These recipe ideas are great for using with our Murder in the Wild West murder mystery game, or for other western or cowboy parties.
To make the food extra authentic, consider serving on pewter-style plates or using wooden dishes and utensils. Online shops such as Etsy sell packs of "pewter look" paper plates. You may also consider using tin mugs. Some customers like using Mason jars as glasses or as cutlery holders.
A Couple of Example Cowboy Party Menus
Bonnie and Ray cooked a superb menu for their party guests while running our Murder in the Wild West game. They served a Southwest wagon wheel with quick draw poppers for starters; then they made a chuck wagon stew and buttermilk biscuits; for dessert, they served a fresh blackberry cobbler and homemade vanilla icecream. Her lucky guests washed this down with peach tea and root beer. See Bonnie's Wild West Party for further details.
For our murder mystery game launch party, we made a starter based loosely upon the bacon that cowboys ate on their trail rides and the molasses that some cowboys used to mix with their beans. Nigella Lawson has a superb recipe for slow-cooked black treacle ham (see here) that we used; the advantage of this is that it can be made in advance and then carved just before the party. We paired this with a potato salad and bread roll. (To be more authentic, we should have used Texan potato salad and cornbread but one of our party had food allergies and so we kept the food simple.) We had the starters after Round 2 of the game.
For the main course, we relied on those other staples of wild west food: beef and corn. We served chuckwagon stew (aka beef stew) with baby sweetcorns. Again, we were able to do most of the preparation the day before the party: we made the stew, mashed the potato and put the potatoes in a wide oven-proof dish. We also prepared the root vegetables for roasting. On the day of the party, we reheated the stew and the vegetables while we played rounds 3 and 4 of the game; we also boiled the kettle after finishing the starters so that it could be quickly reboiled and the boiling water used to quickly cook the peas and baby sweetcorn.
For dessert, a wonderful friend brought the best apple cobbler we have ever tasted! We had dessert and coffee after finishing the game and listening to the Audio Solution.
What if I Don't Like Cooking?
No problem. It is a good idea to give your guests some sort of nourishment during the game, but it doesn't have to fancy. (After all, cowboys were given some pretty basic food during their long cattle drives.) We've found that friends are pleased to be invited to the game and often offer to make a dish, either dessert or starter.
If you don't want to cook, then why not make a list of possible western or cowboy dishes (see below) and ask each of your guests to bring a dish? You can then have a pot-luck buffet.
Cowboy and Western Food Ideas (Make-Ahead)
Our selection of party recipe ideas is largely make-ahead so that they don't interfere with the smooth running of your party.
American West-Inspired Food
Food ideas that those cowboys would have eaten on their long trails include Texas food, Mexican food and American Frontier food such as those that the pioneers ate.
While on the trail, the cowboys' diet consisted largely of beef, salt pork or bacon, potatoes, pinto beans, sourdough biscuits, bread or flapjacks and strong, thick black coffee. They also ate dried fruit.
In the Old West, available vegetables included potatoes, sweetcorn, onions, tomatoes, and squash. (Laura Ingalls Wilder's books show that pioneers also cultivated carrots, peas, peppers, pumpkins, cabbages, beets and turnips. See link.) Nuts included pecans and almonds. Fruit included apples, apricots, cherries and peaches. Chilis and molasses were used for flavorings. Therefore, including these ingredients in your party foods adds an authentic touch.
Mexican cheese dip with tortillas, cornbread or Pringles - easy to make ahead
Southwest beef lettuce wraps
Nachos - top with salsa, Mexican cheese and Jalapaneos and then cook in a pre-heated oven or under a pre-heated grill and serve with guacamole and sour cream.
Spicy bean salad
Main Course Ideas
Make your own taco bar - supply a mix of tacos and tortillas and a selection of tasty and pre-prepared fillings for an easy buffet
Cowboy Chili - for authenticity, serve with cornbread or tortillas; alternatively, serve with baked potatoes and sour cream
Lasagne - normal or add a Mexican twist by adding tortillas and guacamole or make a Chili Tortilla Bake
Beef Enchiladas topped with Cheddar cheese
Cornbread topped chilli beef pe
Beef or buffalo stew - cornmeal dumplings optional
Black bean stuffed peppers
Meatballs in tomato sauce with pasta
Chips or sweet potato chips sprinkled with Cajun spice seasoning mix and served with sour cream
Braised red cabbage
Chicken and Cheese Quesadillas
Beans with molasses or Bourbon
Texan potato salad
Jalapeno corn cupcakes
Apple cobbler or dumplings
Sourdough bread pudding
Sweet potato and whiskey pie; pumpkin pie; vinegar pie; fruit pie (apple, cherry, peach, plum or pear)
American Frontier pudding
Molasses cake or flapjacks
Modern Ideas with Cowboy Names
Take a dish such as Mexican Dip and turn it into a cowboy-themed dish by calling it "Buckaroo Dip" or "Cowboy's Favourite".
Make easy but effective Cowboys' Hats by using Pringles for the hat base, putting salsa in the middle and then adding a hat-shaped portion of cheese on top; a tray of these can look really impressive.
Call beef stew "Chuck Stew" or "Son of a Gun" stew. (Charles Goodnight invented the chuckwagon for cooks to carry food supplies on those long cattle trails; cowboys called a stew made out of various parts of a calf such as brains, sweetbreads, heart, liver and tongue a Son of a Bitch stew - or Son of a Gun stew if they were being polite.)
Turn a punch of your choice into a cowboy-themed drink by calling it "Cowpunch Punch".
Simply Add Decorations to Turn Normal Food into Western-inspired Food
Campfire Cupcakes or Campfire large cake - make chocolate cupcakes or a large cake, then top with chocolate buttercream; use slivers of chocolate flakes for logs and then stiff orange and red buttercreams piped to resemble fire.
Rice Krispie and Shredded Wheat "hay bales".
Arrange salad items in the form of a wagon wheel.
Contrary to popular belief, beer was the most popular drink in the saloons on the American Frontier - a hard-up cowhand could nurse a single drink for several hours. Spirits included rum, gin and whiskey. That said, wealthy establishments did have access to aged Bourbon and even champagne and French wines. On the cattle trail, cowboys drank strong black coffee.
Try using the drinks labels provided with the decoration pack to turn ordinary drinks into "wild west" ones.