A conversation between cowboy poet and C&I contributor Red Steagall and cowboy cook Tom Perini.
Red Steagall: I’m here with my dear friend Tom Perini from Buffalo Gap, Texas, [who owns] the Perini Ranch Steakhouse. ... You’ll not eat a better steak anywhere, regardless of where you go.
Tom Perini: Well, thanks, Red. It’s just simple, what we call “Texas food.”
Red: Your recipes are just phenomenal, and that’s why you’re renowned throughout the world. ... You’re not only admired, but you’re sought after for special parties and things like that.
Tom: You know, it has been a very interesting ride. I started this about 30 years ago. ... I’m not a chef. I’m a cowboy cook. ... It doesn’t have to be fancy.
Red: And enough of it to satisfy your hunger.
Tom: That’s right. That’s right. ... What I do is the old-time cowboy cook. I mean, when you leave, you’ll be full, and you’ll like it.
Red: I can vouch for that. ... Now, what kind of seasonings did [cowboys] use [on cattle drives]? You know, today we season our foods with all kinds of different things.
Tom: I don’t think they had a lot of them. I mean, I think [they] had salt, but I think they used a lot of salt for curing, and salt was a very important thing in the early days. ... I think they had some pepper and things [too], but I think you had lots of bacon drippings. I think they used a lot of the byproduct from whatever they were doing. ... But they didn’t have a tremendous amount. It’s kind of the same way with sugar. You had lots of honey and blackstrap molasses and things like that, that they referred to as “lick,” that would give you the sweet, but you didn’t have a lot of granulated sugar.
Red: The story’s told, you know, a cook killed a cowboy for getting in his sugar supply. ...
Tom: But, I mean ... it would have been a real treat to have that. You know, when you think about being on the trail for three months and being in the saddle 10 hours a day or longer and crossing streams and rivers ... I know it’s very romantic and it’s a wonderful time, but it must have been really tough. I mean, these boys, when you say “cowboys” ... they were young men, but I mean, they were tough by the time they got to Dodge City or Abilene, Kansas, or wherever.
Red: Tom, I’m not sure I was ever that tough.
Tom: You know, the difference is we have been exposed to air-conditioning and nice beds and it’s comfortable driving in a car. ... But they didn’t know that, so I’m sure they thought everything was fine.
From the May/June 2017 issue.