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How To Make Cowboy Coffee (Recipe & Step-by-Step Guide)

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Cowboy coffee is the classic option for camp coffee.

As the name suggests, this method comes from the Wild West.

Following the Revolutionary War, Americans opted to consume coffee instead of tea as an act of rebellion against the formerly oppressive British Empire.

And it wasn’t long before they realized that coffee is better in so many ways.

It keeps you hydrated and energized throughout the day, which is exactly what Americans needed as they began to venture west.

Another perk of coffee was the fact that you could make it anywhere, without special equipment – just a kettle, spoon, and a cup.

So, let’s see how you can make cowboy coffee during your camping trip.

How To Make Cowboy Coffee (Recipe)

Cowboy Coffee Recipe and Ingredients

Making cowboy coffee is pretty simple. Here’s how to do it, step by step:

1. Pour water and salt into the pot. Avoid placing your coffee pot directly into the open fire, as you will need to retrieve it shortly and don’t want to risk burning your hand in the flames.

2. Add the coffee grounds and stir. As the water starts getting warmer, its molecules will start moving, which you’ll see by the bubbles forming. When you see that happening, add your coffee grounds. Grab a spoon and stir well.

3. Bring to a boil. And I’m not just talking about seeing a few bubbles on the surface. You actually want to let the coffee boil for about two to three minutes. If you’re cooking on the stove, this is when you can turn the heat to medium-low.

4. Remove from heat and let it sit. Let the coffee sit for a few minutes first before moving on to the next step.

5. Strain or add cold water (optional). If coffee particles are flowing on the surface, you can strain them or use the cold water trick. For the latter, simply sprinkle a bit of cold water on top of the coffee, which will settle the coffee particles on the bottom. Make sure you don’t stir again, as that will only bring them up to the surface.

6. Serve and enjoy.

What You’ll Need to Make Cowboy Coffee

The beauty of cowboy coffee lies in its simplicity.

You don’t need a fancy machine or an expensive percolator to make this cup of java.  All you need is just a few things that you already have at home.

Cowboy Coffee Ingredients

Cowboy Coffee Ingredients

For a single serving – which should be enough for you and your partner – here’s what you need:

  • 2 cups water (plus an optional ¼ cup)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely-ground coffee
  • A pinch of salt

If you’re making coffee for more people or you like a larger cup in the morning, increase the amount proportionally.

But remember – cowboy coffee is strong.

Due to the brewing method and the amount of coffee used, a cup of cowboy coffee may contain half the daily recommended caffeine intake.

You don’t need to stick to these measurements though. Maybe you prefer a weaker or stronger coffee.

Play around with ground to water ratio to find what works best for you.

Now, you can see I added the optional half a cup of water. This is what you can use to splash the coffee to settle the flowing grounds.

You probably won’t need as much as half a cup, but it’s always best to be prepared.

As for the coffee grounds, it’s important that they’re coarsely ground.

This is the ground size you’d use for French press or cold brew, with coffee particles resembling rock salt or ground-up peppercorn.

The reason we go with large coffee particles is that they take longer to extract.

We let the grounds steep in the pot for a few minutes before taking the coffee off the fire, and the large particle surface ensures they don’t over-extract and cause coffee to be bitter.

Now, your coffee will probably still turn a bit bitter, but that’s nothing a pinch of salt can’t fix.

By sprinkling a bit of salt into the pot, it will bring out the natural sweetness of coffee and mask bitterness.

Cowboy Coffee Equipment

Cowboy Coffee Equipment

To make cowboy coffee, you’ll need:

Truth be told – making coffee is so much easier on the stove since you can control the flames, but cooking it on the campfire does have its charms.

Just make sure you don’t place the pot directly onto the flames.

Instead, you can use a cooking surface like a grill grate, or move the coals to the side and place a pot on them.

Now, a camping kettle will make your job a bit easier.

Namely, pouring coffee from it is much smoother than pouring it from a cooking pot.

But if you don’t own one, it’s not the end of the world.

A cooking pot will do just as well when it comes to brewing coffee, it’s just that you need to be slightly more careful when pouring so that you don’t spill it on yourself.

Plus, if you’re backpacking, you certainly aren’t going to be bringing a kettle just for making coffee.

Finally, you can use either a cup or a mug to drink your coffee.

Cowboy Coffee Nutrition

Here’s the great thing about cowboy coffee – it has practically no calories.

Well, it has about five calories, which is still nothing. It also has no fat, sugar, proteins, or carbs.

In other words, it doesn’t mess up with whatever diet regime you might be on.

With that being said, you can’t drink a gallon of it.

Why? Because of the caffeine, of course.

Now, exactly how much caffeine one cup of cowboy coffee has depends on the type of beans you’re using.

But a rough estimate is that an 8-ounce cup has between 160 and 240mg.

According to FDA, the daily recommended caffeine intake for a healthy adult is 400 mg.

But keep in mind that even a lower amount can cause jitters and other unpleasant caffeine side effects.

How to Get the Most From Your Cowboy Coffee

Get The Most From Your Cowboy Coffee

The reason why cowboy coffee often gets a bad rep is that, if you don’t get it right, it can taste bad.

But that’s the thing with any type of coffee, right?

However, when you make it right, it’s smooth and enjoyable.

The truth is, your cowboy coffee will be as good as the ingredients you’re using.

You only want to use high-quality grounds and fresh water.

And lastly cowboy coffee tastes best the moment it’s made. The more you let it sit and cool in the pot, the more it will lose flavor and aroma.

If you plan on drinking another cup of coffee later, I recommend brewing two small batches rather than a large one.

Rewarming coffee will cause it to turn bitter and it will be horrible.

I also want to address the necessity of using coarse grounds. The smaller the grounds, the faster they extract.

And when you over-extract them, you get bitter coffee.

Cowboy coffee takes a couple of minutes to boil, and that’s just the right time for coarse coffee grounds to extract.

If you forget the pot on the fire for more than necessary (4 minutes), rest assured your coffee will be over-extracted.

Now, maybe you want it to be slightly bitter and have a stronger kick. Feel free to play around with your brew.

Straining Methods

Given that you mix coffee grounds with water, don’t be surprised if they end up floating on the surface.

If you don’t have a strainer, there’s a neat little trick that might help you.

Try pouring about ¼ cup of cool water down the spout.

Cold water should push down the grounds caught up around the top and cause them to sink to the bottom.

Alternatively, you can add eggshells to your coffee.

They allow the grounds to separate from the liquid and settle on the ground.

But if you have a strainer ready at hand, you can use it to pour coffee without worrying grounds might end up in your cup.

This is definitely the easiest way to do that.

If you don’t have one, another option is to use a clean sock. I know it sounds silly, but it works.

Just remember that coffee leaves stains. So if you plan on using a white sock, it will be permanently brown after that.


What is cowboy coffee?

Cowboy coffee is made by mixing grounds with water in a pot over an open flame. To make it, you need just a cooking pot, a cup, and a spoon.

What is the secret ingredient in cowboy coffee?

By adding a pinch of salt, you can bring out the natural sweetness of coffee grounds and mask the bitterness.

This is an easy way to “fix” your over-extracted coffee.

Why did cowboys put eggshells in coffee?

Eggshells serve a double purpose. First, they separate the grounds from the liquid, allowing you to pour coffee without residue.

And second, eggshells contain calcium carbonate, which lowers the pH level and makes coffee less acidic.

Is cowboy coffee stronger?

Cowboy coffee may appear strong because of its brewing method. But how caffeinated it is depends on the type of coffee grounds you’re using.

Why do you put salt in cowboy coffee?

Adding salt can balance out the flavor, making the coffee less bitter. Plus, it lowers its pH level, making it gentler on your stomach.

How do you get grinds to settle in cowboy coffee?

A little trick is that you can pour a bit of cold water to settle the grounds. Alternatively, adding eggshells will also do the same thing.

To Sum Things Up

Cowboy coffee is arguably the most enjoyable way to make coffee while camping.

You do it just like they did it in the Wild West – over open flames.

When done right, cowboy coffee is delicious and makes every camping trip even more enjoyable!

Also See: Best Camping Coffee Maker: Brew Your Perfect Cup in the Great Outdoors

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