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 (or discadas among Spanish-speaking folks) 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 a discada 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 is now being manufactured in all sorts of custom sizes and variations. They work fine, but somehow it just isn’t the same. Once you start making sanitary replicas, you lose the ingenuity of the original.