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This recipe for Texas Style Ranch Beans makes a great main, or side dish. The recipe is very versatile, easy to prepare, has cooking methods galore, and is delicious. Perfect for your next cook-out.
Soaking the beans is preferred. Use either the quick soak method, or soak overnight.Heat a Dutch oven over medium-low heat add the salt pork, saute stirring often until the fat begins to render. Add the onion to the pot and saute for a few minutes or until soft, then add the pork, cook until the pork is no longer pink.
If using the oven method, (see cooking methods in making of) heat the oven to 325°F. Drain the beans from the soaking liquid and add to the pot along with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Stir in the spices; cover and place in the oven for 3 hours; uncover; add additional water if needed, and cook another hour or until thick and the beans are tender. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Add cayenne if you want additional heat.
I wanted to call these “Cowboy Beans” because this is what, I imagine, most cowboys ate on the trail. A big hearty dish of beans with small amounts of meat to flavor them up.
And I was right, that is what the cowboys ate.
But when I did my research on my proposed title, it seems every recipe called anything near to cowboy beans was a combination of ground beef and a sweet tomato-molasses sauce.
Like baked beans with hamburger.
Not at all what these Texas Style Ranch Beans are.
Then I thought I really should call them German Style Ranch Beans as this is a recipe my German mother has been making for years for our cookouts and camping excursions – actually cooking them in a dugout pit lined with rocks to make an oven.
But that would confuse things.
So Texas Style Ranch Beans it is.
Back in the day, Cowboys on the trail had a pretty tough life. No McDonalds, Taco Bell, no In & Out. They ate whatever the “Cookie” was serving. And that was by and large beans and biscuits. Cook would try as best he could to make the beans a meal by adding salt pork and chunks of meat whenever possible – but beans and biscuits were served morning, noon, and night.
The chuckwagon is a fairly new concept, having only been invented by Charles Goodnight, a Texas rancher, in 1866. Converting a wagon into a movable kitchen allowed “cook” to make more interesting grub, including adding spices to the beans. Beans were still the staple diet, however.
This recipe for Texas Style Ranch Beans is very flexible and can easily be made in many different ways including the type of bean, the addition of jalapeno or serrano peppers, the type of meat you add, and how you cook it. So let’s start with the beans.
A meal in itself with some homemade cornbread
The most common bean used is pinto. I used Anasazi beans that I found at the farmer’s market which is very similar to pinto beans. Other choices that work well are chili and kidney beans and to a lesser extent navy or white beans due to their texture.
Most all bean recipes command that you soak the beans overnight before preparing the dish. And while this is helpful to shorten cooking time, even uncooked beans will eventually soften.
For the sake of argument, and this recipe and cooking methods – let’s opt for soaked beans.
It’s been a standard practice through the years to not add salt to either the soaking liquid or when the beans are cooking as it’s thought the beans won’t soften well. This got me wondering if this no salt till cooked method is viable, or is it an old wives tale.
I read a couple of very good article debunking this no salt notion – both stated that adding salt not only did not affect the beans ability to cook BUT it also helped flavor the bean.
So I tested it.
Working in two batches adding salt to the water while the beans soaked overnight did, in fact, make the beans plumper – seems like a good start. Drained and rinsed, I added salt while they cooked.
The other batch I did the old-fashioned way. No salt till done.
The salted batch took longer to get soft. After an hour more cooking time than the unsalted beans, the salted ones were still a little al dente.
So I’m going to stick with the “no salt till finished cooking” method.
Soaked overnight is a common phrase – but I’m not always such a good planner and the night is over and I’m in the middle of the next day before I decide what to make for dinner. That means I’m going to use the quick soak method. Quick soaking takes only an hours time to get the same result as overnight and much less pre-planning. Simply cover the beans by 2 inches with cold water, place on the stove, bring to a boil, remove from the heat and let them sit for 1 hour. After an hour, drain and continue with the recipe. Quick and easy.
Once your beans are soaked – choose your cooking method.
Ok, galore might be an overstatement. Or is it?
While the Cowboys generally had biscuits, made simply of flour, water and a bit of sugar, not exactly yum, I’m lucky that I have a really nice pantry that includes cornmeal, along with buttermilk and eggs and luxury items like that, so I prefer mine with cornbread, like this delicious Jalapeno Cornbread. Or, you can use these beans as a side dish with BBQ or grilled foods. I love them with my recipe for the Bestest Most Tenderest Ribs Ever.
Either way, these are stick to your ribs, yum in your mouth, great BEANS.
So what are you having at your next cookout?
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