Chuck wagon cook-off hosted at fairgrounds

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Ethan Gallegos, a Clovis High School freshman and member of the Clovis Swim Club, serves a chicken fried steak during the “Duke of the Dutch Oven” Chuck Wagon Cook-Off Saturday at the Curry County Fairgrounds.

Kevin Wilson

For about an hour Saturday, the Curry County Fairgrounds held Clovis’ biggest outdoor cafe — complete with chicken fried steak, potatoes, cobbler and friendliness.

For the fourth year, the fairgrounds played host to the “Duke of the Dutch Ovens” Chuck Wagon Cook-Off.

The event had previously been tied to the Joe’s Boot Shop Calf Roping competition, which was held the previous week, but there was a feeling the event might be better suited to go with the Resistol All-Around Ranch Rodeo. Event coordinator Wilma Fulgham said that decision would be evaluated going into 2012.

Proceeds from the event benefit the Miss Rodeo New Mexico Pageant and scholarships.

The event brings 10 teams with wagons from as near as Clovis and as far as Colorado, competing to see who puts together the best meal of chicken fried steak, beans, potatoes, gravy, biscuits and peach cobbler.

The cooking starts around 5 a.m. for most crews. That’s when the Lizzie II team started burning mesquite wood, and went to work on the beans, cobbler and bread.

The wagon is owned by Rex and Sheryl Wailes of Bennett, Colo.

“When my husband was young, he would watch shows on television about the cowboys and their way,” Wailes said. “He decided he wanted a wagon, and the rest is history.”

Drinks were provided by the Clovis Swim Club, who were part of a cadre of volunteers later rewarded with their own plate. Each team cooks enough food to serve 60. Fulgham said about 550 to 560 of those go to crews and volunteers.

“It takes a lot of people to do this,” Fulgham said. “Some have 10, some have half a dozen.”

The remaining 40 to 50 are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis at $15 a ticket.

Crews can only cook using materials and methods that would have been available to actual chuck wagon crews — no Pillsbury, no KitchenAid. That means the meals take longer — Rex Wailes said coffee takes about 30 minutes from scratch — but the customers enjoy the payoff.

“It’s a bit more flavorful,” Ginger Creighton of Portales after she finished off her chicken fried steak. “The food is just better when it’s cooked outdoors.”

Creighton’s friend, Rose Robbins, also of Portales, said the atmosphere was top-notch as well.

“When you look around here, everyone is pleasant,” Robbins said. “Nobody is in a bad mood.”

The event had an adjoining car show on Saturday, and a session today will include a 7:30 a.m.-9 a.m. chuck wagon breakfast for $8 and a 10 a.m. “cowboy church” in the Curry County Event Center.