For those who’d like to get a taste of the Oakdale Rodeo, the arena action is the main course but it isn’t the only treat to enjoy. At the west end of the arena near the entrance, rodeo fans can find rows of vendors offering food, western wear and décor, cutlery, candles, sunglasses, “bling-bling,” and the ever-popular mechanical bull.
Oakdale Saddle Club (OSC) board member Dan Vigil has dealt with the rodeo’s food and goods vendors for about seven years. He said that there were 32 food vendors last year and they’ve added about 10 new vendors this year between those with food and other goods.
“We’ve expanded our vending area to accommodate at least 12 new vendors,” Vigil said. “We wanted to move the fence and thought that’d be a perfect place for vendors.”
In order to feed the 10,000 to 15,000 people who come through the gates from Friday slack through Sunday’s final main performance, plenty of food and drink is made available at the rodeo grounds. Each year there are a few different vendors and each has a unique offering; however, it’s the rodeo’s “cook shack” that has been the constant every year.
“It’s always been hamburgers and hot dogs from day one,” Vigil said.
He added that about 10 or 12 years ago the cook shack added tri-tip sandwiches to the menu. A few menu items have come and gone over the years, such as linguica sandwiches and ham and cheese sandwiches.
“It depends what the cook shack chairperson at the time wants to do,” he said.
Additionally, on the cook shack menu, there are usually nachos, chili dogs, ice cream novelties, 7up soda products and other soft drinks.
OSC member Sharyan Jones is a cook shack veteran. She ran the Oakdale Rodeo’s cook shack in the late 1970s and has worked in the cook shack every year since 1974. She said they have a lot more equipment now that makes it possible for them to serve larger crowds and provide a larger offering, noting that they used to serve simple, easy-to-prepare foods.
“Our variety and our menu has improved,” Jones said.
She reported that the most popular items are generally their tri-tip sandwiches and cheeseburgers, adding that there are a few “gentlemen” who cook up the tri-tip on a big barbecue right there and slice it up.
“We use our own au jus and simmer it in that after it’s cooked to keep it juicy,” she added.
She reported that the burgers get done both on the barbecue and the grill, depending on the demand and the weather. Sometimes, they just have to be cooked inside.
Jones and Vigil both acknowledged that the unpredictable April weather does affect what people buy for food and drink at the rodeo.
Jones added that when the weather is warm, a lot of times they’ll have fresh fruit wedges, fruit bowls, and every once in a while they may offer something like a cobb salad.
“If it’s cold, generally speaking, they want something that’ll warm them. We always have chili,” she said, noting that coffee and hot cocoa are also available.
For really special Oakdale Rodeo fare, it helps to be an insider. In the mornings, including during slack, the cook shack serves up “Norm’s famous biscuits and gravy” to the cowboys and workers who are there early. The special treat usually doesn’t last long, Vigil said. The cook shack serves breakfast plates of eggs, ham, sausage, even egg and sausage muffin sandwiches, until about 10 a.m., then they start transitioning to the lunchtime menu.
“We always try to make it where it’s appetizing and tastes good,” Jones said of the cook shack food. “We’re always conscientious about cleanliness and keeping our work areas clean.”
At some of the vendor booths, along with corndogs, churros, and pretzels, hungry rodeo guests can also find chocolate dipped strawberries and bananas, kettle corn, onion rings, fried zucchini, and “Texas taters.” One new food vendor will have fries, chicken strips, and popcorn, while another will have funnel cakes, and another will offer cowboy toffee.
For thirsty types, there are three Coors beer booths, plus one more in the OSC clubhouse. In addition, there’s hillbilly ice tea, espresso drinks, slushies, and lemon shakers.
Vigil reported that the Saddle Club typically donates a few booth spaces each year. Some include a local Boy Scouts troop and 4-H clubs that will sell soft drinks, shaved ice, hot dogs and other quick snacks; the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce, the Veterans Administration, and Tough Enough To Wear Pink – a breast cancer awareness campaign associated with rodeo, will also be represented.