Old West cooking challenge heats up in Chandler - East Valley Tribune: Food

Old West cooking challenge heats up in Chandler

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Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 2:14 pm | Updated: 1:40 am, Mon Nov 21, 2011.

Take a basket full of challenging ingredients, a difficult workspace and time on the clock, and you’ve got Food Network’s “Chopped.” Add cowboy boots, campfires and wagons, and you’ve got the Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-off — something akin to an Old West version of the TV cooking contest.

Eight teams will compete in the cook-off Saturday at Tumbleweed Ranch. Working out of authentically re-created 1880s-style chuck wagons, they’ll use plain ingredients such as beef, flour and dried pinto beans to create winning dishes the public will then get to sample.

“We give them the raw materials, and they turn it into a meal. Usually, it’s chicken fried steak or a stew, plus cowboy beans, sliced potatoes, biscuits or bread, and a fruit — cobbler or pie, something like that,” says Mari Dresner Ransco, curator of education at The Chandler Museum, which puts on the cook-off.

Their methods and utensils are also old-fashioned. For example, they nestle Dutch ovens into hand-dug trenches where heat from wood coals surrounds the lidded pots and achieves even browning.

Among the items teams have to work with are dried peaches from Scottsdale’s Sphinx Date Ranch, 220 pounds of top round from the Arizona Beef Council, bacon and pork shoulder meat from Von Hanson’s Meat Markets, and oil, flour, potatoes, onions, eggs, butter, coffee and more than 30 pounds of dried pinto beans from Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants.

“We don’t allow mayonnaise, sour cream — a lot of the dairy products cowboys wouldn’t have had,” says Ransco. “They probably wouldn’t have had eggs and butter, but there are things we’ve added to make it more palatable for modern eaters.”

Tickets for chuck wagon dinners ($10 each) go on sale at 9 a.m. Saturday and include a meat dish, beans, potatoes, biscuits and fruit dessert. Meals will be served at noon, but Ransco expects meal tickets to sell out by 11:30 a.m.

Food sampling tickets ($2 each) will be available for tastes of dishes such as posole, stew and peach cobbler. Non-chuck wagon vendors, such as Arizona Fry Bread Co. and Chandler BBQ Co., will also offer food for sale.

Aside from the vittles, there’s live entertainment by Pioneer Pepper and The Sunset Pioneers and the Bluegrass Pioneers. Wyatt Earp, descendant of famous Arizona lawman Wyatt Earp, will give a theatrical performance at 2 p.m.

There are also shoot outs by the Santa Ana River Desperados re-enactment group and demonstrations of bygone skills such as candle dipping, weaving, spinning, blacksmithing, wheel making and rope making.

Mesa’s Superstition Farm will host a petting zoo and horseback rides for a nominal fee, and hourly agriculture demonstrations will feature chores such as milking and feeding farm animals.

Tumbleweed Ranch’s 1917 McCroskey House and restored turn-of-the-century grocery store will be open for free tours.

The cook-off is sanctioned by the American Chuck Wagon Association. Teams will cook outdoors, rain or shine.

MORE INFO:

The Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-off is at Tumbleweed Ranch at Tumbleweed Park, 2250 S. McQueen Road. Admission and parking are free. Information is at (480) 782-2735 or www.chandleraz.gov/chuckwagon.

Pre-Event

Get an up-close look at the life of a chuck wagon cowboy as teams prepare for Saturday’s cooking competition. After nightfall, cowboy singer Wally Bornmann will entertain around 10 campfires, where you can bring your own s’mores ingredients or buy them on site. Gates open at 11 a.m. Friday. Marshmallow roast is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Main Event

Chuck wagon teams use 1800s-era ingredients, utensils and methods in a culinary competition with Western-themed entertainment and activities. Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Food samples are $2 each. Chuck wagon meal tickets are $10 each and will be available at the event’s info booth; the meal is served at noon. Additional food is available for purchase from vendors.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6818 or azajac@evtrib.com

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