Colorado Chuckwagon Dinners

Colorado’s Western heritage is celebrated on a regular basis at chuckwagon dinners and shows around the state. Some of our favorites and ones that we recommend if you’re in the area:

  • The M Lazy C at Lake George is a scenic drive west from Colorado Springs, with dinner and a show awaiting.
  • Two Below Zero between Breckenridge and Frisco is great family fun and good eatin’.
  • Bar D Chuckwagon in Durango is a spread of wholesome food and lively cowboy music.
  • There’s a Chuckwagon Cowboy Gathering in eastern Colorado near Wray.

The Chuckwagon Tradition

The concept of the chuckwagon came from the old Western frontier days. Charles Goodnight, a Texas Rancher known as the father of the panhandle (Texas), introduced the concept of a traveling food wagon in 1866. In the glory days of the expansion of the American West, the open range was the dominant way of having a cattle operation. The chuckwagon was an integral part of the cattle drive. Commonly, cowboys, many of them working together, would drive huge herds of cattle across the plains or from one large cattle operation to another. Often, these cattle drives would take weeks, if not months, and feeding the cowboys along the way was a big part of the operation.

A Typical Chuckwagon Dinner

The traditional dinner was fairly standard as the cuisine was mostly on hoof or brought along as a dry good.

  • Sourdough biscuits, biscuits & gravy – bags of flower, gravy from beef.
  • Beans – bags of dry pinto beans. Sometimes, all you got were beans.
  • Beef or game – unfortunates butchered along the way.
  • Occasional vegetables – acquired from homesteaders along the way.
  • Coffee – beans boiled in pots, cowboy-style.
  • Liquor – as long as it lasted.

Today’s dinners include much of these basic foods but usually with a bit more flare, such as smoked meats or a selection of steaks, fish, backed beans flavored to our liking, jams and jellies, pies and other deserts, and more.

The Cowboy Hoedown

You might wonder why chuckwagon dinners usually have a hoedown, a dance, or music associated with them. Well, often, when the cowboys reached their final stop or roundup, it was pretty much a party. Saloons would be in full tilt, music a playing, card games in full swing, and you can guess the rest. Sometimes, these occasions turned into rodeos. Not only cattle ended up being exchanged, but horses too. It was a full affair.

Today’s Chuckwagon Rendition

In memory of the old-time chuckwagon experience. Today’s establishments usually combine some variation of traditional foods with some sort of traditional entertainment, either a dance or live country western music or both. Often, modern-day rodeos will serve food from a chuckwagon or something along those lines.



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