The “cowboy wok” is legendary in South Texas. I have known about them for a long time, but I never had one until recently. And now it is one of those pieces of backyard barbecue equipment I just can’t live without.
The first cowboy woks were made out of used cultivator discs. The discs start out with sharp edges, they get discarded when the edge wears off. I guess somebody got the bright idea that the worn out metal blades would be great for cooking. I wonder if the cowboy wok was inspired by those Mexican street food fryers with the well full of oil in the center?
A friend named Jim Jard loaned me the one I am using, it has a lower disc to hold the charcoal and an upper disc for cooking. The upper disc screws up and down on a shaft to control the heat by raising or lowering it over the heat of the coals. Fajitas, hamburgers, steaks and other items that do well on a flat top are easy to cook on a cowboy wok. And its great for onions, peppers, and all those condiments that you can’t cook on a grill grate.
Personally, I like to use the cowboy wok for cooking carnitas. I fill the well in the bottom with lard, heat it up, and then slow-cook big chunks of Boston butt until they are crispy on the outside and tender in the middle. Yes, this one is a little rusty and yes, there is some green paint on it. I didn’t say it was pretty.
A more sanitary version of the cowboy wok is now being manufactured using new steel discs with cute little horseshoe handles on the sides. You set them on top of a propane burner stand. They work fine, but somehow it just isn’t the same. Once you start making sanitary replicas, you lose the ingenuity of the original.