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At rodeo, cook-off gets a blast from the past

Cook-off part of annual Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo, which runs through March 27.

Christina Rosales

Once upon a time, cowboys set up camp by their chuck wagons, savoring the sunset and smell of burning wood as supper cooked in Dutch ovens. For several Texans, that scene played out Friday as they set up for the first day of Chuck Wagon Cook-off at the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo. The competition runs through Sunday.

"Nothing tastes better than food cooked outdoors," competitor Homer Robertson of Granbury said. "The experience of dining and cooking in the fresh air and sunshine is much better than cooking on your typical electric stove."

The mild, sunny first day of the annual festivities at the Travis County Exposition Center kicked off Friday with $1 carnival rides, bands, livestock arrivals and — most important to cook-off competitors — judging of chuck wagons, some of which can cost as much as $30,000.

Brian Frankun from Axtell said judges look for the authenticity of the wagons, all of which date back to the 1860s to 1890s.

"They're really hard to find," he said. "But at one time they were manufactured the way Ford makes trucks."

Frankun bought his chuck wagon, which he named Wishbone, from an owner in Llano seven years ago. The wagon originally came from Pennsylvania, he said. Each chuck wagon for the cook-off is complete with a mini-kitchen, called a chuck box, located at the back of the wagon. With no electricity, the cooks make a meal using Dutch ovens and firewood, the same way cowboys did in the 1860s while driving cattle east.

The menu for today's cook-off is fried chicken, potatoes, pinto beans, peach cobbler and bread, all of which can be prepared using the cooks' own methods and style.

"I guess this is our golf," Robertson said. "It's relaxing and a way to educate the people about history. Kids learn about world history in school, but look at what we have around here."

The fair and rodeo runs through March 27 .

crosales@statesman.com; 445-3812