Cooking the Cowboy Way
The good folks at Andrews McMeel sent me Cooking the Cowboy Way: Recipes Inspired by Campfires, Chuck Wagons, and Ranch Kitchens by Grady Spears with June Naylor to review. This may have something to do with my previous comments regarding the impossibility of dissolving my marriage on the grounds of my wife not liking seafood in Kansas, a state in love with it’s barbecue. But either way, I’m always happy to review cookbooks and learn new ways to cook, especially when I get back to my cowboy roots.
Actually, that’s a lie. I have no cowboy roots, but maybe I could grow some with the right cookbook? Maybe Cooking the Cowboy Way could let me do just that. Weighing in at 222 pages, the book is divided into 10 chapters, each featuring the cowboy cuisine of a different region from Alberta, Canada to Sasabe, Arizona, to Arlington, Texas to right here in Kansas City, MO. Each chapter begins with a write up of the area and the cowboys that live there and then showcases regional specialties as prepared by the owners of famous ranches, cowboy eateries, and barbecue joints at each location.
Spears is given some pretty amazing access into some of these restaurants and manages to snag signature dishes from each ranch or restaurant, including the Jackstack Hickory Pit Baked Beans (recipe below), a flavorful mole sauce from Sasabe, and Lonesome Pine Ranch’s Kolaches (Czech pastries for breakfast or dessert.) Also, every chapter is graced with dozens of professional color photos, both of the food, and the cowboys who eat it.
Cooking the Cowboy Way: The Good
Overall, Cooking the Cowboy Way is a great cookbook with lots of good recipes for how to cook beef, poultry, fish, and other meat according to traditional regional styles. The mole sauce, for instance, stuck out as being something that looked really good, but something I could make despite having so many ingredients. Plus, I learned something about my own town…apparently we were one of the originators of the Arnold Palmer drink, a mixture of half lemonade and iced tea.
Plus, the photography in the book is nothing short of stunning. They’re the kind of pictures that make you want to get on a horse and run down some cattle. Which having ridden a horse before, I can tell you is sure recipe for saddle sores. But that’s another story.
So, the book gets high marks there.
Cooking the Cowboy Way: The Hrmm…
So, the one thing that surprised me about the book was that I was expecting something a little less… civilized. Spears went to restaurants and ranch owners to get their recipes. I was expecting something a bit more primal, like a campfire cookbook or something that would let me cook 120 meals with nothing but a knife, my Dutch oven, and a campfire.
It wasn’t that. Sadly, I could make everything with a stove, a couple burners, and the other accoutrements of civilization.
On the other hand, I got the recipe for Jackstack’s hickory pit beans, so I guess civilization isn’t so bad.
Cooking the Cowbow Way: The Recipe
So, here is the bean recipe I keep talking so much about. See, in Kansas City we have more BBQ places per capita than anywhere else in the world. Still, for the most part, the debate about where the best BBQ can be found boils down to two places: Fiorella’s Jackstack (a family owned chain of barbecue restaurants) and Oklahoma Joe’s (a BBQ place that started in half of a gas station. Though to be fair, it was a large gas station.)
My personal favorite is Jackstack. It’s 1A, but 1B is definitely Oklahoma Joe’s. Really you can’t go wrong either place. One of the things that nudges Jackstack ahead of Okie Joe’s, though, is their baked beans. They’re sweet and smoky and just packed full of meat. I’d be happy with them and some fries…heck, I’d make the greatest loaded French fries in the history of humankind with that…
So of course, when I saw the recipe in the book, I knew that was the recipe I’d try from the cookbook.
Serves 10 to 12
If you go to Fiorella’s Jack Stack in Kansas City, you gotta have these incredible beans! The pit cooks get all their amazing flavor by letting the cooking meats’ juices drip down into the pans of beans. You might not be able to do that, but this recipe, with brisket, bottled smoke flavoring, and your favorite barbecue sauce, will get you close. This works great on a grill, too; keep your pan of beans uncovered so the grill flavor can soak in.
Hickory Pit Beans
1 (32-ounce) can pork and beans
1 cup Jack Stack Original Barbecue Sauce or your favorite barbecue sauce
1 cup smoked beef brisket, cut into ¼-inch dice
½ cup ketchup
½ cup water
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
In a 4-quart saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, and then decrease the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the beans have a thick, soupy consistency. Serve hot.
-From Cooking the Cowboy Way by Grady Spears with June Naylor/Andrews McMeel Publishing
So, I made this recipe and I had a few thoughts:
1. You’re going to have to stir this recipe…a lot. There is so much sugar that the beans can singe if you don’t.
2. Shred the brisket. Don’t do 1/4 inch dice. The meat needs to be tiny, tiny pieces.
3. I’ll give it to Spears. He got a recipe that was close. Darn close. I didn’t expect they’d taste exactly like Jackstack and they don’t. But there were close enough for government work. In the future, though, when I make them again, I am going to increase the amount of brown sugar. They weren’t sweet enough.
4. Full diclosure: I ran of out of ketchup and only had 1/4 cup instead of the 1/2 cup. That missing 1/4 cup might have been the extra sugar I needed, but I still think I’d really pack down the brown sugar and probably add a little extra for good measure
So, now the secret is out. You, too can make Jackstack Hickory Pit beans. Get to it and enjoy!