber, banker, and dentist!

Chuck Wagon

Photo: Facebook/Tom Suarez Photography

Dedicated to the preservation of the chuck wagon’s heritage, the American Chuck Wagon Association’s members participate in organized cook-offs throughout 10 states in the U.S., and almost half of its annual events are held in the state of Texas, two of which are located in the Texas Hill Country for 2017 (Fredericksburg for the association’s championship cook-off in late March, and the Llano River Chuckwagon Cook-Off in October). One of the largest events on their circuit is the more than 20-year-old Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium in Ruidoso, New Mexico, generally attracting approximately 25 competitors, however previous chuck wagon cook-offs in Llano and Boerne have been not far behind, hosting 20 wagons at each. There are also a number of well-attended cook-offs held throughout the rest of the state, featuring long-time, award-winning recipes, great cooks, and plenty of good old-fashioned comradery. The chuck wagon: official state vehicle of Texas, unofficial vehicle of forging friendships over food for more than a century.

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