Celebrated chuck-wagon chef Kent Rollins shares tips for cooking on the range—and not the kind in your kitchen.
Kent Rollins says it takes only three things to master the art of Dutch-oven cooking: practice, practice and practice. “And I’ve been practicing for more than 25 years,” he adds. Kent is Oklahoma’s official chuck-wagon cook and has won numerous cook-off competitions. Back in 2010, he even out-cooked celebrity chef Bobby Flay in a chicken-fried steak throwdown, which you can enjoy in this video.
“You’ve also got to love what you do,” he says, “and do it with honor and integrity.”
With a restored 1876 Studebaker wagon, nearly two dozen cast-iron Dutch ovens and Bertha (a 385-pound, wood-fired cookstove), Kent and his wife, Shannon, proudly carry on a 150-year-old tradition. In fact, the couple recently spent four weeks cooking for a large crew on the remote and historic 290,100-acre Bell Ranch in New Mexico.
“It’s a hard life—up every day at 2:50 a.m.,” says Kent, who runs Red River Ranch Chuck Wagon Catering (kentrollins.com) in Byers, Texas. “But it’s fun to show younger guys the old ways … and it’s worth it just to hear them say, ‘That’s the best meal I ever ate in my life!’ ”
A typical day might feature sourdough cinnamon rolls, bacon and coffee for breakfast; a hearty casserole for lunch; and steak or chicken-fried steak, red beans, biscuits and peach cobbler for dinner.
“It’s well known that if you feed them well, they work better,” he notes. “They sure can put away a lot of groceries.”
What’s the hardest thing about Dutch-oven cooking? “There’s no knob to turn the fire on and off,” Kent quips. “You have to know when to slow things down, and keep rotating the ovens and lids. Through repetition and practice, I know when something is done. But if anyone tells you they’ve never burned something in a Dutch oven, they haven’t been cooking long enough, I promise.”