Cowboy Beans, A Must on Your Menu

Posted by Jill Bosich on

Also known as Chuck Wagon beans, cowboy beans were a staple recipe shared in the days when travel was difficult across rugged terrains with supplies needed that wouldn't spoil. This dish, really popular in the West and Southwest consisted of pinto beans, usually bacon or salt pork and aromatics such as spices, onions, salt and pepper to create a dish that was satisfying, rib-sticking and high in nutrition to sustain on the long journey ahead.

Even though the journey we make these days is simply from the grocery store to the comfort of our homes, to prepare a dish in homage to those traveled before us in search of a new life is really something special to recreate and enjoy with our modern ease and comfort.

Pinto beans were the favorite choice among early pioneers and cowboys. The camp cook or "Cookie" out on the trail would cook the soaked beans on a pot during the day while the crew was hard at work. A typical menu might also consist of hard biscuits, dried meats, dried fruits, and possibly some hot coffee.  

So on to the recipe for you to enjoy with your favorite meats and sides. I suggest serving these with any barbecued or smoked meats, poultry, or pork. It eats amazing with skillet cornbread and even buttered sweet corn. They are better the second day if you have time to make ahead.

The recipe calls for the beans to be soaked roughly 12 hours before. They should look like this once they are properly plumped.

It also mentions the use of Serrano chilies! Now serranos have a higher heat profile than even jalapenos, so if you are slightly shy on a little warmth in the recipe, just back off them a touch in your recipe version. It's not a problem and they simply add a rustic ranchy flavor. Serrano's are much longer and leaner than their more chubby jalapeno cousins, so whatever is available and whatever you prefer, just use that chili. Red Fresno chilies are also another amazing, flavorful option.

So on to the recipe! I hope you love them as much as I do!


  • 1 pound dried pinto beans
  • 12 oz bacon, diced small
  • 1 medium onion, diced small
  • 2 to 3 fresh jalapeno or Serrano chilies, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ea (14 oz) cans fire-roasted tomatoes with juice, diced
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ t. liquid smoke, optional
  • 1 t. dried Mexican oregano
  • 8 c. water
  • 4 oz unsalted butter (cold), cut into chunks
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


Carefully sort through the beans to remove any debris and pre-soak the beans in a large bowl of water, fully submerged so they’ll plump for roughly 12 hours. Heat a large soup pot on medium high heat. Add the bacon, onion, chilies, and sauté until the bacon starts to crisp. Add the garlic and sauté until translucent. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth. Scrape all the browned bits on the bottom of the pot to release the cooked down flavor. Add the remaining ingredients (except butter) and cover the pot with a well fitting lid. Simmer the beans on the lowest heat setting, stirring from time to time. This will take from 3 ½ to 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and black pepper as needed. When the beans are fully cooked and soft but not broken, gently stir in the cold butter to finish. Serve hot. Enjoy!

Serves 8-12

Adapted from: Frugal Haus Frau


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