How to Feed A Branding Crew

Feeding a branding crew is easy. You just have to know what to feed them. The Holy Grail of a branding day dinner is man food—the kind with substance to it and nothing more. No foofy stuff or unidentifiable herbs and ingredients.

For starters, when I plan a branding day dinner I don’t get ordinary paper plates or go by the recommended serving size amounts for food. Suggested serving sizes are perfect for children but not for a branding crew. Guys that come to our branding fill every space on their plate then stack a layer on top. They like substantial amounts of food after branding which standard paper plates aren’t designed for but do make perfect dessert plates.

When I first took over the branding dinner duties ten years ago, I thought I had to prove myself as a cook and demonstrate my culinary skills against the other ranch wives’ cooking. I aimed to impress everyone with different side dishes and exquisite desserts in hopes of dismissing any doubts people might have had about my capabilities to cook and feed a large crew. 

Luckily, I’m a fast learner. It only took slightly less than a ton of leftovers to figure out that sticking with good old American classics eliminated a lot of extra food and work. The less time I spent making side dishes with fancy ingredients and replacing them with traditional sides, the more popular the food became. Corn, beans, potatoes, coleslaw, and basic chocolate cake, pies and brownies were bigger hits than the unusual desserts and sides I made.

My first branding dinner I made coffee cake and two kinds of cinnamon rolls to kick off the morning after the sorting got done. I made plain cinnamon rolls for the kids and orange rolls—which I thought were delectable—for the adults. There was nothing left of the plain rolls and I ate the one piece of coffee cake that was dug out of the pan after eating a roll too. I had the whole pan of those delectable orange rolls to eat by myself for a week and once I polished them off I cleaned up the leftover coffee cake. 

No matter how attractive fruit or vegetable salads are made to look, most cowboys won’t eat fruity stuff with beef and the only vegetable worth putting out is a lot of mashed potatoes. It’s been my observation that the closest food to anything sweet tasting that a branding crew will eat with meat is homemade cream corn. Jell-o doesn’t stand up too well at brandings either. The one time I made jell-o there were only three or four little divots dug out that some kids took.

In order to get a branding crew to clean up a salad, it shouldn’t be lite but have some weight to it when put on a plate like potato salad or coleslaw. Standard meat dishes and classic sides bring out the flavor in a beer but fruit or vegetable salads tend to kill the flavor of a Budweiser. Fortunately, the ladies that helped me in the kitchen ate some of the unpopular dishes out of pity my first year.              
Since I learned to stick with serving man food, cooking for our branding is easy and my new favorite dishes are scraped-clean pots, pans and bowls.

this column was originally published May 2-8, 2010

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