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Across the fence: Cowboy food

Marci Whitehurst for Progressive Cattle Published on 23 March 2022

When we got married, I was given a dinner bell that was a metal triangle with a metal “wand.” This wand is magic. If you use it to clang the metal triangle, people come running.

And upon arrival, they expect food.

I honestly don’t use the dinner bell very much for cattle working days because meals happen around what is happening with the cows. On cattle days, sometimes things move quicker than expected and sometimes it is later than expected. It is hard to say, “Lunch at noon.”

It’s also hard to predict the weather on cattle working days. Usually, I have hot coffee, water and snacks for the morning – granola bars, muffins, bananas, cookies because sometimes the crew has a couple minutes for a drink and a snack while the gas tank for the chute gets filled. (This is the first year we’ve had a hydraulic chute – wow, what a beautiful contraption. A person no longer has to hang from a rope to get the headcatch to close. But that is a topic for a different day.)

For ranch crew feeding days, I love my Crock Pot.

My Crock Pot and I are friends.

Actually, I have two Crock Pots because I use it so much.

Anyway, I can prep food and have it simmering from that morning – and then no matter what, the food is ready whenever we are done working cows.

Here are some of my favorite things to throw in a Crock Pot:

  • Breakfast burritos. Sausage, egg, cheese and hash browns in a tortilla individually wrapped in tinfoil make for a hearty breakfast and/or brunch. I leave a jar of salsa near the table for an addition if anyone wants it.

  • Sandwiches are always an easy go-to. Crews are often hungry when they stop to eat, so I love using hoagie buns or rolls that are thick with meat and cheese – or kept warm in a Crock Pot for hot sandwiches when it is cold outside.

  • Pulled pork. Always a favorite and easy to keep warm.

  • Chili. A perennial staple. I have a few varieties of chili: Traditional and chicken chili are my go-to’s. However, I am actually allergic to chicken – which is a strange allergy, I know. It developed when I was pregnant with our oldest child and never went away. Thankfully, I married a cattle rancher and not a chicken farmer. But I did make up a white chili with pork in it that is similar to chicken chili.

  • Soups are options on cold days. I serve with rolls. I make thick soups: Ham and potato, beef stew or taco soup are well-liked choices.

Until recently, the ground our cattle grazed was pretty far away from our house. Grass was hard to come by, and we were still proving ourselves as capable managers of the land. That being said, I often carried food in the Suburban and served it out the back. Sometimes it was a bagged lunch the crew could take with them, but oftentimes I’d load up the Crock Pot wrapped in towels and hot packs to keep that food warm. I never had a DC converter for the Crock Pot, but I would’ve gotten one if I’d continued. There’s nothing like having a warm meal after working cows or moving cows on a cold day.

In the summer, though, it is a different story. Summers mean morning work before it gets hot, so it is usually a breakfast option for meals. The breakfast burritos are my staple. I also do breakfast cookies and/or breakfast muffins (eggs, sausage or ham, and cheese on an English muffin). It is nice to have something that will fit in a saddle bag or a pocket. Of course there are store-bought options: granola bars and protein bars that won’t get crunched in a pocket, but not all of my family likes these. They prefer donuts – which will get eaten before getting put in a pocket.

For summer meals, sometimes we’ll grill burgers and hot dogs after we’re done – or have Polish sausage waiting in a Crock Pot. I’ve also done burritos or tacos, but if you’re not near a house, hauling all the pieces for tacos is a pain unless they are already made up sans sour cream and salsa. Cold meals can also be potato salad – I often put bacon in mine and the crew usually likes this – or pasta salad full of meat and cheese, with cold cut sandwiches. Noticing the meat trend? Honestly, though, the crew often likes to drink their calories in the summer to cool down, and there is nothing more appreciated than a cooler full of cold drinks.

Cookies or bars are part of the ensemble, regardless of the time or season. I even served brownies with breakfast burritos. Sugar makes people happy. Let’s face it: If you have a cantankerous cow or things are moving slow, something simple to bring joy can be a huge blessing.

Since it is springtime, we have no idea what the weather will bring, so I choose according to the forecast. Food is always appreciated, and I never have to ring the dinner bell after working cows.  end mark

Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her on her blog (Cowboy Wife)