The RV Chronicles — My own Walden … Sort of (Recipe: Chuck Wagon Stew)

If Henry David Thoreau made solitude seem attractive, the Jimmy Rockford makes it downright delicious.

I no doubt miss conversations with my bride, and even the occasional dog bark or bickering match between children. But my oft loneliness these days rewards me with unexpected replays of long forgotten memories.

One of those recollections came on a September night during which the temperatures along Galveston Bay were unseasonably crisp and the smell of a nearby campfire revealed that someone was burning pine.

It was almost 35 years ago on Lake Murvaul, which sits near Carthage, Texas. After a few days of sleeping on cots and eating in a mess hall, about a dozen Boy Scouts from Troop 620 paddled canoes to one of lake’s small islands. I was the youngest, least experienced and most afraid when the sun went down. Then there was the food, which has never truly escaped my consciousness.

Armed with our pocket knives and provided with fresh potatoes, onions, celery and carrots, we peeled and sliced for a campfire stew filled with beef from the scoutmaster’s own farm. The tomatoes were canned and I don’t recall any salt, pepper or other seasonings. I stared in starved awe as it bubbled in a blackened pot atop several oak and a few quick-burning pine coals.

I liked neither tomatoes nor onions, yet I let them sear the roof of my mouth and back of my throat just to ensure that I drank every last drop of the rich beautiful broth. After two mess kit bowlfuls, I realized this campfire concoction was one of my favorite versions ever. It tastes just as good more than three decades later, especially served with a side of fond memories.

Even Thoreau, for all of his solitude, could not have conjured a more delectable reflection.


The following recipe is a hybrid of that wonderful goodness I slurped down all those years ago. Naturally, I complicated things by adding a couple of seasonings and some extra vegetables. Still, whether you make it outdoors or in your modern kitchen, Chuck Wagon Stew is memory worthy.

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Chuck Wagon Stew

Chuck Wagon Stew — Whether you make it outdoors or in your modern kitchen, this stuff is memory worthy.

Chuck Wagon Stew — Make it outdoors or in your kitchen. Extreme comfort.

5.0 from 3 reviews
Chuck Wagon Stew
Chuck Wagon Stew — Make it outdoors or in your kitchen. Extreme comfort.
Recipe type: Soup/Stew
Cuisine: American
  • 2 lbs – Stew meat (chuck tender, cut into 1-inch cubes)
  • 1 – 28 oz can diced or whole tomatoes
  • 4 cups (32 oz) – Beef stock
  • 1 lb – Gold potatoes, diced
  • 1 cup – Chopped carrots
  • 3 – Celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 – Small onion, diced
  • ½ cup – Frozen English peas
  • ½ cup – Frozen corn
  • ¼ cup – All-purpose flour
  • Small bunch (2-3 sprigs) – Fresh thyme
  • 3 TB – Bacon fat (preferred) or vegetable oil
  • 2 TB – Black pepper
  • 2 tsp – Salt
Stovetop Directions
  1. Season meat with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour.
  2. In a Dutch oven, heat oil/fat to medium-high; brown meat on all sides.
  3. Add onions, carrots, celery and beef stock.
  4. Bring to a light boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  5. Cook, covered for 30 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes, potatoes and thyme; bring back to a simmer and cook, covered, for another 30 minutes.
  7. Add corn and peas; cook another 15-20 minutes uncovered.
  8. Remove thyme sprigs before serving.
Cast Iron Dutch oven Directions
  1. In a charcoal starter (or 'chimney') light about 15 charcoal briquettes.
  2. Season meat with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour.
  3. In a Dutch oven placed over 10-12 briquettes, heat oil/fat to medium-high; brown meat on all sides. In the meantime, add another 15 briquettes to the chimney starter (atop 3-4 that are already burning).
  4. Add onions, carrots, celery and beef stock.
  5. Bring to a light boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  6. Cook, covered for about 20 minutes.
  7. Add 10-12 briquettes to the area beneath the Dutch oven.
  8. Add tomatoes, potatoes and thyme; bring back to a simmer and cover, adding remaining briquettes atop lid.
  9. Cook for another 25-30 minutes.
  10. Add corn and peas; cook for another 10 minutes — covered.
  11. Remove thyme sprigs before serving.




  1. Ahhh, the good old Halcyon days, huh? Glad you are getting to recreate some of your childhood dishes, my friend!

    • adamjholland says:

      Thank you, Kathryn. I certainly didn’t think of them as my Halcyon days back then. I was worried that a Daddy Longleg would find his way into my tent and kill me. 😉

  2. I still remember when my son was an older scout and how they used to torment the younger ones. Those younger ones looked so little, next to the older ones. But after realizing that the big guys weren’t going to have them for dinner, they ended up getting along pretty well. But I don’t think they ate like this! What great memories, Adam and what a great stew!

    • adamjholland says:

      Torment is a good word. I think I was more tormented by chiggers and daddy longlegs than anything the older kids threw my way. (I had an older brother, so I was already used to surprise attacks and such.) Thank you for your kind words, by the way. 🙂

  3. Love any kind of stew, but this one looks particularly good!

  4. The stew looks especially good on those great enamel plates/bowls you have! I’m jealous. Our Girl Scout leaders took us camping where I learned to bake in a (new) trashcan – I never liked cherry pie back then but it was so delicious that night, I can still taste the sweetness as each cherry popped in my mouth. Like you, my SIL is an Eagle Scout and I hope one day that Andy will be as well – there are just so few organized groups where you can learn to be a part of a team or community anymore –

    • adamjholland says:

      The most difficult thing about becoming an Eagle is sticking with it. The program has undergone some changes over the years, but I suspect it’s still just as difficult. ~ Please Kelli, post something about making a cherry pie in a trash can. I must see this.

  5. Ohhhh this looks good! Can’t wait to try. I make a similar stew, but it calls for red wine. I always feel a tad fancy when I add it.

    Now – those biscuits in the photograph. Homemade?

    • adamjholland says:

      To answer your question: Yes. Homemade. (But no biggie.) Red wine is always good in dish like this. Go for it, my friend!

  6. I love your blog! Smiles!!! Thanks for posting! Nothing compares to homemade food over a campfire.

  7. Everything cooked outdoors tastes better especially when you’re a kid. I still remember fishing with my father in Maine, catching rainbow trout & cooking them over a fire right beside the river.

    Funny that I too made a similar stew today although I saw that you added some corn (I’ll skip the celery) and I think that would be a nice addition to my pot.

    • adamjholland says:

      But celery is so good, Diane! 😉 It’s a nice surprise seeing you here. I know you were knee-deep in wedding planning last time we talked.

  8. Campfire food! I’m about to spend the entire weekend doing that kind of cookin. Great post!

  9. Do you dip your biscuits in the stew? I wouldn’t be able to resist. Looks like the epitome of comfort food 🙂


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