Beef, pinto beans, potatoes, dessert, biscuits and tradition. Those are the basic ingredients that will go into the meals cooked up as part of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association Chuck Wagon Cook-off this Saturday.
The annual event, now in its 16th year and held in conjunction with Fiesta Days, has a three-fold mission, said Larry Zauberis, chairman of the Chuck Wagon Cook-off committee. The cook-off supports local food production, featuring beef from Sunnyside Meats and beans from Dove Creek; it helps fund a scholarship program that helps send agriculturally-inclined kids to college and trade school; and it preserves Western history.
“We’re preserving a Western tradition – demonstrating a Western tradition to the public,” Zauberis said.
The wagons of the six teams will arrive Friday and set up camp at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. That evening, they will receive the ingredients that need to cook overnight. The next day, they will cook all day to prepare a total of about 360 meals to be served at 5 p.m., he said.
“As they cook, once they get the meat, they do anything they want to with it. Some of them make chicken fried steak. Some of them go for stews, others come up with some kind of tips,” organizer Barbara Jefferies said. “It’s just interesting to see what they come up with because each one uses their own recipe.”
The same goes for the potatoes, dessert (which typically involves a fruit) and whatnot.
As attendees enjoy their meals, the food will also be brought as different courses to judges in the Exhibit Hall, who will decide what the best item of each category is. Monetary prizes will be awarded for first, second and third places.
In addition, the teams’ wagons will be judged earlier in the day for authenticity based on factors such as their appearance, costumes, and presence of all the items that they would need on a 19th century wagon ride.
“We try to make this a competition and we want them to make the food as closely as you can to what you would get on an 1880s trail ride or cattle drive,” Zauberis said. “No boxed ingredients or mixes – everything made from scratch on site.”
Even though the dinner isn’t served until 5 p.m., Zauberis recommends people drop by the event earlier in the day to watch the wagon teams cook.
“It’s quite a thing,” he said.