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A historical recreation of a chuckwagon at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo in Austin

A chuckwagon was originally a wagon that carried food and cooking equipment on the prairies of the United States and Canada.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] Chuck was then a 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. In Texas, it is said[who?] that chile peppers were planted along the cattle trails to serve for future use.[citation needed]



File:MVI 2975 Chuckwagon exhibit.jpg
Charles Goodnight's chuckwagon was named in 2003 as the "official state vehicle" of Texas; this exhibit is at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in the Fort Worth Stockyards in Fort Worth.

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.


Chuckwagon racing is an event at some rodeos mainly in Western Canada such as the Calgary Stampede.[4] Chuckwagon races were held from 1952 until 1998 at Cheyenne Frontier Days[5] - one of America's biggest rodeos. There are a few professional chuckwagon racing circuits that operate in North America with the premiere circuit being run by the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) based in Calgary, Alberta. A yearly chuckwagon race event is still held in Clinton, Arkansas.[6]

Chuckwagons are raced around a figure eight barrel obstacle, and the stove and tent poles within the wagon must not be lost. The racing team also has from two to four "outriders" who load the stove and tent poles at the start and must finish the race with the chuckwagon. Many such races are held each year in Western Canadian cities and towns.


  1. Smith, Sheryl. "Cowboy Cooking". American Profile. http://www.americanprofile.com/article/5321.html. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  2. "Chuck Wagon". Phudpucker.com. http://www.phudpucker.com/bluebonn/chuck%20wagon.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  3. mary bellis (2009-11-03). "The Cowboy Chuckwagon and Charles Goodnight". Inventors.about.com. http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blchuckwagon.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  4. "Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon Races". Roadtripamerica.com. http://www.roadtripamerica.com/places/chucks.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  5. "Wagon races may return". Sharkonline.org. 2006-10-19. http://www.sharkonline.org/?P=0000000556. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  6. "Chuckwagon Race". Chuckwagonraces.com. http://www.chuckwagonraces.com/. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 

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