Cowboy Cooking Tips We Learned from a Real Cowboy

The owner of Bear Creek Smokehouse shares his favorite cowboy cooking tips for smoked meat, jalapeno cornbread and more.

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A couple hours east of Dallas you’ll find Bear Creek Smokehouse, a family-owned business that has been around for almost 80 years. Current owner Robbie Shoults is the third generation of “The First Family of Texas Smoked Meats.” He grew up watching his family run the smokehouse, which is now a 60,000-square-foot facility complete with a retail store, an event space and a pit room, where they hold weekly barbecues for the public.

Between running the family business and raising Longhorn cattle, Robbie is plenty busy. He doesn’t have as much time to cook at home as he’d like, but he’s always making food up at the smokehouse, like tender barbecue and over-the-top sides! Here’s how he adds a Texas twist to everyday cooking.

Cowboy Cooking Tips

Make it spicy!

Texans like it spicy. Robbie always has jalapenos, onions and garlic around to toss into whatever he’s making. “My take is always have plenty of fresh jalapenos on hand. Fresh onions, garlic, chili powder and that kind of stuff. Those things can go with just about anything,” he says. He’s even made a jalapeno peach cobbler, and “it was actually pretty darn good.”

Use the magic spices

Besides fresh ingredients, Robbie also keeps cumin right by his side. “I love cumin in savory dishes,” he says. “We just love putting that Tex-Mex flair in a lot of our dishes. I think it’s really appealing and attracts a lot of people.”

Chili powder is another spice that should be kept close by. Use it in homemade taco seasoning and Tex-Mex recipes.

Smoke your meat

As a professional smoker, Robbie knows a thing or two about how to smoke meat. When he’s not smoking meat at Bear Creek Smokehouse, you may find him smoking in his own backyard. “The main thing to remember is that you want to cook everything low and slow,” Robbie says. He recommends keeping the temperature at 225 to 250°F. “Most of the cuts that people smoke, like brisket and pork butts, ribs, that sort of thing, are actually tougher cuts of meat. They’ve got a lot of connective tissue, sinew, fat, all that kind of stuff,” he explains, but adds that “the meat can be very tender and some of the best around if you do it right.”

Smoking meat is an all-day event, so you might as well make it a family affair. According to Robbie, “This is gonna take a while to do it right. But you can make it a fun activity with everybody. Play games or whatever while the smoker is going and get ready for some fun later in the day when it’s all ready.” Sounds like a great idea!

Turn your grill into a smoker

For those who don’t own a smoker, you’re still in luck. It’s easy to turn your grill into a smoker and, according to Robbie, “it works.” The key here, he says, is to only light one side of the grill: “I would suggest lighting just half of the burners, on one side of the grill. Soak wood chips, put them in a little pan and get them right above that, and then put your brisket on the opposite side. In other words, you’re using indirect heat on the brisket.” Monitor the temperature closely, not letting the grill get above 250°.

This is a great technique if you want to try smoking meat but aren’t sure if you want to invest in a smoker. Experiment with a classic brisket or even smoked salmon.

Cook over a campfire

When we think of cowboy dinners, we think of campfire cooking. Robbie loves cooking over a campfire and has done lots of burgers, steaks and even beef tenderloin. But he admits it’s tricky, since “it’s a little harder to regulate a constant temperature.” His move is to pull the meat off the heat for a little bit if the fire gets too big. He has a grate that can swing around, making it easy. Whatever you do, don’t wander away—you have to pay attention to the size of the fire.

Always end with dessert

After a hard day’s work, it’s nice to look forward to a home-cooked dinner and satisfying dessert. One of Robbie’s favorite recipes is his grandma’s German Chocolate Cake. “She took the time to bake,” he says. “I can remember her making pies and cakes every day because we had a lot of farm hands out here and she always cooked for everybody.”

Whether it’s a German chocolate cake, campfire cobbler or other cowboy dessert, we can agree that something sweet is the best way to end a long day!

And remember, family recipes are priceless

At Taste of Home, we certainly know the value of family recipes. They’re delicious, evoke fond memories and usually can be made by heart since they’re on the menu so often. In other words, they’ve been passed down for a reason!

The Shoults family has so many cherished recipes, they put them all in a cookbook. The Bear Bottom Bliss Cookbook is full of down-home favorites, plus photos of the Texas landscape and family stories. Robbie explains, “Our motto is ‘food, family and faith.’ It’s part of the beautiful legacy my grandparents and parents have left behind and we plan on continuing to uphold into the future.”

Ranch Hand Cornbread Recipe

Robbie Shoults Cornbreadcourtesy Robbie Shoults

Robbie shared his favorite cornbread recipe with us. As the story goes, “We were looking for the perfect cornbread to serve to family and friends, as well as customers, that made a big Texas statement,” he says. “We love cooking it up every Saturday for our Pit Room BBQs and it has become so popular that we can’t serve brisket without it!” The cornbread can be made in a traditional skillet, but a Texas-shaped skillet makes it extra fun. To get started, here’s what you’ll need:


  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, room temperature
  • One 8-ounce can of whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 5-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 small jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 jalapeno, sliced for garnish


Step 1: Preheat skillet

Preheat oven to 400°. Season a cast-iron skillet with bacon grease. Place in the oven until hot. If you don’t have any bacon grease on hand, substitute with cooking spray.

Step 2: Mix dry ingredients

In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.

Step 3: Combine wet and dry ingredients

Add in the sour cream, buttermilk, egg, egg yolk, corn and honey. Use a fork to lightly mix these ingredients together, using a wooden spoon to fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring just until incorporated. Fold in the melted butter and jalapenos, stir until combined.

Step 5: Pour into skillet

Pour the cornbread mixture into the skillet and garnish with jalapeno slices.

Step 6: Bake

Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly brown on top. Place the skillet on a cooling rack to cool.

Step 7: Serve

Serve warm and get ready for a stampede!

Emily Racette Parulski
Emily Racette Parulski is a Senior Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in email newsletters. When she’s not writing about food, she’s baking something sweet to feed her chocolate obsession.