Wyoming, Montana, Colorado
Pioneer Fare: The Chuck Wagon Dinner
Enjoy an authentic taste of the American West by trying some signature foods.
Chuck wagons are the West — a singular portrait that calls forth images of cowboys driving into wild, new territory. You can relive that history today at guest or dude ranches, and at chuck wagon dinners throughout the Western United States.
Sample "Cowboy Cuisine"
With some regional variation, chuck wagon dinners are open-air buffets featuring foods prepared in a Dutch oven or grill over a wood fire. Selections are hearty and simple: Imagine medium-rare rib-eye steaks with just the right char; slow-simmered chicken over the fire and brushed with barbecue sauce; and beans thick with bacon, onion and garlic, bubbling in a tangy-sweet elixir of vinegar and brown sugar.
You’ll sample tomato-based stews bursting with beef, potatoes and carrots; sweet, tender corn on the cob with melted butter; and rustic applesauce, dense spice cake and sweet fruit cobblers. All you have to do is to wait for the dinner bell to ring and fill your plate.
Most of the recipes served at ranches today have roots in the chuck wagon tradition. The entertainment that accompanies your cowboy dinner, which could be anything from a trail or wagon ride to swapping songs and poetry with cowboys around the campfire, pays tribute to the same history. But it’s the scenery — golden sagebrush, aspen groves, canyons, valleys, Rocky Mountain ranges and a wide-open sky — that evokes the Western pioneer spirit so powerfully.
Most chuck wagon dinners are offered seasonally, often in summer and early autumn. Some visitors stay for dinner only, though many others reserve overnight or multi-day stays on working guest ranches (often called dude ranches) where the cowboy dinners are just part of the throwback Wild West experience. There’s a ranch stay for every style of traveller, whether you want to fly-fish, go whitewater rafting, ride horseback, play cowboy, book a spa treatment or enjoy fine dining with a ranch view.
During these chuck wagon dinners, you can expect to find cowboys and ranchhands sautéing and stirring your meal in cast-iron skillets over an open flame.
Ways to Live (and Eat) Like a Cowboy
- Hit Dornan’s in Moose, Wyoming, for the Monday night dinner and “hootenanny,” an impromptu gathering of musicians.
- You’ll discover a more refined chuck wagon experience at the Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, where dinners might feature tomahawk chops, huckleberry cobbler and Montana-brewed beer.
- Customize a stay at the posh Zapata Ranch in Mosca, Colorado, to savour bison raised on-site and volunteer as a ranch hand.