Cowboys Recipes That’ll Put Hair on Your Chest

by Brett on August 15, 2009 · 39 comments

in Cooking, Food & Drink, Travel & Leisure

Back in the days of cowboys and cattle drives, the ranch cook and cattle team cook played an important role and wielded enormous power. Because the cook determined whether a cowboy received a decent meal after a hard day of wrangling cattle, cowboys were always on their best behavior with the cook. Not even the lawmen of the day could get such good behavior from cowboys.

In honor of the old Western ranch cook, we present four authentic cowboy recipes that you can fix next time you want to harness your inner John Wayne. Enjoy.

Cowboy Beans

2 pounds of pinto beans

2 pounds of ham hock

2 onions chopped

4 tablespoons sugar

2 green chilies

1 can of tomato paste

Wash the beans and soak them overnight. After you drain them, place the beans in a Dutch oven and cover with water. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the beans are nice and tender.

Sourdough Biscuits

1 cup of sourdough starter (see below)

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 tablespoon of shortening

3-4 cups of flour

Place flour in a bowl and add the sourdough starter. Stir in the salt, soda, sugar, and shortening. Dough should begin to form. Add flour until the dough is firm. Pinch off some dough, form a ball, and roll it in melted shortening. Place the biscuits in a Dutch oven. Allow the biscuits to rise for about 20 minutes. Then bake until they’re done, about 30 minutes.

Sourdough Starter

In order to make sourdough, you’ll need some sourdough starter. Here’s how to make it.

2 cups of warm potato water

2 cups of flour

1 tablespoon sugar

First you need to make your potato water by cutting up a couple of medium sized potatoes into cubes and boiling them in 3 cups of water until the potatoes are tender. Measure two cups of the potato water, and mix it with flour and sugar into a paste. Set the mixture in a warm place to rise. It should double its original size after it’s done rising.

Sonofabitch Stew

This was a favorite beef stew dish among cowboys of the America West. It was also known as rascal stew or by the name of some unpopular figure of the time. For example, some cowboys called it Cleveland Stew in (dis)honor of President Grover Cleveland displacing cowboys from the Cherokee Strip. If you’re not into eating animal organs, pass this one up. However, if you want to put some hair on your chest, belly up to the table and pound this meal down.

2 pounds of lean beef

Half a calf heart

1 ½ pounds of calf liver

1 set sweetbreads (that’s the thymus gland for you city slickers)

1 set of brains

1 set of marrow gut

Salt, pepper to taste

Louisiana hot sauce

Cut the beef, liver, and heart into one inch cubes. Slice the marrow gut into rings. Place these ingredients into the Dutch oven and cover with water. Let it simmer for 2 to 3 hours. Add salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Chop sweetbreads and brains into small pieces and add to stew. Simmer another hour.

Cowboy Coffee

Out on the trail, coffee was a staple among cowboys. Piping hot coffee helped a cowboy shake off the stiffness from sleeping on the hard desert ground, and it was also a good beverage to wash down the morning sour dough biscuits.  But cowboys didn’t have the luxury of fancy coffee brewers or french presses. They had to pack light, so all they usually had was a metal coffee pot, sans filter, to brew their coffee in. No matter. A cowboy could still make a decent cup of coffee. Here’s how.

  1. Bring water to a near boil over your campfire.
  2. Throw your coffee grounds right into the water. That’s right. Filters are for city slickers.
  3. Stir the coffee over the fire for a minute or two.
  4. Remove the pot from the fire and let the coffee sit for a minute or two to allow the grounds to settle at the bottom of the pot. Add a bit of cold water to help speed along the settling process.
  5. Carefully pour the coffee into your tin cup so that the grounds stay in the pot.
  6. Stand around the fire with your left thumb in your belt loop and your coffee cup in your right hand. Take slow sips and meditate on the trek ahead.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 allium August 15, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Had a cup of coffee like that at philmont scout ranch in NM. Pot had been cooking for months, they just kept adding more water and scooping out some of the grounds when it got too high. Ocassionally egg shells were added and fresh water always had a couple shots of texas pete. All filtered through a green scouring pad stuck in the spout. Dang good coffee

2 Bernie Franks August 15, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Now here’s my kind of article. Gonna file this one away somewheres.

3 a; August 15, 2009 at 4:47 pm

you missed the spinner method for coffee. You take the handle on the top of the pot and spin in around your head in a vertical circle about 5 times and gently catch the pot at the bottom of the rotation. Keep the speed up enough so the coffee doesn’t spill on your head and so the centrifugal forces pushes the grounds to the bottom. The added danger makes it more manly. This is how i do it while camping.

4 Cowboy Bob August 15, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Of course, you knew your old cowboy had to chime in on this one. Two things to mention. First, rattlesnake chili, one example at http://tinyurl.com/nerfkw . And another variation on beans popular on the range (heh!) is at http://tinyurl.com/qq3hqy .

5 Merlin August 16, 2009 at 7:35 am

love those beans recipes.
Don’t understand those pounds though – any chance of a metric version?

6 Gordo August 16, 2009 at 9:17 am

1 Pound (lbs.) = 2.2 Kilograms
I thought all manly men knew that…

7 Zach August 16, 2009 at 11:10 am

you got it backwards. 1Kg is 2.2lbs.

8 Robert August 16, 2009 at 1:01 pm

This post rocked. It inspired me to make some rascal stew next weekend. We’re going on a shoot out camp out. I just found our dutch oven menu for it. This post sure brought back some old memories.

9 Tess August 16, 2009 at 5:09 pm

The first coffee I ever had was my dad’s campfire coffee, made pretty much exactly how you described. That was good stuff.

10 Chuck August 16, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Putting an egg shell in your cowboy coffee makes the grinds clump together at the bottom. Don’t know why, just know that it works.

11 Steve Doran Trail Boss August 17, 2009 at 12:10 am

Good stuff, but if you are going to eat like a cowboy you should learn to shoot like one, and spin your rifle like the Rifleman or Josh Randal of Wanted Dead or Alive Here is a video on the mare’s leg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5E_N7X8a-E&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fshilohtv.com%2F%3Fp%3D1773&feature=player_embedded

12 Chris Smith August 17, 2009 at 12:04 pm

And all along I thought cowboys just ate jerky and dirt.

13 Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin August 18, 2009 at 12:00 am

If the cook lost or damaged his coffeepot beyond repair, he’d just use the skillet — after frying up the ham or bacon, of course, and pouring off (most of) the grease.

The result, when you make coffee in a skillet that way, is red-eye gravy. Wonderful for scrambled eggs and biscuits. It also makes it much easier to clean the skillet.

14 Jason Y August 18, 2009 at 9:14 am

I haven’t had cow heart, but deer heart is teh awesome!

Pickled pig brains and feet are available in some grocery stores here in GA, USA. I don’t know anyone who eats them though. I did have a chicken foot in Belize once.

15 Daniel August 19, 2009 at 2:34 pm

That sonofabitch stew is absolutely disgusting.

16 Richard Martin August 21, 2009 at 8:26 am

Sounds like an interesting recipe. I am definitely going to try it soon.

17 Andrew Herring August 22, 2009 at 5:32 am

On my last backpacking trip we made cowboy coffee. Being the fan of coffee that I am, it was some good coffee, considering how simple it was to make

18 Victor August 23, 2009 at 5:17 pm

I’ve had some good bbq’ed beef heart. Good stuff, tender. If your grossed out then you should be a vegetarian. Ever read the ingredients on a slim jim?

19 Aaron August 25, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Man that there coffee is good!

20 Andrew August 30, 2009 at 10:33 pm

During the dust-up between the Yankees and the Rebels, when there wasn’t enough time to make coffee (which the soldiers liked just as much as cowboys), they’d shove the grounds into their mouths and chew them with their tobacco.

21 Cowboy Bob August 31, 2009 at 8:41 pm

I thought these recipes looked familiar. Subtract the coffee recipe, and add Red Bean Pie and Vinegar Pie, and you have page 87 from the Time-Life Old West Series book, “The Cowboys”.

22 Justin September 3, 2009 at 7:23 pm

My grandfather was an actual cowboy and a historian. I was just reading his account of making coffee on the range, and it was just like you described, except that they just continued to add water and grounds as necessary throughout the day.

There were always two things sitting over the fire: coffee and a pot of beans.

23 Devildocmom September 20, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Although I use a french press once in a while I usually make cowboy coffee…12 cups of water to boil, mix 12 heaping Tablespoons of coffee (Kona) with one whole egg. Keep the shell with the coffee. When the water boils put the coffee/egg mix and shell into the water, take it off boil, put it back on (total of 3 times). Let it sit for 20 minutes or so…will stay fresh for 3 or 4 days while on the trail.

24 Mark Steven Czikalla September 23, 2009 at 12:19 pm

O.K. Tenderfoots, Good cowboy coffee receipe, but y’all forgot one important ingredient? The horseshoe! Drop the horseshoe in the pot, if it sinks, add more coffee til horseshoe floats. Now yer talk’n real cowboy-up coffee. See ya up ahead.

25 Matt September 23, 2009 at 1:24 pm

An old girlfriend from college had an old family (from the Dakotas) recipe for ‘Dirty Cake,’ AKA ‘McGee’s Cake,’ which was very easy to make, and went well with coffee. Well OK, it wasa basically coffee cake. Anybody here of it?

26 Matt September 23, 2009 at 1:27 pm

(sic) It was basically coffee cake. The name ‘Dirty Cake’ was because it was topped with cinnamon. Anybody hear of it?

27 Jimmy The Man September 26, 2009 at 10:26 am

When we go camping we make Curry Beans. Ya just grab a can of good ol’ baked beans and put them in a pot then add some of that tinned curry powder (few tablespoons or until it tastes the way you like it) then just stir it around until the beans are cooked and hot.

Serve em up on a plate or grab a bun and you got yourself a make-shift sloppy joe! (you can also add chilli powder which makes it really hot)

28 grumpyoldsob October 30, 2009 at 8:45 am

Hey Guys,
I found a reference to the dirty cake recipe. Try this URL
http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,185,150180-245204,00.html . I may try it this weekend

29 Exocet December 16, 2009 at 1:25 am

Just a note about the recipe for beans. Don’t add the tomato paste until the beans have fully softened. The acids in tomatoes prevent beans from properly softening, no matter how long you cook them. I made the recipe last night (had to use an electric slow cooker since my dutch oven isn’t big enough to fit the ham hocks in with even a split recipe) and added the tomato paste and the beans are hard as a rock, even after 18 hours of cooking. I even soaked the beans overnight but the bastards are like stones.

30 Erich December 23, 2009 at 11:06 am

Just read this, made me some cowboy coffee’n'beans for breakfast. Twirled my mustache and made me feel like building a house for lunch.

31 JD June 15, 2010 at 10:17 am

The eggshells leech out calcium, which cuts the bitterness of stale grounds out. I actually occasionally throw a WASHED eggshell in my aging coffee maker with the grounds…improves the taste noticeably.

32 Matty-Lou August 16, 2010 at 9:19 am

Or you could just do wildfire coffee. 1 teaspoon instant coffee applied as you would any modern chewing tobacco. That will get you started. Goes good with a smoke and a bowl of beans.

33 NM Cowpoke August 16, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Hey hey! Ya gonna talk about cowboys ya better get your lingo straight! Never heard of a “cattle team cook” or of “wrangling cattle.” What the heck kinda cowboy is that??? :) Just sayin…….

34 Mike August 19, 2010 at 11:37 am

So, where do you go to find all the organs in the stew? Brains? Marrow? Sweetbreads? I thought they sold all that stuff to the dogfood companies right at the packing plants.

35 Brian September 26, 2012 at 3:15 pm

@Mike

Where to find the organs? Local small butcher shop. Most cities have them, and small towns will too. The challenge is finding on in suburbia.

36 Tigh Leibel December 17, 2013 at 12:48 pm

On my ranch in western South Dakota, we usually add a raw egg to the mix.

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