Combine engaging travel with hearty, satisfying comfort food at a chuck wagon cook-off—it’s a tasty way to experience one culinary element of the iconic American West’s cowboy/cattleman culture. Dozens of chuck wagon cooking competitions, or cook-offs, take place every year; most occur in western states though they can be found throughout the U.S. According to native Texan and amateur historian Roger Edison, the chuck wagon was invented in 1866 by Texan Charles Goodnight, a rancher trying to find a way to keep his cowboys well-fed during cattle drives that sometimes lasted several months. Goodnight rigged a sturdy army surplus wagon with a large upright wooden pantry box and a hinged door with hinged legs that could be laid flat to serve as a food preparation table. It proved to be an effective way to hold and transport barrels of bulk foodstuffs and other supplies.
Nobody obsesses over peppers like the denizens of New Mexico. Not your uncle who holds the family record for eating jalapeños. Not your buddy who’s a self-professed “chili-head” and boasts shelves lined with hot sauces with punny names in his man cave. Not that lady who just pulled a bottle of hot sauce out of her purse at the restaurant table next to yours. Nobody. First of all, in the Land of Enchantment, peppers are called “chiles.” (“Chili” is that thick spicy soup with beans that may or may not have some meat in it.)