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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Cowboy Beans

Mar 30, 2018 11:00AM ● By Lana Granfors

What's Cookin'

April 2018
Story by Lana Granfors
Photos by Kara Stewart

The calendar says spring is here and we’re already longing for a great barbecue. And what better side to your barbecue than  hearty Cowboy Beans? You can’t go wrong with these!

This recipe calls for dried beans, and if you have never cooked with them, please give this recipe a try. Dried beans are also economical and you might find that they really taste better than canned. They do take time to cook, but the payoff will be flavorful beans of tender perfection. But if you don’t have time, I have provided a canned bean option following this recipe.

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Cowboy Beans

Serves 4-6


1 1 lb. package of dried Pinto Beans

1 lb. ground beef 

1 lb. bacon, diced 

1 medium onion, diced 

1 jalapeno, diced 

1 T minced garlic

7 cups water 

1 cup ketchup 

3⁄4 cup brown sugar 

1 T Worcestershire  

1 T Liquid Smoke

2 tsp. salt

  • tsp. pepper

Soak time: 8 hours to overnight    

Prep time: 15 minutes 

Cook time: Approximately 3hours 30 minutes  

Total time: 3 hours 45 minutes plus soak time


STEP 1: Rinse and sort the dried beans, discarding any small stones. (Yes, some bags of dried beans contain missed stones.) Place in a large bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight or for at least 8 hours.

STEP 2: Heat a 5-quart dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and brown, crumbling as it cooks, approximately 10 minutes. Once beef is browned, remove from the pan and drain any grease. 

STEP 3: Add bacon to the dutch oven and cook, approximately 10 minutes, until crisp.  Remove bacon from pan, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan. Add the onion and jalapeno to the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute. Return the ground beef and the bacon to the pan.

STEP 4: Drain and rinse the soaked beans and add to the pan. Cover with 7 cups of water.

STEP 5: Combine the ketchup, brown sugar, worcestershire and liquid smoke in a bowl. Once combined, add the mixture to the meat and beans. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour and 30 mins, stirring every 30 minutes.  As the beans cook, they will absorb the water.  To keep beans moist while cooking, add 1/2 - 1 cup water as needed. Lastly, add and stir in the salt and pepper and cook for an additional 30 minutes, uncovered, again watching that the beans do not dry out.

Using canned beans 

Use 2 cans (30 oz.) pinto beans instead of the dried beans. Omit the 7 cups water.

Directions Using canned beans: 

STEP 1: Follow directions for cooking the meat and onion mixture up to adding the soaked beans.  Drain and rinse the beans and add to the meat and onion mixture, along with 1 cup of water.

STEP 2: Combine the ketchup, brown sugar, worcestershire and liquid smoke in a bowl.  Once combined, add to the meat and beans.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20-30 mins.  Beans should be kept moist while cooking, so if needed, add about 1/2 cup water. Lastly, add the pepper and stir to combine.  I recommend a taste test here to see you need to add the salt. Salt content of canned beans will vary. Simmer, over low heat, covered for another 10 minutes.