Personally, I love camping. Oh, to be out on the wild frontier where the howl of unattended children harmonizes with the static undertones of portable TV setups, and where the smell of charcoal only barely covers up the exhaust fumes of the forever-rumbling campervans.

This is where the magic happens, where planted trash cans overflowing blue and silver bouquets of Coor’s Light cans line the river banks, and where you can taste the bug spray on the wind.

Despite all the wonders the wilderness has to offer, there is one thing that is often left out: coffee.

There are many ways to make coffee without a coffee maker, but today I am going to focus on just one. So that you may still enjoy delicious coffee out beyond the edge of civilization, I am going to show you how to make cowboy coffee.

Cowboy Coffee

How to make cowboy coffee

Like most country recipes, born in the wild away from the internet, there are a ton of different “best methods.”

If you can recall arguments between your mother and aunt over how much sugar should go in the key lime pie, then you have an idea of how difficult it can be to find the right cowboy coffee recipe.

Despite this confusion, there are three recipes that stick out from the rest. Instead of just one, I am going to show you all three recipes (queue gimmicky salesman music) and let you decide for yourself which is right for you.


1 - The Eggshell Method

You will need:

  • A heat resistant kettle - i.e. something with no melt-able plastic parts. (I recommend this kettle from Granite Ware).
  • ¾ to 1 cup of ground coffee (depending on your altitude).
  • 4 cups (1 quart) of water.
  • Egg shells (whatever you have leftover from cooking eggs).
  • A heat source.

A quick note on the amount of coffee grounds: depending on the altitude you may want to use a little more than usual.

At higher altitudes, the boiling temperature goes down, and you will want to add more coffee grounds — although no more than a 1:4 coffee-to-water ratio — to compensate.

Step #1 — Boil Your Water

Pour 1 quart of water into your kettle and bring it to a boil. If it can be avoided, try not to place your kettle inside an open fire — remember, you are going to have to grab it soon.

Instead, place it on a grate over your fire, like so:

coffee pot above fire

While you’re waiting for your water to boil, you can dig a small hole in the ground nearby. This will be a perfect place to set your kettle to keep it warm once your coffee is done brewing.

Step #2 — Mix in the Eggshells

Break up the egg shells and sprinkle them into your coffee grounds, lightly mixing so the egg shells aren’t just sitting on top.

The albumin residue from the egg shells is a coagulative, and will help to hold your grounds together keeping them out of your cup.

Step #3 — Toss It in the Pot

When your water comes to a boil, toss in your coffee grounds and egg shell mixture, but do not stir.

Instead, let the grounds sit, and wait for the water to return to a boil.

Step #4 — Steep And Enjoy!

Once your water has begun to boil again, immediately remove it from the heat source and set it to the side.

All you will do now is simply wait for about five minutes for the grounds to steep and (hopefully) sink to the bottom.

*Pro Tip: if your grounds don’t sink, drizzle just a little bit of cold water on top and that should do the trick.

You are now done and ready to serve up some fresh cowboy coffee! If there is still some coffee left in the kettle, set it into the shallow hole you dug earlier, and push the dirt or sand up around the sides (you can do this technique for each recipe).


2 - The Clean-Cup Method

You will need:

  • A heat resistant kettle
  • ¾ to 1 cup of ground coffee
  • 4 cups (1 quart) of water.
  • A coffee sock, a muslin bag, or a regular, but clean sock.
  • A heat source.

Step #1 — Boil Your Water

This step is the same as for the recipe above. Bring four cups of water to a boil, and dig yourself a shallow hole to keep your coffee warm.

Step #2 — Ready Your Coffee Bag

While you wait for the water to boil, pour your coffee grounds into your sock or bag.

The fabric will serve as a filter, like a DIY tea bag, and keep the grounds from getting into your mug (an unfortunate trait of most cowboy coffee recipes).

Step #3 — Toss It in the Pot

Now that your coffee has come to a boil and you’ve got your impromptu coffee bag ready to go, toss the bag into the kettle and wait until it begins to boil again.

Step #4 — Remove and Enjoy!

When the water returns to a boil, remove it from the heat, and then — just like in the previous recipe — let it sit and steep for about five minutes.

Once your coffee is done steeping, pour yourself and your camp mates some tasty cowboy coffee, and enjoy not having to pick the grounds out of your teeth.

Image credit: Jeremy Riel, Flickr


The Stirring Recipe

You will need:

  • A heat resistant kettle
  • 3/4 to 1 cup of ground kettle
  •  c4 cups (1 quart) of water
  • About half a cup of cold water
  • A heat source

Step #1 — Boil Your Water

This recipe, unlike the other two, is a little closer to the style of brewing most of us are familiar with. The beginning of the recipe, however, is just like the others, so start by bringing one quart of water to a boil.

Step #2 — Cool Your Water

Just when your water has begun to boil remove it from the heat source and set it aside to cool. Let it sit for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, which will get it down to somewhere around 200°F, the proper temperature for most coffee brewing.

Step #3 — Stir, and Stir Again

Once your water has cooled, pour in your coffee grounds and stir for about 15 seconds. Then let it sit in the hole you dug earlier (so that it stays hot) for two minutes and stir again.

After the second stir, let it sit for another two minutes. This will give your coffee plenty of time to steep, allowing all those tasty oils trapped inside your beans to escape.

pouring camping coffee

Step #4 — Pour and Enjoy!

When the final two minutes are up, your coffee is now ready to be served!

Because of the intermittent stirring, this recipe doesn’t work well with the eggshell or DIY sock trick, so be careful while pouring to avoid letting any grounds into your cup.


There is no better way to begin (or finish) a day out on the trail than with a steaming cup of fresh cowboy coffee.

Just because you are out camping — at the campsite or out in the jungle — does not mean you have to go without coffee.

If you are ever going to manage to survive out in the wilderness, you are going to need to know how to make cowboy coffee. If you're not sold on this method, check out one of these other ways to make coffee while camping.

The only other thing you need now is a proper container to keep your coffee grounds fresh while out in the wild.

Have you tried any of these recipes? Do you know of any other cowboy coffee tricks or secrets that I didn’t mention? Tell me your experiences and what you thought of the article in the comments below, and don’t forget to share with your friends!

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