Taste the Nostalgia: How to Make Cowboy Coffee Over a Campfire

by | Dec 21, 2019

While many love to explore the great outdoors, some balk at the idea of spending several days or even weeks in nature without a good cup of coffee. Fortunately, there is a simple solution. Cowboy coffee is an easy way to make coffee outdoors that rugged men and coffee lovers have been making since the days of the wild wild west (no not the Will Smith movie).

The beauty of cowboy coffee is that it is so simple. No fancy drips or French presses required, no batteries or extension cord needed. The ease of making cowboy coffee was born out of necessity. Imagine you’re a cowpoke who wants a cup of coffee, but the means have to be limited to what you can carry in a pack on a horse. Cowboy coffee meets this need perfectly.

A Brief History – What Is Cowboy Coffee?

Also, what really appeals to the coffee lover is the nostalgia. The moniker “cowboy” invokes string images of men in boots and ten-gallon hats sitting around a fire shooting the breeze under a clear sky, and nine times out of ten there’s a pot of coffee over the fire. As it turns out, there’s a lot of truth to this fantasy.

In the days of the wild west, cowboys were the backbone of the cattle industry. They were responsible for managing cattle drives, where herds of cattle were taken to places across the west to be sold. If you think trying to do your job without coffee is tough, imagine trying to do that, and you don’t get to relax with Wi-fi and Netflix when you’re done

Because cattle drives often took several days to complete, cowboys needed a simple method to make coffee, that could be carried on horseback. They started making coffee using a single large pot over a fire; and thus, cowboy coffee was born.


How to Make Cowboy Coffee that Actually Tastes Good

While many people think that cowboy coffee is so thick and dark that it will cement in your stomach and put hair on your chest, that is actually not the case. Like all coffee brewing, a lot of it comes down to technique, how long you steep the grounds, the thickness of the grounds themselves, and the water temperature.


Choose Your Cowboy Coffee Pot First

If you’re unsure what constitutes a “cowboy coffee pot” simply head to your local sporting goods or outdoors store and look in the camping section. Or you can check out the coffee pots for sale online.

Now, there is actually a lot of debate about how to best make cowboy coffee (go figure) amongst the rustic coffee aficionados. The basic elements everyone agrees on at least. You will need:

1) A kettle/metal coffee pot – can be any size, you can make a lot of coffee in one go with this method

2) A fire or other heat source

3) Water

4) Coffee grounds


Campfire Coffee Step By Step

Before we get to the debated sections, here are the basic steps for making cowboy coffee:

#1 Measure how much water you want to make coffee with and add it to your kettle

#2 Place over a heat source and bring the water to a boil

#3 Once the water is boiling, remove the kettle from the heat source and let it sit for 30 seconds.

#4 Add 2 tablespoons of coffee for every 8 ounces of water in the kettle

#5 Let grounds steep for about 4 minutes (stirring is optional)

This method utilizes an extraction technique called decoction. Basically, without getting into the chemistry lessons, the hot water pulls flavorful oils (which contain the life-giving caffeine) into the mix.


Cowboy Coffee Recipe – 3 Simple Methods

After the steeping step is where the debate really begins. Naturally, the question with this method is “how do you make sure you’re not drinking the coffee grounds?” There are a few different methods to make sure the coffee grounds go to the bottom of the pot. Here are just a few of them.


Using the Cold-Water Method

This is the easiest method to use. Basically, after letting the coffee steep, you pour a little bit of cold water into the pot. This halts the extraction process and brings the grounds to the bottom of the pot.


Cowboy Coffee Eggshell Method

Yes, you read that right, I am actually about to suggest putting eggshells in your coffee. There are actually some fascinating scientific reasons behind this idea. Basically, eggshells are alkaline-rich, which means they will help balance out the natural acidity of your coffee.

This technique can be used in addition to the cold-water technique. I would suggest using this technique if you’re having trouble balancing the coffee and it tastes too acidic. To do this, add a couple cracked and washed eggshells to the coffee and let them sit in there for brewing and pouring.


Using the Sock Technique

This technique is even sillier than the eggshell method, and not nearly as scientifically cool. Basically, you would use the sock as a makeshift filter to trap the grounds and keep them in the pot.

I mean, it will work, but you have to ask yourself if you want to want to stick a sock in your coffee. (Even if it is a clean one) To be honest, I would not go for this method even if I had a pack of brand-new socks to use. Personally, my recommendation is to just go for the cold-water method if these are your only two choices

Now, if you want to skip this entire debate, there are modern cowboy coffee pots that have percolators like a French press. However, many purists would argue that this is not true cowboy coffee, but a glorified French press.


camp coffee


Camp Coffee Tips and Tricks

Like any skill, learning how to make cowboy coffee taste perfect for you will take a little experimenting. There are so many variables when it comes to making coffee period, like the quality of coffee, the thickness of the grounds, the type of pot, the list goes on and on.

A lot of experienced cowboy coffee brewers say that using a coarser grind of coffee works better for this type. This makes sense because the method is similar to using a French press, which requires coarse coffee. Another benefit to coarse grounds is the coffee will not be as bitter or strong, because the oils will be more contained and unable to seep out into the water.

This can be a blessing and a curse. Of course, if you like strong coffee (like me), simply use a finer ground coffee.

When making cowboy coffee, there is one important safety tip to follow, that tip is this: Do NOT use water gathered from a stream or river. That water could contain pollutants or chemicals that ruin your coffee’s taste, or worse make you sick. You should only use stream water as a last resort, and you should make sure to make it safe to drink first


Cowboy Camping Coffee: Our Conclusion

The next time you go camping, be sure to add a pot to your kit and try the coffee of the men who won the west. It’s easy to make, delicious to drink, and takes you back to the days of open plains, horses, and the rugged strength that set cowboys apart from the rest.

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