How to Make Cowboy Coffee: Do You Know the Secret Ingredient?

Since early this morning, you've been in the saddle herding cattle. As you dismount your horse, the likes of a hot cup of coffee start sounding good. Thankfully, you know how to make cowboy coffee and came prepared for the task!

Since early this morning, you’ve been in the saddle herding cattle. As you dismount your horse, the likes of a hot cup of coffee start sounding good. Thankfully, you know how to make cowboy coffee and came prepared for the task!

But, what is cowboy coffee? And can you make cowboy coffee on the stove at home? How about on a fire? The answer is yes, you can. Hitch up your horse and settle around the bright, open fire while I tell you the tale of this Old West favorite.

Overview: How to Make Cowboy Coffee

Herding cattle at sunset.

So, what’s all the fuss about cowboy coffee? I very briefly touched on it in my post on why coffee is called a cup of joe. Is it a special kind of bean grown only in the Wild West? Does it make your horse run faster? And most importantly, do you brew it in a ten-gallon hat?

Granted, I would love ten gallons of coffee some mornings. That would really make anyone’s day giddyup!

Cowboy coffee is a way to brew coffee without all the fancy equipment the city folk use. All you need is a pot, coffee and water. And if you’re lucky enough, a relaxing campfire to boil it on.

History of Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy Arne making cowboy coffee on the fire.

The tradition of cowboy coffee dates back to when America was making its way in the world and trying to distance itself from Britain. Part of this was the rejection of tea as the drink of choice and coffee becoming an American staple. 

The lives and work of cowboys and other settlers heading west were hard, so they would drink coffee along the way. It kept them going while herding the animals or traveling for long periods. Sometimes, a good cup of coffee was preferred, even over water. And they liked it strong with no add-ins and hot off the campfire.

Since there weren’t any coffee shops dotting the wild frontier at the time, cowboys developed a simple and traditional method for brewing coffee out on the trail. In addition, they could carry all the supplies needed to make it in their saddlebags, packs or on the wagon.

So what exactly is cowboy coffee?

What Is Cowboy Coffee?

Cowboy coffee brewing on a fire.

When it boils down to it, cowboy coffee is a French press brew without the filter. The piping hot coffee this produces should be a rich, smooth cup o’ joe that’s easy to drink without dairy or sweetener. Back in the day, milk and sugar were either hard to come by or didn’t keep long without refrigeration. For these reasons, coffee made the cowboy way was usually served black.

Cowboy Coffee Brewing Methods

A cowboy with a lasso on a horse.

In addition, brewing it is as easy as falling off a log. There are a few different methods for making cowboy coffee.

Boil it All Together

According to Kent Rollins, who’s a real cowboy, the first way is to boil the coffee and water together for four minutes to lower the acidity of the final drink. Then, you add a splash of cold water to settle the ground coffee and serve up the brew.

First Water, Then Coffee

The second way is to bring the water to a boil first, then take the pot off the heat and add the coffee to the boiling water. Steep for a few minutes before adding cold water to make the coffee grounds sink. Cold water stops the extraction and keeps you from having the coffee sit so long that it becomes bitter.

Stick a Sock in It!

The third way is similar to the two above, except instead of adding your coffee directly to the boiling water, you put it all inside a clean sock and tie it off to make a homemade tea bag of sorts. You drop that into the water and let it steep off the heat for four to five minutes, then remove the sock and grounds.

Does Cowboy Coffee Taste Good?

Mauricio expressing his opinions about brewing methods.

The biggest question now is, does coffee brewed in this fashion taste good and is it worth trying to make?

Cowboys and outdoor enthusiasts alike will tell you yes. That’s why this method of coffee brewing is still used even today. However, the steps you follow significantly impact whether your cowboy coffee is good enough to make you hoot and holler or bad enough that even the coyotes out back are howling their disappointment.

Indeed, if you brew it correctly, you should end up with a smooth, satisfying cup of great coffee. Many people find that this brewing process makes coffee that’s a little easier to drink since preparing it this way affects the acidity in the coffee. You can also add a pinch of salt or clean, crushed eggshells to cut any bitterness. To be frank, eggshells are the secret ingredient most people miss.

Furthermore, you can adjust the flavor to your liking by using more or less coffee or letting it sit for an extra minute before pouring. Be careful not to let it sit too long because the coffee can become over extracted and bitter. It all comes down to personal preferences.

Either way, you’re going to need a coffee pot.

How to Choose a Cowboy Coffee Pot

So now that I’ve piqued your interest in how to make cowboy coffee let’s take a gander at a couple of coffee pots.

Coletti Boseman

Coletti Boseman. Buy Now on Amazon

First, this particular percolator comes to mind. I featured the Coletti Boseman percolator coffee pot in my list of the Best Coffee Makers of 2022.

This rough and tumble coffee pot is great for cowboy coffee, so long as you don’t use the percolator filter insert. However, if you merely want to experience something similar to cowboy coffee but don’t want to mess with a clean sock or wait for the grounds to settle, using the filter would make sense.

The built-in filter inside this percolator will keep most grounds separate from your coffee after brewing. Just know this is a step away from traditional cowboy coffee, as the grinds aren’t submerged in water.

GSI Outdoors 8 Cup Coffee Pot

GSI Outdoors Cowboy Coffee Pot. Buy Now on Amazon

Or, if you’re looking for a more rustic coffee pot, this classic enamelware piece from GSI Outdoors should do the trick. It looks similar to the Coletti Boseman, but there’s no percolator insert included. It’s perfect for making cowboy coffee in the traditional way.

Ready to give it a try?

Cowboy Coffee Recipe

Cowboy coffee recipe.

Now that we’ve gone over a couple of coffee pot options, I want to share one of the recipes for how to make cowboy coffee that’s traditional in flavor yet the least likely to leave you with bitter coffee and a smile full of grinds.

It will make about six cups of coffee. Be sure to choose a big pot, so the coffee and water will fit without overflowing, ya hear?

Ingredients

  • 48 ounces (1420 milliliters) + 2 ounces (60 milliliters) of fresh cold water
  • 12 tablespoons of ground coffee; coarse grind is best
  • A coffee pot
  • Salt or clean, crushed eggshells (optional)
  • Sugar and milk (optional)

Directions for How to Make Cowboy Coffee

  1. Fill your pot with six cups of water, leaving the other 1/4 cup measure of water aside for later.
  2. Bring your water to a rolling boil over your campfire or stove. Once it’s reached a boil, remove it from the heat and let it sit for 1 minute.
  3. Add your coffee to the hot water, and your salt of eggshells if you want to use them. Give everything a stir and let the grounds sit for about three minutes.
  4. Stir again, and then let the coffee grounds sink to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Pour the remaining cold water over any floating coffee grounds. You can use an additional ounce or two if needed.
  6. Carefully serve you a cup, or use a mason jar if that’s what you have in your pack, and enjoy the finest cowboy coffee the Wild West has to offer.

Cowboy Coffee Challenge

Cowboy Coffee Challenge.

Now, it’s your turn, partner! Grab your favorite ground coffee, a pot, and some fresh water and give the recipe above a whirl. Try it with a pinch of salt or eggshells if you have them, and let me know in the comments below how it turns out.

Get your cowboy boots on and get to brewing! The adventure begins now!

I hope this guide for how to make cowboy coffee will be useful to some of ya. Got any cowboy coffee tips up your sleeve you might like to share with the rest of us? Let me know in the comments below.

How to Make Cowboy Coffee FAQ

Sure! But don’t build a campfire on it; just use the burners. You need a heat source, a pot, your favorite coffee grounds, water, something to stir with, and a coffee mug. 

Cowboy coffee can be super bitter because of over extraction of the coffee. For best flavor, add a pinch of salt or some cleaned crushed eggshells to your grounds.

Stubborn coffee grinds that won’t sink are a challenge for cowboy coffee. Most cowboys just grew mustaches to solve the problem. All jokes aside, and for those with no mustache, a little cold water should do the trick and help the pesky grinds settle to the bottom.

Depending on who you ask, cowboy coffee can taste smooth, strong, bitter, terrible, and wonderful all at the same time. The result depends on how well you adhere to the method of brewing. Proper cowboy coffee should be rich and smooth. 

Only if you brew it wrong and you have grouchy travel companions. In general, though, coffee brewed in the wild west tradition has all the health benefits and risks of a regular cup of joe.

Nope. You can be a camper, hiker, home cook, aspiring artist, rocket scientist, blogger or anyone who enjoys a good cup of coffee. But you do have to wear the obligatory cowboy hat. Yee-haw!

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