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This Dude Really Cooks

Lasso big flavors while visiting the Flying W Ranch on Kansas’
sweeping Flint Hills prairie.

“Food’s always been real important to me,” says Josh Hoy, recalling one of his fondest early memories sitting in his grandmother’s kitchen in Cassoday, Kan. “She’d made this huge breakfast: pounded round steak, grits, hash browns, gravy, pancakes, and biscuits and honey. Honeycomb right from the beehive, and all at 3 o’clock in the morning feeding a whole crew of 80- and 90-year-old cowboys.”

swimming

Above: Josh Hoy

Below: Vegetables from the ranch or a neighbor’s garden and beef from the ranch make the Flying W menu shine.

vegetables

Josh, Gwen Hoy, and their 10-year-old daughter, Josie, operate the Flying W Ranch, 7,000 acres in the Cottonwood River Valley of Chase County, Kansas. Ranch work is hard, physical labor, and good food is critical to keeping the ranch hands satisfied. I joined them in their kitchen as they were preparing for a few dozen guests who would be helping with a cattle drive the following day. The evening menu included steaks and chimichurri, potatoes, corn pudding, blueberry peach crumble and brown sugar ice cream. A hearty tray of enchiladas would be served following the drive.

“We’ve gotten pretty locally famous for brisket and steak and all that, and my tacos carnitas are popular,” says Josh.

“They’re yummy,” says Gwen.

The couple raise a hundred head of longhorn cattle year-round, plus as many as 1,500 yearlings that graze on the nutritious tallgrass prairie during its peak period of April through August. Both Hoys have a deep connection to Kansas farm and ranching. Josh is a fifth-generation Flint Hills rancher, and Gwen’s father continues to farm on the eastern edge of the Flint Hills. Her family homesteaded the land where their home is located.

The Hoys “always entertained a lot of people,” says Josh, eventually formalizing it by cooking and entertaining bus tours and family reunions. Individuals and groups also may stay onsite, participating in ranch activities like cattle drives and spring prairie burns, riding, or simply relaxing on oversized rockers to the beat of hummingbird wings and cicada song.

The lodge and cabins are fitted with full kitchens, as well as outdoor grills, and guests have the option of preparing their own meals or having the Hoys cater. Which they choose often reflects their cooking habits at home.

“The people that cook at home want to come and not do any cooking or dishes or anything and have us do it all. People that don’t–they eat out or whatever at home–they love to come here and kind of play house and cook,” says Josh.

The screen door creaked open. In loped “Bones” Ownbey, a lanky neighbor with a sagebrush mustache and a single long gray braid under his cowboy hat. We stopped to admire the large tray of vegetables he’d brought from his garden: homegrown tomatoes, eggplant, and chili peppers among the bounty. Almost all the produce they use–potatoes, onions, spinach, garlic, herbs, and so on–is grown by Bones, whose skill with the drums earned him the nickname as a kid.

“We’ll freeze hundreds of pounds of tomatoes and peppers and use them year-round,” says Josh.

The ability to use fresh, local ingredients shapes the food that Josh prepares.

“And by local I mean grown either on the place or the neighbor’s place. Not even just buying locally from farmer’s markets or stores but actually being involved in the inception of the plant or the birth of the animal,” says Josh.

A friend raises “pasture pigs,” as Gwen calls them, which eat “acorns and walnuts and everything else,” says Josh.

“We’d like to do free-range chicken if possible but [between the coyotes and bobcats,] they have kind of a high mortality rate here,” says Gwen.

Josh’s interest in food and cooking runs in the family.

“My mom was an excellent cook, and my great uncle was a chuck wagon cook. He cooked for sales and big events. He made some of the best stew and biscuits and gravy and things out on the fire. So that always piqued my interest.”

After taking a culinary tour of Provence, Josh signed up for a boot camp with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y.

“That was pretty intense. That was like 18 hours a day for a week. I was pretty worried about my knife skills but I got pretty good at it,” says Josh.

Those knife skills have come in handy when catering large venues, like the patron tent at the Symphony in the Flint Hills. It takes two weeks to prepare to feed 900 people a gourmet meal in a tent in the middle of a pasture, says Josh.

“And all that is handcrafted by us. Every vegetable is chopped by me or us and everything is done the real handcrafted way,” he says.

Josh adheres to three cooking philosophies: keep food fresh and local, layer the flavors, and take time to cook.

Homegrown ingredients have more flavor out of the gate. For garden fresh vegetables, he likes to keep preparations simple. But for sauces, he prefers to layer flavors. Layering is a process of building flavors through preparations, such as roasting peppers or sautéing onions until they are caramelized before adding them to a dish, which “triples the flavor and removes any harsh flavors,” says Josh.

He makes his own beef and chicken stock.

“Beef stock with soup bones from a three-year-old longhorn steer has a lot more flavor than beef stock from a can,” says Josh.

The ideal method for cooking beef varies depending on whether the animal was commercially produced or grass-fed, which has about 1/3 the fat content of its commercial counterpart. The leaner meat calls for “low and slow cooking” says Gwen. Josh says he sears his steaks at a high temperature and then turns the heat down to cook the meat slowly.

The benefits are worth the effort. Less fat means less shrinkage, and “it has so much more flavor than corn or grain fed,” says Josh. It is also high in Omega 3s, making it comparable to salmon.

What is the biggest mistake cooks at home make?

“Taking shortcuts. Not taking the time to layer that flavor in and not taking the time to sauté your onions properly before they go in to the dish. Just things like that. Every recipe you see is 30 minutes, pot roast or whatever it is. Like on cooking shows, everything is you’ve got to get it done in an hour and all that. My brisket takes 13 hours. Most sauces take five or six hours to mature and get there. When you have the time, take the time. I guess that’s important. It makes a huge difference,” says Josh.

“It doesn’t have to be complicated,” says Gwen.

Sally Snell is a contributor from Lawrence, Kan.

July/August 2014 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

Flying W Ranch is located at 1515 G Road in Cedar Point, Kan. For more information, contact
(620) 274-4357 or www.flinthillsflyingw.com.

To visit the Flint Hills of Kansas, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.


RELATED STORY

Special events–including trail rides, cattle drives, and prairie burns to rejuvenate the tallgrass–are offered at the ranch. A related story can be found here.


 


 
Recipes

 

Cranberry Coleslaw  

Ingredients
1 finely chopped cabbage
¼ finely chopped red cabbage
1 cup dried cranberries
¼ cup dried cherries
¼ cup pine nuts

Dressing
1 cup olive oil
1 cup cider vinegar
1 up agave nectar
Salt and pepper to taste
Blend liquid ingredients until emulsified. Dress slaw. 

Best if made several hours ahead of time. 

  • Josh Hoy

cranberry coleslaw

Cranberry coleslaw has the tang of cranberries and sweetness of cherries. (Michael C. Snell photo)

   

Flying W Ranch
13-Hour Brisket

Ingredients

1 trimmed flat brisket
1 medium yellow onion
6 mild hatch chilies
1 cup red wine
1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup black strap molasses
Salt, pepper, chili powder

Instruction
Sprinkle the brisket with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Set aside and slice one medium yellow onion. Place onion into bottom of roasting pan. Slice the chilies and add to onion in pan. Place brisket on top of onions and chilies in roasting pan, fat side up. Put brisket in oven and sear for 45 minutes at 500 degrees.

Remove brisket from oven and add 1 cup red wine, 1 cup cider vinegar and ¼ cup molasses. Return to 200-degree oven and bake brisket for 10 hours.

Remove brisket from oven and slice to desired thickness. Bake sliced brisket for an additional two to three hours at 250 degrees. Serve.

  • Josh Hoy
 

 


 

Event roundup at the ranch

The Flying W Ranch hosts events throughout the year, allowing guests a taste of life on a working cattle ranch. Events include cattle drives, trail rides, and prairie burns.

Rotational grazing gives grass a chance to rest, and ensures the cattle are always on fresh grass. From spring to fall, longhorn cattle are moved from pasture to pasture on the ranch, herded on horseback due to the rough terrain. Guests participate in the drive, bringing their own horses or using one of the ranch horses. The ride is about 10–12 miles through back pastures and along country roads.

Two-hour guided trail rides across the prairie describe the plants and animals of the region. Horse, tack, and guide provided.

Prairie burns are conducted during the spring. These controlled burns rejuvenate the prairie and are a vital part of maintaining the ecosystem. Participants light and manage a day burn and a nighttime burn.

Sally M. Snell

Prairie Burns

Guests at the Flying W can participate in controlled prairie burns, which help to maintain the prairie’s ecosystem. Nighttime burns are especially dramatic. (photo by Michael C. Snell)


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