What's In John Wayne Casserole And Did The Star Invent It?

If there's one enduring icon of the American cowboy, movie buffs and cowboy fans everywhere could likely make a pretty strong case for John Wayne. The actor portrayed a cowboy or similar rugged idol of pastoral masculinity in nearly 150 different movies across the 20th century. (Talk about getting typecast.) After his on-screen debut in Raoul Walsh's "The Big Trail" in 1930, Wayne went on to rock-'em and sock-'em in such blockbuster hits as "True Grit," "Red River," "The Alamo," and "Rio Bravo." But the "John Wayne" name is as synonymous with the man himself as with the archetype he depicted for a reason: He was the platonic ideal of a cowboy — and it's after him that the casserole worthy of a true adventurer is named.

Back in the days of real-life cowboys, the cook who manned the "chuck wagon" was one of the most highly revered positions on the trail. According to Legends of America, cowboy cooks were considered second in ranking on the caravan team, only behind the Trail Boss, and subsequently accrued an entire lexicon of endearing nicknames like Cookie, Pot Rustler, Old Pud, and Dough Boxer. Fittingly, the dish named after the Classic American Cowboy himself would make any Pot Rustler proud. And that brings us to the John Wayne Casserole. (Hope you brought your appetite.)

John Wayne first wrote the casserole recipe, but it looks a little different today

John Wayne Casserole was first popularized by the 1979 cookbook, "Cooking with Love from Cara and Her Friends," a collection of different celebrities' favorite dishes. Author Cara Connery and her mother self-published the book, personally reaching out to at least 1,400 celebrities including Jimmy Carter, Captain Kangaroo, Walter Cronkite, Robert Redford, and (of course) John Wayne. The project started as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society; In a strange coincidence, Wayne himself died of cancer the same year, in 1979.

So, did John Wayne himself invent his eponymous casserole? Not exactly. The actor did submit the recipe himself, but the original dish detailed in Connery's cookbook described a more understated egg and cheese casserole than the dish folks enjoy today. Over time, John Wayne Casserole evolved into a more elaborate casserole, and after popularization by the University of Mississippi Medical Center Cafeteria in Jackson, Mississippi, the new version of the dish stuck. UMC reportedly still serves it every other Thursday. So, what does John Wayne Casserole taste like?

A hearty southwestern dish fit for a real cowboy

Without further ado, John Wayne Casserole starts with a base of refrigerated biscuits (like Pillsbury or Bisquick). The flaky, buttery dough is topped with chopped onions, red bell peppers, jalapenos, ground beef, and tomatoes. Then, the whole thing gets doused in a generous creamy, spicy topping made with sour cream, mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, and taco seasoning. It's a hearty comfort food with Southwest Tex-Mex flair, comparable to an elevated breakfast casserole.

Appropriately, John Wayne Casserole features a few staple ingredients that real-life cowboys ate. According to the University of Montana, a cowboy diet regularly consisted of beans, chili, pork belly bacon, biscuits, beef, coffee, sourdough bread, and potatoes. It's all too fitting that beef and biscuits are some of the stars in this cowboy casserole. If you're hungry to get a taste of the wild west for yourself, go ahead and bop over to the grocery store — there's no time to lose. As John Wayne himself once quipped in the 1972 film "The Cowboys," "Slap some bacon on a biscuit and let's go! We're burnin' daylight!"