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Chuckwagon cowboy on the open range

Photos by Ellen DooleyRod Hoffman preps the coals, while hungry folk gather.

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Rod Hoffman comes from a long line of ranching families. Originally from the Wall, SD area, his sisters include Chris Crago, Dawn Newland, and Kathy Thompson who all reside in western South Dakota with their respective spouses, Cliff Crago, Wilbur Newland and Ted Thompson. JB Hoffman is also part of the clan, brother to Rod and his sisters. Each share individual influences of their father, also known in the Black Hills area as “Grandpa Walt,” but it was Rod who picked up the family spoon and is carrying on the family tradition of chuckwagon cooking.

Walt Hoffman started cooking for area ranchers many decades ago. He’d haul his chuckwagon to brandings, ropings, rodeos and other events providing traditional hearty fixin’s. Rod grew up helping his dad at events and learning the trade. He has also adopted the same outlook on serving people.

“If they leave full and like the taste of your food, you’re gonna get people who also want to use you in the future,” he says.



Rod spent a lot of years by his dad’s side, learning the craft of feeding hardworking folks, who need to have fuel to carry out the demands of the day.

“Folks get hungry, but they need to have something that will sustain them – they need good food fast, not fast food quickly!” Hoffman says with great enthusiasm for what he does.



“It’s an honor to cook for those carrying on the family business of ranching,” he says. “It’s hard honest work and coming from that background, I feel like we have a unique advantage to understand their needs, schedules, likes and attitudes. We place a premium on providing cost-effective food that is exceptional. Most times, you come back year after year, and develop strong bonds with people, as an active participant in making their event, or work day go well. We travel to their place – earn our way into their hearts through their stomachs!” he adds with an easy laugh.

Rod uses USDA choice beef, select ingredients and has cooked for hundreds of people at a time. “It’s just as easy to cook for 50 as it is to cook for 10,” he says.

Cooking 40 steaks at a time over an open-fire is not an uncommon task. Among the many things he can prepare and serve, he offers smothered steaks, roast beef, baked potatoes, beans, stews – very traditional western fare. From time to time, he is asked to conjure up Mexican selections – bringing out his tasty enchiladas. He can even make pancakes or biscuits and gravy for early morning breakfasts.

“At some events, you cook three square meals in a day,” he says. “You prep for it and boy, it’s fun. Sometimes, I arrive the day before. I pack a bedroll just in case, and occasionally spend the night under the evening stars. I’m up around 4 a.m. the next day to get things started.”

When you see his chuckwagon, one of a few he has in his stable of cooking outfits, you get a sense of the history that goes along with the years of serving it up at ranch after ranch.

“Dad used to have the folks we cook for put their brand on the side of the Chuckwagon canvas,” Rod says, pointing out each brand and naming off scores of locals and regional cattle families. “Ya’ see, dad would have them place the brand exactly where it was on their cattle or horses. If they had right rib cattle, they had their brand smack dab in the middle of the right side of the canvas and so forth.”

Looking over the brands, you can see that ones have faded away and been retraced over the years, no doubt after repeat visits for another round of branding.

On a recent night, Hoffman gathered with local folks to celebrate Wilbur Newland’s 40th birthday. On Newland’s ranch just outside Belle Fourche, Hoffman set up in a pasture, settling his tools, fire pit and wagon in a practical and practiced manner. He didn’t need timers or measuring cups; the years have built in a natural rhythm to his cooking. Coffee was on, and the fireside preparation gave it an authentic cowboy flavor. The flavors transported you to an earlier time, where one might expect a bedroll or un-cinched saddle nearby for relaxing into an evening outdoor slumber. Instead, Hoffman kept all entertained with his mastery of managing 10 or more steaming pots of food at a time. Dawn Newland, his sister, as well as hostess for the evening, jumped in from time to time to get the biscuits in a basket or offer up some homemade chokecherry jam. Chris Crago made sure everyone had plenty of crisp coffee. It was easy to see this is a family who had each done their turn, whether cleaning dishes, serving lemonade, or making sure every tummy was full! Kylie Crago even dutifully volunteered to see if anyone needed a toothpick, smiling from braid to braid while she held out a cupful of them.

Rod has worked on a version of his BBQ sauce for the last three years, perfecting it. He will only share that “there are a lot of ingredients… it’s a secret!” The aged oak he uses in his fire add just the right amount of woody smoke to the flavors.

The backdrop that evening was a cloudless blue sky, dotted with curious fireflies (and Fred, the dog, of course) who seemed as lured to the lush smell of barbecue beef as much as the folks attending. Biscuits were cooking in Dutch ovens over fiery coals, baked beans (with special Hoffman flair) were bubbling away and the roast beef could have lured in people for miles. The potatoes were creamy and perfectly done. Peach Cobbler baked away over the open fire, begging to be a first course. When the night’s offerings were ready – mysteriously all at the same time – Hoffman ambled over to the rustic triangle, and rang in the stampede for the feast. He offered knives with the other silverware, but it was completely an unneeded utensil. Tender and flavorful, the food was perfect in every way.

Hoffman, who operates under the name “Open Range Cowboy Cookin’,” does do his share of other types of events. Weddings are key part of his customer base, and loves the idea of cooking up fare for the most important day in people’s lives. Weddings are a little bit different, since most guests show up in their Sunday-best and care a little bit more about not getting BBQ sauce on their fronts. That is certainly not an issue at a branding, “Ranchers need to fill their stomachs and go back to work!” He also does hunting camps, special events and festivals.

After successfully building a chuckwagon business in east Texas, near Fort Worth and later outside of Dallas, Hoffman thought he might retire and move back home. He was looking forward to returning home to the hills, and being closer to family. After his dad, Walt, passed away over 10 years ago, he started to feel the pull of Dakota calling him back north. Rod sold his business in Texas and moved back to South Dakota, settling in the Belle Fourche area. He wasn’t necessarily planning on restarting his business, but then previous families and organizations started coming out of the woodwork, and with beef, beans and BBQ coursing through his bloodlines, the lure of the chuckwagon was too strong to ignore. While the Northern Hills of South Dakota are his base, he happily travels to ply his trade.

“We use recipes and cooking methods that our family developed over the years… you can taste history in every bite,” says Hoffman. “I am so blessed to be back in a region I truly love, and creating food that has purpose in sustaining cowboys, cowgirls and families! When asked if the work was hard, he replied that “Being around good people is the rewarding part. What could be better than that?” Hoffman says with a grin.

Rod’s mom, Onalee Hoffman, the matriarch of the family, has been one of the driving inspirations of the family, and is a talented writer of poetry and books – much about history and our local west. While her books are classified as fiction, her books have drawn upon the happenings and accomplishments of their talented Hoffman clan. And with such a vibrant bunch, the stories will surely continue.

Rod Hoffman comes from a long line of ranching families. Originally from the Wall, SD area, his sisters include Chris Crago, Dawn Newland, and Kathy Thompson who all reside in western South Dakota with their respective spouses, Cliff Crago, Wilbur Newland and Ted Thompson. JB Hoffman is also part of the clan, brother to Rod and his sisters. Each share individual influences of their father, also known in the Black Hills area as “Grandpa Walt,” but it was Rod who picked up the family spoon and is carrying on the family tradition of chuckwagon cooking.

Walt Hoffman started cooking for area ranchers many decades ago. He’d haul his chuckwagon to brandings, ropings, rodeos and other events providing traditional hearty fixin’s. Rod grew up helping his dad at events and learning the trade. He has also adopted the same outlook on serving people.

“If they leave full and like the taste of your food, you’re gonna get people who also want to use you in the future,” he says.

Rod spent a lot of years by his dad’s side, learning the craft of feeding hardworking folks, who need to have fuel to carry out the demands of the day.

“Folks get hungry, but they need to have something that will sustain them – they need good food fast, not fast food quickly!” Hoffman says with great enthusiasm for what he does.

“It’s an honor to cook for those carrying on the family business of ranching,” he says. “It’s hard honest work and coming from that background, I feel like we have a unique advantage to understand their needs, schedules, likes and attitudes. We place a premium on providing cost-effective food that is exceptional. Most times, you come back year after year, and develop strong bonds with people, as an active participant in making their event, or work day go well. We travel to their place – earn our way into their hearts through their stomachs!” he adds with an easy laugh.

Rod uses USDA choice beef, select ingredients and has cooked for hundreds of people at a time. “It’s just as easy to cook for 50 as it is to cook for 10,” he says.

Cooking 40 steaks at a time over an open-fire is not an uncommon task. Among the many things he can prepare and serve, he offers smothered steaks, roast beef, baked potatoes, beans, stews – very traditional western fare. From time to time, he is asked to conjure up Mexican selections – bringing out his tasty enchiladas. He can even make pancakes or biscuits and gravy for early morning breakfasts.

“At some events, you cook three square meals in a day,” he says. “You prep for it and boy, it’s fun. Sometimes, I arrive the day before. I pack a bedroll just in case, and occasionally spend the night under the evening stars. I’m up around 4 a.m. the next day to get things started.”

When you see his chuckwagon, one of a few he has in his stable of cooking outfits, you get a sense of the history that goes along with the years of serving it up at ranch after ranch.

“Dad used to have the folks we cook for put their brand on the side of the Chuckwagon canvas,” Rod says, pointing out each brand and naming off scores of locals and regional cattle families. “Ya’ see, dad would have them place the brand exactly where it was on their cattle or horses. If they had right rib cattle, they had their brand smack dab in the middle of the right side of the canvas and so forth.”

Looking over the brands, you can see that ones have faded away and been retraced over the years, no doubt after repeat visits for another round of branding.

On a recent night, Hoffman gathered with local folks to celebrate Wilbur Newland’s 40th birthday. On Newland’s ranch just outside Belle Fourche, Hoffman set up in a pasture, settling his tools, fire pit and wagon in a practical and practiced manner. He didn’t need timers or measuring cups; the years have built in a natural rhythm to his cooking. Coffee was on, and the fireside preparation gave it an authentic cowboy flavor. The flavors transported you to an earlier time, where one might expect a bedroll or un-cinched saddle nearby for relaxing into an evening outdoor slumber. Instead, Hoffman kept all entertained with his mastery of managing 10 or more steaming pots of food at a time. Dawn Newland, his sister, as well as hostess for the evening, jumped in from time to time to get the biscuits in a basket or offer up some homemade chokecherry jam. Chris Crago made sure everyone had plenty of crisp coffee. It was easy to see this is a family who had each done their turn, whether cleaning dishes, serving lemonade, or making sure every tummy was full! Kylie Crago even dutifully volunteered to see if anyone needed a toothpick, smiling from braid to braid while she held out a cupful of them.

Rod has worked on a version of his BBQ sauce for the last three years, perfecting it. He will only share that “there are a lot of ingredients… it’s a secret!” The aged oak he uses in his fire add just the right amount of woody smoke to the flavors.

The backdrop that evening was a cloudless blue sky, dotted with curious fireflies (and Fred, the dog, of course) who seemed as lured to the lush smell of barbecue beef as much as the folks attending. Biscuits were cooking in Dutch ovens over fiery coals, baked beans (with special Hoffman flair) were bubbling away and the roast beef could have lured in people for miles. The potatoes were creamy and perfectly done. Peach Cobbler baked away over the open fire, begging to be a first course. When the night’s offerings were ready – mysteriously all at the same time – Hoffman ambled over to the rustic triangle, and rang in the stampede for the feast. He offered knives with the other silverware, but it was completely an unneeded utensil. Tender and flavorful, the food was perfect in every way.

Hoffman, who operates under the name “Open Range Cowboy Cookin’,” does do his share of other types of events. Weddings are key part of his customer base, and loves the idea of cooking up fare for the most important day in people’s lives. Weddings are a little bit different, since most guests show up in their Sunday-best and care a little bit more about not getting BBQ sauce on their fronts. That is certainly not an issue at a branding, “Ranchers need to fill their stomachs and go back to work!” He also does hunting camps, special events and festivals.

After successfully building a chuckwagon business in east Texas, near Fort Worth and later outside of Dallas, Hoffman thought he might retire and move back home. He was looking forward to returning home to the hills, and being closer to family. After his dad, Walt, passed away over 10 years ago, he started to feel the pull of Dakota calling him back north. Rod sold his business in Texas and moved back to South Dakota, settling in the Belle Fourche area. He wasn’t necessarily planning on restarting his business, but then previous families and organizations started coming out of the woodwork, and with beef, beans and BBQ coursing through his bloodlines, the lure of the chuckwagon was too strong to ignore. While the Northern Hills of South Dakota are his base, he happily travels to ply his trade.

“We use recipes and cooking methods that our family developed over the years… you can taste history in every bite,” says Hoffman. “I am so blessed to be back in a region I truly love, and creating food that has purpose in sustaining cowboys, cowgirls and families! When asked if the work was hard, he replied that “Being around good people is the rewarding part. What could be better than that?” Hoffman says with a grin.

Rod’s mom, Onalee Hoffman, the matriarch of the family, has been one of the driving inspirations of the family, and is a talented writer of poetry and books – much about history and our local west. While her books are classified as fiction, her books have drawn upon the happenings and accomplishments of their talented Hoffman clan. And with such a vibrant bunch, the stories will surely continue.

Rod Hoffman comes from a long line of ranching families. Originally from the Wall, SD area, his sisters include Chris Crago, Dawn Newland, and Kathy Thompson who all reside in western South Dakota with their respective spouses, Cliff Crago, Wilbur Newland and Ted Thompson. JB Hoffman is also part of the clan, brother to Rod and his sisters. Each share individual influences of their father, also known in the Black Hills area as “Grandpa Walt,” but it was Rod who picked up the family spoon and is carrying on the family tradition of chuckwagon cooking.

Walt Hoffman started cooking for area ranchers many decades ago. He’d haul his chuckwagon to brandings, ropings, rodeos and other events providing traditional hearty fixin’s. Rod grew up helping his dad at events and learning the trade. He has also adopted the same outlook on serving people.

“If they leave full and like the taste of your food, you’re gonna get people who also want to use you in the future,” he says.

Rod spent a lot of years by his dad’s side, learning the craft of feeding hardworking folks, who need to have fuel to carry out the demands of the day.

“Folks get hungry, but they need to have something that will sustain them – they need good food fast, not fast food quickly!” Hoffman says with great enthusiasm for what he does.

“It’s an honor to cook for those carrying on the family business of ranching,” he says. “It’s hard honest work and coming from that background, I feel like we have a unique advantage to understand their needs, schedules, likes and attitudes. We place a premium on providing cost-effective food that is exceptional. Most times, you come back year after year, and develop strong bonds with people, as an active participant in making their event, or work day go well. We travel to their place – earn our way into their hearts through their stomachs!” he adds with an easy laugh.

Rod uses USDA choice beef, select ingredients and has cooked for hundreds of people at a time. “It’s just as easy to cook for 50 as it is to cook for 10,” he says.

Cooking 40 steaks at a time over an open-fire is not an uncommon task. Among the many things he can prepare and serve, he offers smothered steaks, roast beef, baked potatoes, beans, stews – very traditional western fare. From time to time, he is asked to conjure up Mexican selections – bringing out his tasty enchiladas. He can even make pancakes or biscuits and gravy for early morning breakfasts.

“At some events, you cook three square meals in a day,” he says. “You prep for it and boy, it’s fun. Sometimes, I arrive the day before. I pack a bedroll just in case, and occasionally spend the night under the evening stars. I’m up around 4 a.m. the next day to get things started.”

When you see his chuckwagon, one of a few he has in his stable of cooking outfits, you get a sense of the history that goes along with the years of serving it up at ranch after ranch.

“Dad used to have the folks we cook for put their brand on the side of the Chuckwagon canvas,” Rod says, pointing out each brand and naming off scores of locals and regional cattle families. “Ya’ see, dad would have them place the brand exactly where it was on their cattle or horses. If they had right rib cattle, they had their brand smack dab in the middle of the right side of the canvas and so forth.”

Looking over the brands, you can see that ones have faded away and been retraced over the years, no doubt after repeat visits for another round of branding.

On a recent night, Hoffman gathered with local folks to celebrate Wilbur Newland’s 40th birthday. On Newland’s ranch just outside Belle Fourche, Hoffman set up in a pasture, settling his tools, fire pit and wagon in a practical and practiced manner. He didn’t need timers or measuring cups; the years have built in a natural rhythm to his cooking. Coffee was on, and the fireside preparation gave it an authentic cowboy flavor. The flavors transported you to an earlier time, where one might expect a bedroll or un-cinched saddle nearby for relaxing into an evening outdoor slumber. Instead, Hoffman kept all entertained with his mastery of managing 10 or more steaming pots of food at a time. Dawn Newland, his sister, as well as hostess for the evening, jumped in from time to time to get the biscuits in a basket or offer up some homemade chokecherry jam. Chris Crago made sure everyone had plenty of crisp coffee. It was easy to see this is a family who had each done their turn, whether cleaning dishes, serving lemonade, or making sure every tummy was full! Kylie Crago even dutifully volunteered to see if anyone needed a toothpick, smiling from braid to braid while she held out a cupful of them.

Rod has worked on a version of his BBQ sauce for the last three years, perfecting it. He will only share that “there are a lot of ingredients… it’s a secret!” The aged oak he uses in his fire add just the right amount of woody smoke to the flavors.

The backdrop that evening was a cloudless blue sky, dotted with curious fireflies (and Fred, the dog, of course) who seemed as lured to the lush smell of barbecue beef as much as the folks attending. Biscuits were cooking in Dutch ovens over fiery coals, baked beans (with special Hoffman flair) were bubbling away and the roast beef could have lured in people for miles. The potatoes were creamy and perfectly done. Peach Cobbler baked away over the open fire, begging to be a first course. When the night’s offerings were ready – mysteriously all at the same time – Hoffman ambled over to the rustic triangle, and rang in the stampede for the feast. He offered knives with the other silverware, but it was completely an unneeded utensil. Tender and flavorful, the food was perfect in every way.

Hoffman, who operates under the name “Open Range Cowboy Cookin’,” does do his share of other types of events. Weddings are key part of his customer base, and loves the idea of cooking up fare for the most important day in people’s lives. Weddings are a little bit different, since most guests show up in their Sunday-best and care a little bit more about not getting BBQ sauce on their fronts. That is certainly not an issue at a branding, “Ranchers need to fill their stomachs and go back to work!” He also does hunting camps, special events and festivals.

After successfully building a chuckwagon business in east Texas, near Fort Worth and later outside of Dallas, Hoffman thought he might retire and move back home. He was looking forward to returning home to the hills, and being closer to family. After his dad, Walt, passed away over 10 years ago, he started to feel the pull of Dakota calling him back north. Rod sold his business in Texas and moved back to South Dakota, settling in the Belle Fourche area. He wasn’t necessarily planning on restarting his business, but then previous families and organizations started coming out of the woodwork, and with beef, beans and BBQ coursing through his bloodlines, the lure of the chuckwagon was too strong to ignore. While the Northern Hills of South Dakota are his base, he happily travels to ply his trade.

“We use recipes and cooking methods that our family developed over the years… you can taste history in every bite,” says Hoffman. “I am so blessed to be back in a region I truly love, and creating food that has purpose in sustaining cowboys, cowgirls and families! When asked if the work was hard, he replied that “Being around good people is the rewarding part. What could be better than that?” Hoffman says with a grin.

Rod’s mom, Onalee Hoffman, the matriarch of the family, has been one of the driving inspirations of the family, and is a talented writer of poetry and books – much about history and our local west. While her books are classified as fiction, her books have drawn upon the happenings and accomplishments of their talented Hoffman clan. And with such a vibrant bunch, the stories will surely continue.

Rod Hoffman comes from a long line of ranching families. Originally from the Wall, SD area, his sisters include Chris Crago, Dawn Newland, and Kathy Thompson who all reside in western South Dakota with their respective spouses, Cliff Crago, Wilbur Newland and Ted Thompson. JB Hoffman is also part of the clan, brother to Rod and his sisters. Each share individual influences of their father, also known in the Black Hills area as “Grandpa Walt,” but it was Rod who picked up the family spoon and is carrying on the family tradition of chuckwagon cooking.

Walt Hoffman started cooking for area ranchers many decades ago. He’d haul his chuckwagon to brandings, ropings, rodeos and other events providing traditional hearty fixin’s. Rod grew up helping his dad at events and learning the trade. He has also adopted the same outlook on serving people.

“If they leave full and like the taste of your food, you’re gonna get people who also want to use you in the future,” he says.

Rod spent a lot of years by his dad’s side, learning the craft of feeding hardworking folks, who need to have fuel to carry out the demands of the day.

“Folks get hungry, but they need to have something that will sustain them – they need good food fast, not fast food quickly!” Hoffman says with great enthusiasm for what he does.

“It’s an honor to cook for those carrying on the family business of ranching,” he says. “It’s hard honest work and coming from that background, I feel like we have a unique advantage to understand their needs, schedules, likes and attitudes. We place a premium on providing cost-effective food that is exceptional. Most times, you come back year after year, and develop strong bonds with people, as an active participant in making their event, or work day go well. We travel to their place – earn our way into their hearts through their stomachs!” he adds with an easy laugh.

Rod uses USDA choice beef, select ingredients and has cooked for hundreds of people at a time. “It’s just as easy to cook for 50 as it is to cook for 10,” he says.

Cooking 40 steaks at a time over an open-fire is not an uncommon task. Among the many things he can prepare and serve, he offers smothered steaks, roast beef, baked potatoes, beans, stews – very traditional western fare. From time to time, he is asked to conjure up Mexican selections – bringing out his tasty enchiladas. He can even make pancakes or biscuits and gravy for early morning breakfasts.

“At some events, you cook three square meals in a day,” he says. “You prep for it and boy, it’s fun. Sometimes, I arrive the day before. I pack a bedroll just in case, and occasionally spend the night under the evening stars. I’m up around 4 a.m. the next day to get things started.”

When you see his chuckwagon, one of a few he has in his stable of cooking outfits, you get a sense of the history that goes along with the years of serving it up at ranch after ranch.

“Dad used to have the folks we cook for put their brand on the side of the Chuckwagon canvas,” Rod says, pointing out each brand and naming off scores of locals and regional cattle families. “Ya’ see, dad would have them place the brand exactly where it was on their cattle or horses. If they had right rib cattle, they had their brand smack dab in the middle of the right side of the canvas and so forth.”

Looking over the brands, you can see that ones have faded away and been retraced over the years, no doubt after repeat visits for another round of branding.

On a recent night, Hoffman gathered with local folks to celebrate Wilbur Newland’s 40th birthday. On Newland’s ranch just outside Belle Fourche, Hoffman set up in a pasture, settling his tools, fire pit and wagon in a practical and practiced manner. He didn’t need timers or measuring cups; the years have built in a natural rhythm to his cooking. Coffee was on, and the fireside preparation gave it an authentic cowboy flavor. The flavors transported you to an earlier time, where one might expect a bedroll or un-cinched saddle nearby for relaxing into an evening outdoor slumber. Instead, Hoffman kept all entertained with his mastery of managing 10 or more steaming pots of food at a time. Dawn Newland, his sister, as well as hostess for the evening, jumped in from time to time to get the biscuits in a basket or offer up some homemade chokecherry jam. Chris Crago made sure everyone had plenty of crisp coffee. It was easy to see this is a family who had each done their turn, whether cleaning dishes, serving lemonade, or making sure every tummy was full! Kylie Crago even dutifully volunteered to see if anyone needed a toothpick, smiling from braid to braid while she held out a cupful of them.

Rod has worked on a version of his BBQ sauce for the last three years, perfecting it. He will only share that “there are a lot of ingredients… it’s a secret!” The aged oak he uses in his fire add just the right amount of woody smoke to the flavors.

The backdrop that evening was a cloudless blue sky, dotted with curious fireflies (and Fred, the dog, of course) who seemed as lured to the lush smell of barbecue beef as much as the folks attending. Biscuits were cooking in Dutch ovens over fiery coals, baked beans (with special Hoffman flair) were bubbling away and the roast beef could have lured in people for miles. The potatoes were creamy and perfectly done. Peach Cobbler baked away over the open fire, begging to be a first course. When the night’s offerings were ready – mysteriously all at the same time – Hoffman ambled over to the rustic triangle, and rang in the stampede for the feast. He offered knives with the other silverware, but it was completely an unneeded utensil. Tender and flavorful, the food was perfect in every way.

Hoffman, who operates under the name “Open Range Cowboy Cookin’,” does do his share of other types of events. Weddings are key part of his customer base, and loves the idea of cooking up fare for the most important day in people’s lives. Weddings are a little bit different, since most guests show up in their Sunday-best and care a little bit more about not getting BBQ sauce on their fronts. That is certainly not an issue at a branding, “Ranchers need to fill their stomachs and go back to work!” He also does hunting camps, special events and festivals.

After successfully building a chuckwagon business in east Texas, near Fort Worth and later outside of Dallas, Hoffman thought he might retire and move back home. He was looking forward to returning home to the hills, and being closer to family. After his dad, Walt, passed away over 10 years ago, he started to feel the pull of Dakota calling him back north. Rod sold his business in Texas and moved back to South Dakota, settling in the Belle Fourche area. He wasn’t necessarily planning on restarting his business, but then previous families and organizations started coming out of the woodwork, and with beef, beans and BBQ coursing through his bloodlines, the lure of the chuckwagon was too strong to ignore. While the Northern Hills of South Dakota are his base, he happily travels to ply his trade.

“We use recipes and cooking methods that our family developed over the years… you can taste history in every bite,” says Hoffman. “I am so blessed to be back in a region I truly love, and creating food that has purpose in sustaining cowboys, cowgirls and families! When asked if the work was hard, he replied that “Being around good people is the rewarding part. What could be better than that?” Hoffman says with a grin.

Rod’s mom, Onalee Hoffman, the matriarch of the family, has been one of the driving inspirations of the family, and is a talented writer of poetry and books – much about history and our local west. While her books are classified as fiction, her books have drawn upon the happenings and accomplishments of their talented Hoffman clan. And with such a vibrant bunch, the stories will surely continue.

Rod Hoffman comes from a long line of ranching families. Originally from the Wall, SD area, his sisters include Chris Crago, Dawn Newland, and Kathy Thompson who all reside in western South Dakota with their respective spouses, Cliff Crago, Wilbur Newland and Ted Thompson. JB Hoffman is also part of the clan, brother to Rod and his sisters. Each share individual influences of their father, also known in the Black Hills area as “Grandpa Walt,” but it was Rod who picked up the family spoon and is carrying on the family tradition of chuckwagon cooking.

Walt Hoffman started cooking for area ranchers many decades ago. He’d haul his chuckwagon to brandings, ropings, rodeos and other events providing traditional hearty fixin’s. Rod grew up helping his dad at events and learning the trade. He has also adopted the same outlook on serving people.

“If they leave full and like the taste of your food, you’re gonna get people who also want to use you in the future,” he says.

Rod spent a lot of years by his dad’s side, learning the craft of feeding hardworking folks, who need to have fuel to carry out the demands of the day.

“Folks get hungry, but they need to have something that will sustain them – they need good food fast, not fast food quickly!” Hoffman says with great enthusiasm for what he does.

“It’s an honor to cook for those carrying on the family business of ranching,” he says. “It’s hard honest work and coming from that background, I feel like we have a unique advantage to understand their needs, schedules, likes and attitudes. We place a premium on providing cost-effective food that is exceptional. Most times, you come back year after year, and develop strong bonds with people, as an active participant in making their event, or work day go well. We travel to their place – earn our way into their hearts through their stomachs!” he adds with an easy laugh.

Rod uses USDA choice beef, select ingredients and has cooked for hundreds of people at a time. “It’s just as easy to cook for 50 as it is to cook for 10,” he says.

Cooking 40 steaks at a time over an open-fire is not an uncommon task. Among the many things he can prepare and serve, he offers smothered steaks, roast beef, baked potatoes, beans, stews – very traditional western fare. From time to time, he is asked to conjure up Mexican selections – bringing out his tasty enchiladas. He can even make pancakes or biscuits and gravy for early morning breakfasts.

“At some events, you cook three square meals in a day,” he says. “You prep for it and boy, it’s fun. Sometimes, I arrive the day before. I pack a bedroll just in case, and occasionally spend the night under the evening stars. I’m up around 4 a.m. the next day to get things started.”

When you see his chuckwagon, one of a few he has in his stable of cooking outfits, you get a sense of the history that goes along with the years of serving it up at ranch after ranch.

“Dad used to have the folks we cook for put their brand on the side of the Chuckwagon canvas,” Rod says, pointing out each brand and naming off scores of locals and regional cattle families. “Ya’ see, dad would have them place the brand exactly where it was on their cattle or horses. If they had right rib cattle, they had their brand smack dab in the middle of the right side of the canvas and so forth.”

Looking over the brands, you can see that ones have faded away and been retraced over the years, no doubt after repeat visits for another round of branding.

On a recent night, Hoffman gathered with local folks to celebrate Wilbur Newland’s 40th birthday. On Newland’s ranch just outside Belle Fourche, Hoffman set up in a pasture, settling his tools, fire pit and wagon in a practical and practiced manner. He didn’t need timers or measuring cups; the years have built in a natural rhythm to his cooking. Coffee was on, and the fireside preparation gave it an authentic cowboy flavor. The flavors transported you to an earlier time, where one might expect a bedroll or un-cinched saddle nearby for relaxing into an evening outdoor slumber. Instead, Hoffman kept all entertained with his mastery of managing 10 or more steaming pots of food at a time. Dawn Newland, his sister, as well as hostess for the evening, jumped in from time to time to get the biscuits in a basket or offer up some homemade chokecherry jam. Chris Crago made sure everyone had plenty of crisp coffee. It was easy to see this is a family who had each done their turn, whether cleaning dishes, serving lemonade, or making sure every tummy was full! Kylie Crago even dutifully volunteered to see if anyone needed a toothpick, smiling from braid to braid while she held out a cupful of them.

Rod has worked on a version of his BBQ sauce for the last three years, perfecting it. He will only share that “there are a lot of ingredients… it’s a secret!” The aged oak he uses in his fire add just the right amount of woody smoke to the flavors.

The backdrop that evening was a cloudless blue sky, dotted with curious fireflies (and Fred, the dog, of course) who seemed as lured to the lush smell of barbecue beef as much as the folks attending. Biscuits were cooking in Dutch ovens over fiery coals, baked beans (with special Hoffman flair) were bubbling away and the roast beef could have lured in people for miles. The potatoes were creamy and perfectly done. Peach Cobbler baked away over the open fire, begging to be a first course. When the night’s offerings were ready – mysteriously all at the same time – Hoffman ambled over to the rustic triangle, and rang in the stampede for the feast. He offered knives with the other silverware, but it was completely an unneeded utensil. Tender and flavorful, the food was perfect in every way.

Hoffman, who operates under the name “Open Range Cowboy Cookin’,” does do his share of other types of events. Weddings are key part of his customer base, and loves the idea of cooking up fare for the most important day in people’s lives. Weddings are a little bit different, since most guests show up in their Sunday-best and care a little bit more about not getting BBQ sauce on their fronts. That is certainly not an issue at a branding, “Ranchers need to fill their stomachs and go back to work!” He also does hunting camps, special events and festivals.

After successfully building a chuckwagon business in east Texas, near Fort Worth and later outside of Dallas, Hoffman thought he might retire and move back home. He was looking forward to returning home to the hills, and being closer to family. After his dad, Walt, passed away over 10 years ago, he started to feel the pull of Dakota calling him back north. Rod sold his business in Texas and moved back to South Dakota, settling in the Belle Fourche area. He wasn’t necessarily planning on restarting his business, but then previous families and organizations started coming out of the woodwork, and with beef, beans and BBQ coursing through his bloodlines, the lure of the chuckwagon was too strong to ignore. While the Northern Hills of South Dakota are his base, he happily travels to ply his trade.

“We use recipes and cooking methods that our family developed over the years… you can taste history in every bite,” says Hoffman. “I am so blessed to be back in a region I truly love, and creating food that has purpose in sustaining cowboys, cowgirls and families! When asked if the work was hard, he replied that “Being around good people is the rewarding part. What could be better than that?” Hoffman says with a grin.

Rod’s mom, Onalee Hoffman, the matriarch of the family, has been one of the driving inspirations of the family, and is a talented writer of poetry and books – much about history and our local west. While her books are classified as fiction, her books have drawn upon the happenings and accomplishments of their talented Hoffman clan. And with such a vibrant bunch, the stories will surely continue.

Rod Hoffman comes from a long line of ranching families. Originally from the Wall, SD area, his sisters include Chris Crago, Dawn Newland, and Kathy Thompson who all reside in western South Dakota with their respective spouses, Cliff Crago, Wilbur Newland and Ted Thompson. JB Hoffman is also part of the clan, brother to Rod and his sisters. Each share individual influences of their father, also known in the Black Hills area as “Grandpa Walt,” but it was Rod who picked up the family spoon and is carrying on the family tradition of chuckwagon cooking.

Walt Hoffman started cooking for area ranchers many decades ago. He’d haul his chuckwagon to brandings, ropings, rodeos and other events providing traditional hearty fixin’s. Rod grew up helping his dad at events and learning the trade. He has also adopted the same outlook on serving people.

“If they leave full and like the taste of your food, you’re gonna get people who also want to use you in the future,” he says.

Rod spent a lot of years by his dad’s side, learning the craft of feeding hardworking folks, who need to have fuel to carry out the demands of the day.

“Folks get hungry, but they need to have something that will sustain them – they need good food fast, not fast food quickly!” Hoffman says with great enthusiasm for what he does.

“It’s an honor to cook for those carrying on the family business of ranching,” he says. “It’s hard honest work and coming from that background, I feel like we have a unique advantage to understand their needs, schedules, likes and attitudes. We place a premium on providing cost-effective food that is exceptional. Most times, you come back year after year, and develop strong bonds with people, as an active participant in making their event, or work day go well. We travel to their place – earn our way into their hearts through their stomachs!” he adds with an easy laugh.

Rod uses USDA choice beef, select ingredients and has cooked for hundreds of people at a time. “It’s just as easy to cook for 50 as it is to cook for 10,” he says.

Cooking 40 steaks at a time over an open-fire is not an uncommon task. Among the many things he can prepare and serve, he offers smothered steaks, roast beef, baked potatoes, beans, stews – very traditional western fare. From time to time, he is asked to conjure up Mexican selections – bringing out his tasty enchiladas. He can even make pancakes or biscuits and gravy for early morning breakfasts.

“At some events, you cook three square meals in a day,” he says. “You prep for it and boy, it’s fun. Sometimes, I arrive the day before. I pack a bedroll just in case, and occasionally spend the night under the evening stars. I’m up around 4 a.m. the next day to get things started.”

When you see his chuckwagon, one of a few he has in his stable of cooking outfits, you get a sense of the history that goes along with the years of serving it up at ranch after ranch.

“Dad used to have the folks we cook for put their brand on the side of the Chuckwagon canvas,” Rod says, pointing out each brand and naming off scores of locals and regional cattle families. “Ya’ see, dad would have them place the brand exactly where it was on their cattle or horses. If they had right rib cattle, they had their brand smack dab in the middle of the right side of the canvas and so forth.”

Looking over the brands, you can see that ones have faded away and been retraced over the years, no doubt after repeat visits for another round of branding.

On a recent night, Hoffman gathered with local folks to celebrate Wilbur Newland’s 40th birthday. On Newland’s ranch just outside Belle Fourche, Hoffman set up in a pasture, settling his tools, fire pit and wagon in a practical and practiced manner. He didn’t need timers or measuring cups; the years have built in a natural rhythm to his cooking. Coffee was on, and the fireside preparation gave it an authentic cowboy flavor. The flavors transported you to an earlier time, where one might expect a bedroll or un-cinched saddle nearby for relaxing into an evening outdoor slumber. Instead, Hoffman kept all entertained with his mastery of managing 10 or more steaming pots of food at a time. Dawn Newland, his sister, as well as hostess for the evening, jumped in from time to time to get the biscuits in a basket or offer up some homemade chokecherry jam. Chris Crago made sure everyone had plenty of crisp coffee. It was easy to see this is a family who had each done their turn, whether cleaning dishes, serving lemonade, or making sure every tummy was full! Kylie Crago even dutifully volunteered to see if anyone needed a toothpick, smiling from braid to braid while she held out a cupful of them.

Rod has worked on a version of his BBQ sauce for the last three years, perfecting it. He will only share that “there are a lot of ingredients… it’s a secret!” The aged oak he uses in his fire add just the right amount of woody smoke to the flavors.

The backdrop that evening was a cloudless blue sky, dotted with curious fireflies (and Fred, the dog, of course) who seemed as lured to the lush smell of barbecue beef as much as the folks attending. Biscuits were cooking in Dutch ovens over fiery coals, baked beans (with special Hoffman flair) were bubbling away and the roast beef could have lured in people for miles. The potatoes were creamy and perfectly done. Peach Cobbler baked away over the open fire, begging to be a first course. When the night’s offerings were ready – mysteriously all at the same time – Hoffman ambled over to the rustic triangle, and rang in the stampede for the feast. He offered knives with the other silverware, but it was completely an unneeded utensil. Tender and flavorful, the food was perfect in every way.

Hoffman, who operates under the name “Open Range Cowboy Cookin’,” does do his share of other types of events. Weddings are key part of his customer base, and loves the idea of cooking up fare for the most important day in people’s lives. Weddings are a little bit different, since most guests show up in their Sunday-best and care a little bit more about not getting BBQ sauce on their fronts. That is certainly not an issue at a branding, “Ranchers need to fill their stomachs and go back to work!” He also does hunting camps, special events and festivals.

After successfully building a chuckwagon business in east Texas, near Fort Worth and later outside of Dallas, Hoffman thought he might retire and move back home. He was looking forward to returning home to the hills, and being closer to family. After his dad, Walt, passed away over 10 years ago, he started to feel the pull of Dakota calling him back north. Rod sold his business in Texas and moved back to South Dakota, settling in the Belle Fourche area. He wasn’t necessarily planning on restarting his business, but then previous families and organizations started coming out of the woodwork, and with beef, beans and BBQ coursing through his bloodlines, the lure of the chuckwagon was too strong to ignore. While the Northern Hills of South Dakota are his base, he happily travels to ply his trade.

“We use recipes and cooking methods that our family developed over the years… you can taste history in every bite,” says Hoffman. “I am so blessed to be back in a region I truly love, and creating food that has purpose in sustaining cowboys, cowgirls and families! When asked if the work was hard, he replied that “Being around good people is the rewarding part. What could be better than that?” Hoffman says with a grin.

Rod’s mom, Onalee Hoffman, the matriarch of the family, has been one of the driving inspirations of the family, and is a talented writer of poetry and books – much about history and our local west. While her books are classified as fiction, her books have drawn upon the happenings and accomplishments of their talented Hoffman clan. And with such a vibrant bunch, the stories will surely continue.

Rod Hoffman comes from a long line of ranching families. Originally from the Wall, SD area, his sisters include Chris Crago, Dawn Newland, and Kathy Thompson who all reside in western South Dakota with their respective spouses, Cliff Crago, Wilbur Newland and Ted Thompson. JB Hoffman is also part of the clan, brother to Rod and his sisters. Each share individual influences of their father, also known in the Black Hills area as “Grandpa Walt,” but it was Rod who picked up the family spoon and is carrying on the family tradition of chuckwagon cooking.

Walt Hoffman started cooking for area ranchers many decades ago. He’d haul his chuckwagon to brandings, ropings, rodeos and other events providing traditional hearty fixin’s. Rod grew up helping his dad at events and learning the trade. He has also adopted the same outlook on serving people.

“If they leave full and like the taste of your food, you’re gonna get people who also want to use you in the future,” he says.

Rod spent a lot of years by his dad’s side, learning the craft of feeding hardworking folks, who need to have fuel to carry out the demands of the day.

“Folks get hungry, but they need to have something that will sustain them – they need good food fast, not fast food quickly!” Hoffman says with great enthusiasm for what he does.

“It’s an honor to cook for those carrying on the family business of ranching,” he says. “It’s hard honest work and coming from that background, I feel like we have a unique advantage to understand their needs, schedules, likes and attitudes. We place a premium on providing cost-effective food that is exceptional. Most times, you come back year after year, and develop strong bonds with people, as an active participant in making their event, or work day go well. We travel to their place – earn our way into their hearts through their stomachs!” he adds with an easy laugh.

Rod uses USDA choice beef, select ingredients and has cooked for hundreds of people at a time. “It’s just as easy to cook for 50 as it is to cook for 10,” he says.

Cooking 40 steaks at a time over an open-fire is not an uncommon task. Among the many things he can prepare and serve, he offers smothered steaks, roast beef, baked potatoes, beans, stews – very traditional western fare. From time to time, he is asked to conjure up Mexican selections – bringing out his tasty enchiladas. He can even make pancakes or biscuits and gravy for early morning breakfasts.

“At some events, you cook three square meals in a day,” he says. “You prep for it and boy, it’s fun. Sometimes, I arrive the day before. I pack a bedroll just in case, and occasionally spend the night under the evening stars. I’m up around 4 a.m. the next day to get things started.”

When you see his chuckwagon, one of a few he has in his stable of cooking outfits, you get a sense of the history that goes along with the years of serving it up at ranch after ranch.

“Dad used to have the folks we cook for put their brand on the side of the Chuckwagon canvas,” Rod says, pointing out each brand and naming off scores of locals and regional cattle families. “Ya’ see, dad would have them place the brand exactly where it was on their cattle or horses. If they had right rib cattle, they had their brand smack dab in the middle of the right side of the canvas and so forth.”

Looking over the brands, you can see that ones have faded away and been retraced over the years, no doubt after repeat visits for another round of branding.

On a recent night, Hoffman gathered with local folks to celebrate Wilbur Newland’s 40th birthday. On Newland’s ranch just outside Belle Fourche, Hoffman set up in a pasture, settling his tools, fire pit and wagon in a practical and practiced manner. He didn’t need timers or measuring cups; the years have built in a natural rhythm to his cooking. Coffee was on, and the fireside preparation gave it an authentic cowboy flavor. The flavors transported you to an earlier time, where one might expect a bedroll or un-cinched saddle nearby for relaxing into an evening outdoor slumber. Instead, Hoffman kept all entertained with his mastery of managing 10 or more steaming pots of food at a time. Dawn Newland, his sister, as well as hostess for the evening, jumped in from time to time to get the biscuits in a basket or offer up some homemade chokecherry jam. Chris Crago made sure everyone had plenty of crisp coffee. It was easy to see this is a family who had each done their turn, whether cleaning dishes, serving lemonade, or making sure every tummy was full! Kylie Crago even dutifully volunteered to see if anyone needed a toothpick, smiling from braid to braid while she held out a cupful of them.

Rod has worked on a version of his BBQ sauce for the last three years, perfecting it. He will only share that “there are a lot of ingredients… it’s a secret!” The aged oak he uses in his fire add just the right amount of woody smoke to the flavors.

The backdrop that evening was a cloudless blue sky, dotted with curious fireflies (and Fred, the dog, of course) who seemed as lured to the lush smell of barbecue beef as much as the folks attending. Biscuits were cooking in Dutch ovens over fiery coals, baked beans (with special Hoffman flair) were bubbling away and the roast beef could have lured in people for miles. The potatoes were creamy and perfectly done. Peach Cobbler baked away over the open fire, begging to be a first course. When the night’s offerings were ready – mysteriously all at the same time – Hoffman ambled over to the rustic triangle, and rang in the stampede for the feast. He offered knives with the other silverware, but it was completely an unneeded utensil. Tender and flavorful, the food was perfect in every way.

Hoffman, who operates under the name “Open Range Cowboy Cookin’,” does do his share of other types of events. Weddings are key part of his customer base, and loves the idea of cooking up fare for the most important day in people’s lives. Weddings are a little bit different, since most guests show up in their Sunday-best and care a little bit more about not getting BBQ sauce on their fronts. That is certainly not an issue at a branding, “Ranchers need to fill their stomachs and go back to work!” He also does hunting camps, special events and festivals.

After successfully building a chuckwagon business in east Texas, near Fort Worth and later outside of Dallas, Hoffman thought he might retire and move back home. He was looking forward to returning home to the hills, and being closer to family. After his dad, Walt, passed away over 10 years ago, he started to feel the pull of Dakota calling him back north. Rod sold his business in Texas and moved back to South Dakota, settling in the Belle Fourche area. He wasn’t necessarily planning on restarting his business, but then previous families and organizations started coming out of the woodwork, and with beef, beans and BBQ coursing through his bloodlines, the lure of the chuckwagon was too strong to ignore. While the Northern Hills of South Dakota are his base, he happily travels to ply his trade.

“We use recipes and cooking methods that our family developed over the years… you can taste history in every bite,” says Hoffman. “I am so blessed to be back in a region I truly love, and creating food that has purpose in sustaining cowboys, cowgirls and families! When asked if the work was hard, he replied that “Being around good people is the rewarding part. What could be better than that?” Hoffman says with a grin.

Rod’s mom, Onalee Hoffman, the matriarch of the family, has been one of the driving inspirations of the family, and is a talented writer of poetry and books – much about history and our local west. While her books are classified as fiction, her books have drawn upon the happenings and accomplishments of their talented Hoffman clan. And with such a vibrant bunch, the stories will surely continue.

Rod Hoffman comes from a long line of ranching families. Originally from the Wall, SD area, his sisters include Chris Crago, Dawn Newland, and Kathy Thompson who all reside in western South Dakota with their respective spouses, Cliff Crago, Wilbur Newland and Ted Thompson. JB Hoffman is also part of the clan, brother to Rod and his sisters. Each share individual influences of their father, also known in the Black Hills area as “Grandpa Walt,” but it was Rod who picked up the family spoon and is carrying on the family tradition of chuckwagon cooking.

Walt Hoffman started cooking for area ranchers many decades ago. He’d haul his chuckwagon to brandings, ropings, rodeos and other events providing traditional hearty fixin’s. Rod grew up helping his dad at events and learning the trade. He has also adopted the same outlook on serving people.

“If they leave full and like the taste of your food, you’re gonna get people who also want to use you in the future,” he says.

Rod spent a lot of years by his dad’s side, learning the craft of feeding hardworking folks, who need to have fuel to carry out the demands of the day.

“Folks get hungry, but they need to have something that will sustain them – they need good food fast, not fast food quickly!” Hoffman says with great enthusiasm for what he does.

“It’s an honor to cook for those carrying on the family business of ranching,” he says. “It’s hard honest work and coming from that background, I feel like we have a unique advantage to understand their needs, schedules, likes and attitudes. We place a premium on providing cost-effective food that is exceptional. Most times, you come back year after year, and develop strong bonds with people, as an active participant in making their event, or work day go well. We travel to their place – earn our way into their hearts through their stomachs!” he adds with an easy laugh.

Rod uses USDA choice beef, select ingredients and has cooked for hundreds of people at a time. “It’s just as easy to cook for 50 as it is to cook for 10,” he says.

Cooking 40 steaks at a time over an open-fire is not an uncommon task. Among the many things he can prepare and serve, he offers smothered steaks, roast beef, baked potatoes, beans, stews – very traditional western fare. From time to time, he is asked to conjure up Mexican selections – bringing out his tasty enchiladas. He can even make pancakes or biscuits and gravy for early morning breakfasts.

“At some events, you cook three square meals in a day,” he says. “You prep for it and boy, it’s fun. Sometimes, I arrive the day before. I pack a bedroll just in case, and occasionally spend the night under the evening stars. I’m up around 4 a.m. the next day to get things started.”

When you see his chuckwagon, one of a few he has in his stable of cooking outfits, you get a sense of the history that goes along with the years of serving it up at ranch after ranch.

“Dad used to have the folks we cook for put their brand on the side of the Chuckwagon canvas,” Rod says, pointing out each brand and naming off scores of locals and regional cattle families. “Ya’ see, dad would have them place the brand exactly where it was on their cattle or horses. If they had right rib cattle, they had their brand smack dab in the middle of the right side of the canvas and so forth.”

Looking over the brands, you can see that ones have faded away and been retraced over the years, no doubt after repeat visits for another round of branding.

On a recent night, Hoffman gathered with local folks to celebrate Wilbur Newland’s 40th birthday. On Newland’s ranch just outside Belle Fourche, Hoffman set up in a pasture, settling his tools, fire pit and wagon in a practical and practiced manner. He didn’t need timers or measuring cups; the years have built in a natural rhythm to his cooking. Coffee was on, and the fireside preparation gave it an authentic cowboy flavor. The flavors transported you to an earlier time, where one might expect a bedroll or un-cinched saddle nearby for relaxing into an evening outdoor slumber. Instead, Hoffman kept all entertained with his mastery of managing 10 or more steaming pots of food at a time. Dawn Newland, his sister, as well as hostess for the evening, jumped in from time to time to get the biscuits in a basket or offer up some homemade chokecherry jam. Chris Crago made sure everyone had plenty of crisp coffee. It was easy to see this is a family who had each done their turn, whether cleaning dishes, serving lemonade, or making sure every tummy was full! Kylie Crago even dutifully volunteered to see if anyone needed a toothpick, smiling from braid to braid while she held out a cupful of them.

Rod has worked on a version of his BBQ sauce for the last three years, perfecting it. He will only share that “there are a lot of ingredients… it’s a secret!” The aged oak he uses in his fire add just the right amount of woody smoke to the flavors.

The backdrop that evening was a cloudless blue sky, dotted with curious fireflies (and Fred, the dog, of course) who seemed as lured to the lush smell of barbecue beef as much as the folks attending. Biscuits were cooking in Dutch ovens over fiery coals, baked beans (with special Hoffman flair) were bubbling away and the roast beef could have lured in people for miles. The potatoes were creamy and perfectly done. Peach Cobbler baked away over the open fire, begging to be a first course. When the night’s offerings were ready – mysteriously all at the same time – Hoffman ambled over to the rustic triangle, and rang in the stampede for the feast. He offered knives with the other silverware, but it was completely an unneeded utensil. Tender and flavorful, the food was perfect in every way.

Hoffman, who operates under the name “Open Range Cowboy Cookin’,” does do his share of other types of events. Weddings are key part of his customer base, and loves the idea of cooking up fare for the most important day in people’s lives. Weddings are a little bit different, since most guests show up in their Sunday-best and care a little bit more about not getting BBQ sauce on their fronts. That is certainly not an issue at a branding, “Ranchers need to fill their stomachs and go back to work!” He also does hunting camps, special events and festivals.

After successfully building a chuckwagon business in east Texas, near Fort Worth and later outside of Dallas, Hoffman thought he might retire and move back home. He was looking forward to returning home to the hills, and being closer to family. After his dad, Walt, passed away over 10 years ago, he started to feel the pull of Dakota calling him back north. Rod sold his business in Texas and moved back to South Dakota, settling in the Belle Fourche area. He wasn’t necessarily planning on restarting his business, but then previous families and organizations started coming out of the woodwork, and with beef, beans and BBQ coursing through his bloodlines, the lure of the chuckwagon was too strong to ignore. While the Northern Hills of South Dakota are his base, he happily travels to ply his trade.

“We use recipes and cooking methods that our family developed over the years… you can taste history in every bite,” says Hoffman. “I am so blessed to be back in a region I truly love, and creating food that has purpose in sustaining cowboys, cowgirls and families! When asked if the work was hard, he replied that “Being around good people is the rewarding part. What could be better than that?” Hoffman says with a grin.

Rod’s mom, Onalee Hoffman, the matriarch of the family, has been one of the driving inspirations of the family, and is a talented writer of poetry and books – much about history and our local west. While her books are classified as fiction, her books have drawn upon the happenings and accomplishments of their talented Hoffman clan. And with such a vibrant bunch, the stories will surely continue.

Rod Hoffman comes from a long line of ranching families. Originally from the Wall, SD area, his sisters include Chris Crago, Dawn Newland, and Kathy Thompson who all reside in western South Dakota with their respective spouses, Cliff Crago, Wilbur Newland and Ted Thompson. JB Hoffman is also part of the clan, brother to Rod and his sisters. Each share individual influences of their father, also known in the Black Hills area as “Grandpa Walt,” but it was Rod who picked up the family spoon and is carrying on the family tradition of chuckwagon cooking.

Walt Hoffman started cooking for area ranchers many decades ago. He’d haul his chuckwagon to brandings, ropings, rodeos and other events providing traditional hearty fixin’s. Rod grew up helping his dad at events and learning the trade. He has also adopted the same outlook on serving people.

“If they leave full and like the taste of your food, you’re gonna get people who also want to use you in the future,” he says.

Rod spent a lot of years by his dad’s side, learning the craft of feeding hardworking folks, who need to have fuel to carry out the demands of the day.

“Folks get hungry, but they need to have something that will sustain them – they need good food fast, not fast food quickly!” Hoffman says with great enthusiasm for what he does.

“It’s an honor to cook for those carrying on the family business of ranching,” he says. “It’s hard honest work and coming from that background, I feel like we have a unique advantage to understand their needs, schedules, likes and attitudes. We place a premium on providing cost-effective food that is exceptional. Most times, you come back year after year, and develop strong bonds with people, as an active participant in making their event, or work day go well. We travel to their place – earn our way into their hearts through their stomachs!” he adds with an easy laugh.

Rod uses USDA choice beef, select ingredients and has cooked for hundreds of people at a time. “It’s just as easy to cook for 50 as it is to cook for 10,” he says.

Cooking 40 steaks at a time over an open-fire is not an uncommon task. Among the many things he can prepare and serve, he offers smothered steaks, roast beef, baked potatoes, beans, stews – very traditional western fare. From time to time, he is asked to conjure up Mexican selections – bringing out his tasty enchiladas. He can even make pancakes or biscuits and gravy for early morning breakfasts.

“At some events, you cook three square meals in a day,” he says. “You prep for it and boy, it’s fun. Sometimes, I arrive the day before. I pack a bedroll just in case, and occasionally spend the night under the evening stars. I’m up around 4 a.m. the next day to get things started.”

When you see his chuckwagon, one of a few he has in his stable of cooking outfits, you get a sense of the history that goes along with the years of serving it up at ranch after ranch.

“Dad used to have the folks we cook for put their brand on the side of the Chuckwagon canvas,” Rod says, pointing out each brand and naming off scores of locals and regional cattle families. “Ya’ see, dad would have them place the brand exactly where it was on their cattle or horses. If they had right rib cattle, they had their brand smack dab in the middle of the right side of the canvas and so forth.”

Looking over the brands, you can see that ones have faded away and been retraced over the years, no doubt after repeat visits for another round of branding.

On a recent night, Hoffman gathered with local folks to celebrate Wilbur Newland’s 40th birthday. On Newland’s ranch just outside Belle Fourche, Hoffman set up in a pasture, settling his tools, fire pit and wagon in a practical and practiced manner. He didn’t need timers or measuring cups; the years have built in a natural rhythm to his cooking. Coffee was on, and the fireside preparation gave it an authentic cowboy flavor. The flavors transported you to an earlier time, where one might expect a bedroll or un-cinched saddle nearby for relaxing into an evening outdoor slumber. Instead, Hoffman kept all entertained with his mastery of managing 10 or more steaming pots of food at a time. Dawn Newland, his sister, as well as hostess for the evening, jumped in from time to time to get the biscuits in a basket or offer up some homemade chokecherry jam. Chris Crago made sure everyone had plenty of crisp coffee. It was easy to see this is a family who had each done their turn, whether cleaning dishes, serving lemonade, or making sure every tummy was full! Kylie Crago even dutifully volunteered to see if anyone needed a toothpick, smiling from braid to braid while she held out a cupful of them.

Rod has worked on a version of his BBQ sauce for the last three years, perfecting it. He will only share that “there are a lot of ingredients… it’s a secret!” The aged oak he uses in his fire add just the right amount of woody smoke to the flavors.

The backdrop that evening was a cloudless blue sky, dotted with curious fireflies (and Fred, the dog, of course) who seemed as lured to the lush smell of barbecue beef as much as the folks attending. Biscuits were cooking in Dutch ovens over fiery coals, baked beans (with special Hoffman flair) were bubbling away and the roast beef could have lured in people for miles. The potatoes were creamy and perfectly done. Peach Cobbler baked away over the open fire, begging to be a first course. When the night’s offerings were ready – mysteriously all at the same time – Hoffman ambled over to the rustic triangle, and rang in the stampede for the feast. He offered knives with the other silverware, but it was completely an unneeded utensil. Tender and flavorful, the food was perfect in every way.

Hoffman, who operates under the name “Open Range Cowboy Cookin’,” does do his share of other types of events. Weddings are key part of his customer base, and loves the idea of cooking up fare for the most important day in people’s lives. Weddings are a little bit different, since most guests show up in their Sunday-best and care a little bit more about not getting BBQ sauce on their fronts. That is certainly not an issue at a branding, “Ranchers need to fill their stomachs and go back to work!” He also does hunting camps, special events and festivals.

After successfully building a chuckwagon business in east Texas, near Fort Worth and later outside of Dallas, Hoffman thought he might retire and move back home. He was looking forward to returning home to the hills, and being closer to family. After his dad, Walt, passed away over 10 years ago, he started to feel the pull of Dakota calling him back north. Rod sold his business in Texas and moved back to South Dakota, settling in the Belle Fourche area. He wasn’t necessarily planning on restarting his business, but then previous families and organizations started coming out of the woodwork, and with beef, beans and BBQ coursing through his bloodlines, the lure of the chuckwagon was too strong to ignore. While the Northern Hills of South Dakota are his base, he happily travels to ply his trade.

“We use recipes and cooking methods that our family developed over the years… you can taste history in every bite,” says Hoffman. “I am so blessed to be back in a region I truly love, and creating food that has purpose in sustaining cowboys, cowgirls and families! When asked if the work was hard, he replied that “Being around good people is the rewarding part. What could be better than that?” Hoffman says with a grin.

Rod’s mom, Onalee Hoffman, the matriarch of the family, has been one of the driving inspirations of the family, and is a talented writer of poetry and books – much about history and our local west. While her books are classified as fiction, her books have drawn upon the happenings and accomplishments of their talented Hoffman clan. And with such a vibrant bunch, the stories will surely continue.


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