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Free Excerpt from "Making Great Cowboy Coffee"
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means of last resort; that is, you only make cowboy coffee when you have absolutely no other alternative. This is
unfortunate. What cowboy coffee may lack in sophistication, it definitely makes up for in taste and quality.
Think for a moment about one of the darlings of backyard cooking, the grilled steak. Grilling a piece of raw beef over
an open fire is about as primitive as you can get. Yet, despite the lack of sophistication, grilling produces an
absolutely delicious steak that is unsurpassed in texture, flavor, and enjoyment.
Cowboy coffee is much like that. It is simple. It is primitive. And—when done right—it makes a terrific cup of coffee.
A Rose by Any Other Name
Cowboy coffee goes by many names, including open-pot coffee, hobo coffee, campfire coffee, and boiled coffee—a
name that harkens back to the 1800s. In the old homesteading days coffee was rarely available in anything other
than unroasted coffee beans. Consequently, homesteaders would buy their beans unroasted or “green” and roast
them at home in a skillet or in the oven. This required a great deal of attentiveness to get the beans to just the right
roast without burning some or perhaps all of them. Once the beans cooled they would be ground as needed, using
a hand operated grinder.
Because boiled coffee played so prominently in our homesteading past, I almost titled this book, “Making Great
Boiled Coffee.” While the notion of boiled coffee is imbued with nostalgia, it lacks culinary appeal.
And to make matters worse the notion of boiled coffee helps perpetuate the worst mistake you can make when
brewing coffee and that is boiling it. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.
On the other hand, the notion of cowboy coffee conjures up images of life on the trail and memories of our
grandparents puttering around in the kitchen. There’s something about an enameled coffee pot brewing on a stove
or a campfire that inspires many wonderful memories and perhaps a few stories, some of which may even be true.
For the purposes of this book let’s go with cowboy coffee. It has both the heart-warming nostalgia of boiled coffee
and a hint of the romanticism of life on the trail. Yee haw!
Cowboy Coffee Defined
So, what is this mythical, mysterious cowboy coffee? I’m glad you asked. Cowboy coffee is an old-fashioned method
of brewing coffee that involves:
steeping coffee grounds in hot water and separating the grounds
from the brewed coffee by settling or straining or both.
Of course, there are many variations to the method, some of which are detrimental to the coffee . . . and to the coffee
drinker. The most egregious variation, which is often perpetuated by advice commonly shared today, is the boiling of
the coffee itself. Boiling water extracts undesirable compounds from the beans, producing a terribly bitter brew.
Coffee should be steeped in water just off a boil, in the range of 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Brewing with water
in this temperature range will extract those wonderful flavors that we so love, while leaving the bitter compounds
behind in the coffee grounds.
The good news is that the process of steeping coffee is much easier and less likely to make a huge mess in the
kitchen than boiling. When coffee grounds are brought to a boil, the rolling liquid can triple in volume in the blink of
an eye, sending a cascade of steaming grounds over an amazingly large surface area. A cup of steaming hot coffee
grounds can cover a stovetop in about 3 seconds. I know this from personal experience.
As Good as Any Coffee
When cowboy coffee is brewed properly, I find that it tastes much better than percolated coffee, better than drip
coffee , and possibly even as good as French press coffee, a method many experts say is the best of the bunch. I
have no doubt that people will line up to argue about that. So, I’ll provide you with the information and let you decide.
Regardless of your conclusions, I believe you’ll find that cowboy coffee is a very good coffee—far better than most—
and certainly worth adding to your culinary repertoire.
Yes, a few people call it “mud.” But those poor souls apparently suffered through a dreadful mishandling of an
otherwise delectable beverage. I too have shared in that experience and agree wholeheartedly that when it’s made
poorly it can be a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons. When I’m looking for a morning wakeup drink or
something to cap off a fine meal, the last thing I want is a bitter, gritty black liquid. Yuck.
I am happy to report that I have also enjoyed many, many great cups of cowboy coffee and know firsthand that it is a
wonderful drink that rivals the best brewed coffee.
And because it is so simple to make and requires the most basic of equipment, it is ultra portable and ultra easy. It
can be made anywhere you can boil water–at home or on the camp trail and with very little equipment.
Dispelling the Mystery
Yes, there is some mystery surrounding cowboy coffee. This is because most of the advice available today results in
a bitter brew that only the most hardened coffee drinkers can tolerate.
The truth is that making great cowboy coffee is not magic nor is it mysterious. It is surprisingly straightforward. This
guide will show you how to consistently make a great pot of cowboy coffee. To ensure consistency you will need to
take a little time to read over the information in this book and put it to use. Remember the old saying, “practice
With a little knowledge and some practice, you’ll quickly develop the skill to make a great pot of coffee anywhere and
by using nearly any pot available.
Chapter 2: Why Cowboy Coffee?
Jack McCoy grew up in rural Arkansas at a
time and place where many families relied
on woodstoves for heat and hand-operated
pitcher pumps for water. Jack’s lifelong
interest in cooking was sparked by watching
his grandparents prepare hearty homestead
meals in very simple ways.
While modern conveniences have brought
about welcomed changes in the kitchen,
Jack continues to enjoy making cornbread in
a cast iron skillet, brewing coffee in an
enameled coffeepot, and preserving the
summer’s bounty by home canning.
Today, Jack McCoy lives in eastern North
Carolina, where he holds a doctorate degree
in education and works as a technology
management consultant when he is not
puttering around in the kitchen.
A Guide to Brewing
Cowboy Coffee at Home
and on the Campfire
by Jack McCoy