How to Make Chuckwagon Camp Cowboy Coffee 

Once you have your first cup of cowboy coffee like they were made in TV Westerns, you will be forever changed. Here are the secrets to the perfect cup.

by posted on August 7, 2023
Rao Cowboy Coffee 2

If you find yourself deep in the backcountry in an outfitters camp, or simply an overnight stay away from civilization, you will quickly realize that many of the luxuries of life that we have been accustomed to are not available in a primitive area. For the most part, this is not a problem because we are doing something we love such as hunting, backpacking, or camping. There is one thing that many of us cannot start our day without—coffee!

For many, the thought of leaving our Mr. Coffee or our Nespresso machine at home is unbearable, even bringing some to the brink of a panic attack. You do not need a modern coffee machine, French press, or even a percolator to enjoy your favorite morning pick-me-up. Remember, coffee has been around longer than electricity.

Many “Baby Boomers” have fond memories of the smell of percolated coffee wafting through the house while their mothers are making breakfast. To the young readers, a percolator is nothing more than a museum piece nobly sitting next to a rotary telephone, typewriter or any other relic of the past. You are not a true coffee connoisseur if you have never experienced watching the glass globe on the top of the lid, patiently waiting for the liquid in the pot to turn the right color.

If you are an earlier “boomer,” you might even remember the smell of boiled coffee. Boiled coffee was a morning brew that was a staple in our grandmother’s kitchen, on the farm, or at overnight hunting or camping trips with our grandfathers. If you ever woke to the smell of boiled coffee, you never forget it.   

Unfortunately, we have reached the point in civilization where we have forgotten the skills that it took to survive in the wild. For many of us, our morning coffee is essential to survival. If you doubt me, just look at some of your friends, family, and even yourself before that first cup of coffee.

Boiled coffee is commonly referred to as Chuckwagon Camp Coffee. The best way to describe chuckwagon camp coffee is a thick, strong, morning shock to your senses. In fact, you do not even need to drink it to get the desired effects. Just standing close enough to the campfire where this magical elixir is being brewed so that you inhale the heavenly aroma, is all you need to start waking up! You knew it was ready when the aroma was just right, and all the coffee drinkers in the morning began walking silently in a single file line with cup in hand towards the kitchen, like the waddling of penguins migrating in the arctic, humbly waiting their turn. The smell of chuckwagon camp coffee can awaken the hardest sleeper and bring him or her out of their tent, no matter how cold it is!

Once you have your first cup of Chuckwagon Camp Coffee, you will be forever changed. There is more to making boiled coffee than just throwing grounds into a pot of boiling water. It is art, just as it was in the days of the great cattle drives. If you grew up watching Clint Eastwood’s career launching the series “Rawhide,” you saw the cook named Wishbone standing guard over a pot of boiled coffee, like a noble sentry making sure it never was empty.

Hollywood’s king of boiled coffee was Chester in the “Gunsmoke” TV Western series. Not only did he always make sure Marshall Dillon had a fresh cup of boiled coffee, but Chester was also the first known food critic. He critiqued coffee from Delmonico’s in Dodge City, across the prairie all the way to Abilene! 

I have taken it upon myself to study all the episodes of Gunsmoke to unravel the secrets of Chester’s famous brew, and I am happy to share it with my fellow NRA Women!

Chester’s World Famous Chuckwagon Campfire Coffee

  • Start a good campfire (a camp stove is also acceptable) and get a 24-cup (preferably blue speckled porcelain) coffee pot with a handle or bale.
  • Fill the coffee pot with water to just beneath the bottom of the spout and add a cup of coffee grounds directly into the water—adjust amount to desired taste or depending on the size of the pot.
  • The coffee grounds will be sitting on top of the water—do not stir or mix.
  • Suspend the coffee pot over the fire or on the ground against the fire and coals.
  • Put the lid on top and periodically open to check how close it is to boiling.
  • When you see the coffee grounds sinking and the water swirling, remove the lid and set it off to the side.
  • Get your hot pot gloves or bandana, if you want to look authentic, ready to remove the coffee pot from the heat.
  • When it starts to boil, the coffee will bubble up and rise. When the bubbles grow to reach the top of the coffee pot, pick up the pot and remove from heat until the bubbles settle down and disappear. Repeat this 3 times.
  • After the coffee bubbles up three times, pour in a splash of cold water. This makes the coffee grounds sink to the bottom.
  • Keep the coffee warm by setting the coffee pot near the campfire or turning the heat down on the stove.
  • Be prepared for your friends and family to look to you as the designated Chuckwagon Campfire Coffee maker for all future outdoor events!


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