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How To Make Cowboy Coffee

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 TVs, 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 bins overflowing with 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 one thing is often left out: a good cup of 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

a dog by the campire

Like most country recipes, born in the wild away from the internet, there are a ton of different “best methods.” It is just how it is when there are so many different ways to brew coffee.

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 (cue gimmicky salesman music) and let you decide for yourself which is right for you.

The Eggshell Method

eggshells in a bowl

You will need:

  • A heat resistant kettle or coffee pot - 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 - see notes).
  • 4 cups (1 quart) of water.
  • Eggshells (whatever you have leftover from cooking eggs).
  • A heat source.
  • A little cold water to help the grounds sink after brewing coffee.

If you plan to make this coffee outdoors, like a real cowboy, with a cast iron kettle and all, Kent Rollins has a tip (1).

Make sure that the coffee pot you get is well-seasoned to get the best flavor out of it. - Kent Rollins, Red River Ranch Cowboy Cooking

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 may 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 rolling 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:

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

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

VARIATION: In the hot, dry deserts of the American Southwest, some old-timey recipes used to call for adding a pinch of salt to replace what cowboys lost, what with all their ropin' and ridin' and sweatin'. If you've done any serious hiking or climbing on your camping trip, a little salt will turn your coffee into a kind of wilderness-themed sports recovery drink.

Step 3 - Toss It in the Pot

When your water comes to a boil, toss in your coffee grounds and eggshell 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.

Now, simply wait about five minutes for the grounds to steep and (hopefully) sink to the bottom of the pot.

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 coffee! Pour carefully and gently if you want to keep the grounds at the bottom of the pot.

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 to keep it warm (you can do this technique for each recipe).


The Clean-Sock Method

how to make cowboy coffee using a coffee sock

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 as in the previous recipe — let it sit and steep for about five minutes.

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


The Stirring Recipe

person stirring coffee in a pan

You will need:

  • A heat resistant kettle
  • 3/4 to 1 cup of ground coffee
  • 4 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, add coffee to the hot water 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 of brewing time. This will give your coffee plenty of time to steep, allowing all those tasty oils trapped inside your beans to escape.

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.


Don't Forget The Golden Rules Of Brewing Coffee...

Look, we understand that cowboy coffee has the reputation for being something rough and rugged, tossed together in subpar circumstances and yielding barely drinkable results. But it doesn't have to be that way.

a kettle being used outdoors

If you've poked around our site long enough, you know that what we're dedicated to is making great coffee, whatever brewing method we're talking about. Whether you're using an automatic espresso machine that costs more than a midsize sedan or making cold brew in a Mason jar, we're about more than just a basic cup of joe.

So, just because you're sleeping in the dirt and collecting bundles of sticks to scorch your dinner over a pile of rocks doesn't mean you have to forget everything you know about coffee. If you have access to boiling water (well, hot water - the rules about keeping it between 195 and 205 F don't change just because the stars are your canopy) and good quality beans like these, you don't have to settle for burnt-tasting mud. 

And while the proportions may not be quite as precise as when you're using a pour over, paying attention to how much water to how much coffee is still important. As the saying goes, science works whether or not you believe in it - and science is a huge part of making great coffee.

If you're not sold on cowboy coffee, here's a few other ways to make coffee while camping - or check out a complete list of coffee brewing methods here: https://www.homegrounds.co/the-complete-guide-to-coffee-brewing-methods/

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the secret ingredient in cowboy coffee?

There's no "secret" ingredient in cowboy coffee, although cowboys usually put eggshells and/or salt in their coffee. Aside from reducing coffee’s bitterness, cowboys used salts in their drink to replace what they lost when they sweat. The eggshells, on the other hand, help coffee grounds sink to the bottom of the coffee pot at a faster rate. Eggshells can also help reduce the drink’s acidity. (2)

Why do cowboys need to drink coffee?

Cowboys herd cattle, drive away strays, do rodeos, and a lot of other things. These activities can be physically challenging, hence, they need strong coffee to stay awake and boost their energy.

How do cowboys make their coffee?

Cowboys make coffee by putting coffee grounds in a pot full of water and bringing it almost to a boil (3) or just when the water started boiling. Then, they add a pinch of salt (and/or sugar if it is available in the chuck wagon). Then, they use eggshells to help the grounds settle at the bottom of the pot.


Reference

  1. Kent Rollins, C. K. (2019, April 03). How to Make Cowboy Coffee. Retrieved July 7, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UAoT21eqXI
  2. Axe, J. (2018, January 29). Can You Eat an Eggshell? Retrieved July 10, 2019, from https://draxe.com/eggshell/
  3. Gordon, J. (2012, April 20). History of Food: How much coffee did cowboys drink? Retrieved July 10, 2019, from https://www.quora.com/History-of-Food-How-much-coffee-did-cowboys-drink
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Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.