For Anderson County resident and bonafide chuckwagon cook Rod Skelton, outdoor cooking does more than fill hungry bellies — it also fills hungry souls of those who eat it.

After 15 years of cooking for cowboys on the range, the retired preacher now travels to cowboy churches, youth camps and local businesses to share his two passions with others — cooking and soul-winning.

“This is a great way to reach people of the western/rodeo world,” Skelton said, while preparing a dinner at the He Rose Cowboy Church in Montalba last week. “I recently cooked for 300 people at the cowboy church in Athens and I always do a trailride for them as well.”

With his custom-made chuckwagon, a slew of pots and pans, and a pinch of this and that Skelton can “whip up anything out here that a woman can cook in the kitchen,” including biscuits, stews, chili, beans, cobbler and even an apple pecan cake.

“One thing about chuckwagon cooks is that they are real particular,” he said. “For instance, I only use mesquite wood in my cooking and I know the exact look of the coals when they are hot enough to cook with.”

Skelton learned how to cook from a well-known ranch cook named Jimbo Humphries, who was taught by another famous chuckwagon cook, Richard Bolt. Skelton is now passing on the art to cook-in-training Dave Wallace.

“While I was cooking under Jimbo, he won first place in every category of chuckwagon cooking,” he said. “I’m now passing down what I have learned to the next generation.”

After serving a stint in the Marines, Skelton attended seminary and was a pastor for many years. It was while cooking at Lubbock’s 6666 (The Four Sixes) Ranch, that he began using his outdoor cooking talents as a ministry.

“There was no church around, so we began some Bible studies at the ranch,” he said. “Jimbo asked me if I’d cook for a service while he presented some cowboy Christian poetry to those who came.”

Skelton also served as the Texas State Rodeo chaplain and pastored seven years at Montalba Baptist Church, where he retired from “just a little while ago.”

“I enjoy the independence of (chuckwagon cooking) — I am my own boss,” he said. “”I like being able to do something for people to get enjoyment from.”

When not cooking, Skelton spends his free time ministering to the community by counseling, conducting funerals and making hospital visits. He and his wife of 23 years, Julie, reside near Montalba. They have two grown children and five grandchildren.

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Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at mrainwater@palestineherald.com

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