For the love of carts
Most cart cooking competitions last a day or two and are more local in terms of attendance and atmosphere. The crews set up their wagons, have them judged, prepare the food to be judged and served, then pack their bags and go home. But like everything else on the “Daddy of ‘Em All,” the Cheyenne Frontier Days Chuckwagon Cookoff is a bigger deal.
Arrived early to settle in and then stay in place to cook for 10 days at the world-famous event, cart teams from across the country help connect the cowboy vibe of Cheyenne Frontier Days to its historical roots of herds of cattle and oversized ranches in the American West. It is the love for this story of the Old West and its iconic cattle races – as well as the chance to share its story with over 100,000 visitors – that seems to bind everyone involved.
“We are actually living history reenactors,” said Sam Howell of Odessa, Texas. Howell shared his passion for cart cooking as he made a meal between breakfast and lunch on a Thursday morning, his latex-coated hands mixing flour and lard in a black metal bowl. The gray-bearded cowboy has been cooking for 22 years and described how “wagon cooking” is “important enough” to him.
“As cart cooks, we tell the story of the cart,” Howell said. “The beauty here (in Cheyenne) is that I see 100,000 people and spend time talking to them and highlighting the importance of the cart and why it is so important. I like to tell people that I had a choice of two hobbies, ”he added with a smile. “Chuckwagon or a bass boat. You can spend the same amount of money on either. But with this one, I meet a lot more people. Sitting in the middle of a lake, you don’t meet anyone.
“It’s an exciting week,” said Ron Reed of Cody, Wyo. Part of the Two Mules Chuckwagon owned by his friend Rich Herman, Reed spoke while tending to his fire and a large cast iron pan. “We like to chat with people. It’s part of a cart kitchen that tells people about the wagons and history and stuff. My favorite part is telling people about the story.
Loving the history of the Wild West doesn’t just apply to cowboys in Texas and Wyoming. It can even spread as far east as Middlebrook, Virginia. Adam Hanger and his team of family and friends from the East fit that description, as they refurbished an authentic cart in 2017-18 and then quickly jumped into the deep end of the competition scene in s ‘signing up for one of the biggest barbecues in the country.
“We jumped into the deep end,” admitted Adam Hanger with a smile. “It’s kind of the joke we got about it. We were looking (to enter contests) and I was like, well, here’s a great one, Cheyenne Frontier Days. We didn’t know much about the event. I talked to daddy and said, let’s go. Then we thought we were really going to Cheyenne Frontier Days for our first competition. “
While growing up in Virginia might not seem like the right time to develop an enthusiasm for wagon cooking and Old West history, the high farm Hanger caught the cowboy virus while being cared for by his grandfather. .
“My grandfather, he’s watched me since I was a baby,” Hanger explained as he stood enveloped in the smoke from the wood fire in front of their cart. They named the refurbished wagon (which they bought for $ 250 and which Hanger said was in terrible shape) The Shenandoah after their Virginia roots. “I grew up watching Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Bonanza and Gunsmoke. At noon we were going to be sitting there watching Gunsmoke. This is what we have been looking forward to. It was there that I had my share of Western enthusiasts.
Although Cheyenne in 2018 was their first barbecue, the Virginia crew enjoyed the massive event so much that they’ve been back ever since.
“First of all, he’s’ Em All’s daddy,” Hanger said of why they loved participating in Cheyenne. “It’s different from any other cart cookoff because most cookoffs are two day events. Here we basically go in the previous week and settle in. You’ve been here longer, but you’ve been coming here and honestly we’re competing and everything, but it’s all so laid back. Everyone is like family. Every year it’s a reunion for everyone. We’re going to do stuff and share it with each other. We will share recipes and help each other. Everyone is honestly a big family.
In addition to the family reunion type environment, the western atmosphere also attracts Virginians to return.
“Coming here is good because you have all this Western stuff here,” Hanger said. “I love the region and the landscape. When you see and experience how vast it is, it’s really nice to be able to do it. (And) everyone is so personal and down to earth. This is the right thing, everyone is working together. Everyone steps in to help unpack, everyone steps in to help tidy up, whatever the case. That’s how we got started, just loving western stuff, and I love it here. “
Whether it’s rodeo or even authentic cowboy cooking, the “Daddy of ‘Em All” makes people love coming to Cheyenne Frontier Days.