Kent and Shannon Rollins: Chuckwagon Cooking

The best way to hire good cowboys and keep them working hard is to feed them well. Kent Rollins has always taken this job seriously. Cowboys can count on him to have coffee brewing atop his trusty 385-pound wood-burning camp stove, fondly named Bertha, before 4 a.m., followed by a hearty breakfast that includes meat, eggs and homemade bread.

Kent Rollins grilling and smoking meats
Grilling and smoking meats are two of Kent Rollins’ specialties. Photo by Shannon Rollins

“Being a chuck wagon cook, my most important job is to feed cowboys,” writes Kent in his cookbook Comfort Food the Cowboy Way, released this past April. “My second most important job is to make them feel comfortable in camp, to feel like family and give them a sense of being at home.”

Through books, magazine articles, charitable events, appearances on the Food Network, demonstrations, and his YouTube channel, Kent has welcomed millions of guests to his “table” and made them feel like family. His YouTube channel boasts nearly 2.5 million subscribers, and his third cookbook release has sent him and his wife of 13 years, Shannon, on a whirlwind book-signing tour throughout the United States.

Kent and Shannon with their beagle, Bonehead
Kent and Shannon with their beloved late Beagle, Bonehead, who joined them on their travels. Photo courtesy Kent and Shannon Rollins

Whether they’re on the road hauling their 1876 Studebaker chuckwagon to catering gigs or promoting their books, the Rollinses never miss an opportunity to visit with their fans and are humbled to hear how deeply they’ve touched people’s lives, from military men and women serving overseas to people suffering from terminal illness and tragic loss.

“I never dreamed we’d get to this point,” Kent says. “It still humbles me to see the people who come out to meet us, not just to eat food, but to visit with us. They become like family.”

Both Sides of the Fire

Raised in Hollis, Okla., Kent spent his entire life around cowboys and ranching. He helped his father tend cattle on a small ranch and, later in life, he rode bulls professionally. His mother introduced him to cooking at a young age.

“I remember pulling up a stool to an old stand mixer in a tiny kitchen and baking a cake with Mama when I was 9 years old. I thought it was the best thing in the world, until she told me I had to wash the dishes,” he says, laughing.

A chuckwagon camp
Photo courtesy Kent and Shannon Rollins

In the mid-1990s, the father of two sons quit a good-paying job with benefits, hung up his bull rope, and started cooking for his uncle, who was an outfitter in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. Word spread of his delicious food, and before long he had bought a chuckwagon and was traveling to ranches to cook for cowboy crews.

“I don’t want to look back on life and wonder what if, shoulda, coulda, woulda,” he says. “I always had strong faith, and the first ranch job got me four more.”

While doing a cooking demonstration in Elko, Nev., Kent met Shannon, who was an event coordinator for the Western Folklife Center. The pair married a few years later, and now Shannon plays an integral role in the business, from web design and product fulfillment to photography, videography, scheduling and social media. She is also a gifted baker.

“People often ask how many people are on our crew and what equipment we use [to film],” Kent says. “We tell them it’s me, Shannon and the dogs, and we shoot with our iPhones. We keep it pretty simple.”

Bertha, a 328-pound wood-burning camp stove, is a fixture at the wagon
Bertha, a 328-pound wood-burning camp stove, is a fixture at the wagon. Photo by Shannon Rollins

Comfort Food Fix

Together, the Rollinses have built a brand around Rollins’ homestyle recipes and storytelling. Appearances on Food Network programs such as Throwdown with Bobby Flay and Chopped Grill Masters put Kent on the map. His polite, humble personality endeared him to fans around the world who wanted to know more about him. That led to publishing his first book, A Taste of Cowboy, in 2015, followed by Faith, Family & the Feast in 2020, and his latest release, Comfort Food the Cowboy Way.

Comfort Food the Cowboy Way, a book by Kent and Shannon Rollins
Their latest cookbook is filled with homestyle recipes and stories from the wagon.

The new book offers more than 100 recipes that pay homage to cocineros (Mexican cooks who went up the cattle trail in the late 1800s), classic café fare, and homestyle comfort food, plus breakfasts, appetizers, desserts, and grilled and smoked meats. Sprinkled throughout the book are stories about ranching, chuckwagon history and authentic ranch life photography.

“Food is still a focal point that brings people together,” Kent says. “It’s not as much about eating the food you’ve prepared as it is bringing folks together and seeing their happy faces when they taste it.”

The beauty of Kent’s recipes is that they use staples most people have in the pantry.

“I want to use ingredients people have on hand,” says Kent. “They don’t have to be fancy ingredients, they just have to be good.”

Sprinkled throughout the book are stories about ranching and chuckwagon history from Kent’s perpective and authentic ranch life photos taken by Shannon. The entire book is entertaining, but the food is at the heart of it.

Kent and Shannon Rollins’s French Toast Casserole Recipe

French toast casserole with blueberry toppings

◆ Makes 10 Servings

Prep Time: 20 Minutes

Total Time: 50 Minutes

Ingredients

◆ 2 sticks butter, plus more for greasing
◆ 1 (16-ounce) loaf French bread
◆ 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
◆ ¾ cup granulated sugar
◆ 8 large eggs
◆ 2 cups milk, half-and-half, or heavy cream
◆ 1/3 cup whiskey
◆ 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
◆ 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
◆ 4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
◆ ½ cup chopped pecans (optional)
◆ Powdered sugar, blueberries, and maple syrup, for serving (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

◆ Cut the bread into 1-inch squares. Place on the prepared baking pan and bake for about 10 minutes, until it dries out.

◆ Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in 1 cup of the brown sugar and ¼ cup of the granulated sugar until smooth. Evenly pour the mixture into the bottom of the pan. Top with the bread cubes and press down slightly.

◆ In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, whiskey, the remaining ½-cup granulated sugar, vanilla, 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons of the nutmeg. Evenly pour the mixture over the bread cubes.

◆ Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 teaspoons nutmeg, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and, if desired, the pecans. Continue baking for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving. Serve warm with powdered sugar, blueberries, and syrup, if desired.

*Recipe reprinted with permission from Comfort Food the Cowboy Way, published by Harvest, an imprint of William Morrow.

For more information on Kent, visit his website.

This article about Kent and Shannon Rollins appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Western Life Today magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Jennifer Denison

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