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 cookout.
The making of Texas Style Ranch Beans
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.
What Cowboys Ate
Back in the day, the 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.
The key is Versatility
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
Beans Beans Beans
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.
To soak or not to soak - that is the question.
Most bean recipes command that you soak the beans overnight before preparing the dish. And while this helps 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.
To Salt or not to Salt the Beans - now that's the question!
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 articles 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 beans.
So I tested it.
Working in two batches adding salt to the water while the beans soaked overnight did make the beans plumper - seems like a good start. Drained and rinsed, I added salt while they cooked.
For the other batch, I did it 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.
Now, back to soaking - with no salt.
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 hour 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.
Cooking Methods Galore
Ok, galore might be an overstatement. Or is it?
- The Low Oven method - this is the method I chose, mostly because I love the idea of slow-baked beans, and this method most closely emulated my mother burying the beans in the campground "rock oven". Mom told me she thought the greatest success of this bean dish was, low, slow cooking which allows all the flavors to marry and make happy noises with each other. So a low, slow 325º oven, tightly covered for 3 hours - then either in the oven or on top of the stove, uncovered for another hour or until the beans are tender and the sauce is slightly thick.
- The Crockpot or Multi-Cooker method - If using an instant pot, you can saute the salt pork and onions right in the pot, if using a crockpot, you will need to do this step in a skillet or saute pan. After the initial saute, place all the ingredients in your vessel of choice, and cook 3 -4 hours on high, or 6 - 8 hours on low. If, after time is up, the beans are not tender, or the sauce is too thin, uncover and continue to cook, on high, until done.
- The Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot method - This recipe will cook up in the pressure cooker, or Instant Pot, in just about an hour's time, even if the beans are not pre-soaked. That's the beauty of a pressure cooker. However, as stated by Mom, the secret of this dish is allowing the flavors to blend low and slow, and a pressure cooker is not going to do that, just cook quicker. So if you do use a pressure cooker to make Texas-style ranch Beans, do it the day before and allow them to relax in the refrigerator overnight so the flavors can do their melding.
- The Stovetop Method - Yep. You could make these beans right on top of the stove. The reason I like the oven method over the stovetop method is, that the oven heats the pot all around - while the stovetop heats only from the bottom which can cause scorching. Stirring is necessary. This makes it more hands-on than other methods. But it certainly works. Just cook over low heat for 3 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary.
- The Campground Method - The original. Dig a hole that is large enough to hold your Dutch oven leaving about 2 inches all around. Line with rocks, large flat rocks are best, then build a fire inside your hole. This will heat the rocks to create an oven. Once the fire has died out, and your rocks are good and hot, place the Dutch oven, covered and sealed with aluminum foil, into the hole, cover it with a piece of burlap or more foil, and then cover it with dirt. Mark well - so you can find it - then go off and fish or something. When you come back, about 8 hours later, your beans should be ready.
Nice. Flavorful beans in a flavorful thick sauce.
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.
Texas Style Ranch Beans
So what are you having at your next cookout?
Texas Style Ranch Beans
- 1 pound dried pinto beans picked over for rocks and other matter
- 2 ounces salt pork diced
- 1 cup finely chopped onion yellow onion preferred (about ½ large)
- 8 ounces ground pork sausage (hot is best, or chopped smoked brisket or other smoked sausage chopped)
- ½ cup good-quality chili powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dash cayenne pepper if desired
- 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.