Classic Central Texas Pinto Beans 12.000

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post; tableware from Crate and Barrel

Smoke Signals Jun 25, 2014

There are several styles of barbecue in Texas, but central Texas is home to the smoked meats that made Lone Star State barbecue famous. Its low-and-slow-smoked brisket is iconic, with peppery German-style sausage and pork ribs completing the basic three-meat platter.

Although there are exceptions, many barbecue joints serve potato salad, coleslaw and pinto beans as the standard sides. Of those three, the beans are the clearest expression of Texas. They are not sweet, like baked beans. Nor are they what some call ranch beans, which often are studded with tomatoes and sometimes even a chili sauce and are, in any event, more a label on a can than an actual dish.

When accompanying barbecue, a side of pintos should be a little brothy and creamy-tasting -- attributes of the beans made by Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin's central Texas-born-and-raised wife, Jessica. He says her rendition's the best of any he's ever tried, which is why he's sharing her recipe.

During the cooking process, keep the beans slightly covered with liquid, adding bean water as needed. You will probably have leftover water; discard what you don't use. For a more complex flavor, you can combine roughly equal amounts of ancho, chipotle and chili powders rather than use the chili powder called for in the recipe.

If you have leftovers, mash up the beans for refried beans to serve with huevos rancheros for breakfast or add to tortillas with grated cheese, chopped tomatoes, lettuce and onions for tacos.

Make Ahead: The beans need to soak for at least 8 hours and preferably overnight. The cooked beans can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

12 - 14

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 12-14 servings; makes 8 cups

  • 1 pound (2 cups) dried pinto beans
  • Cool water
  • 1 small chunk (2 ounces) fatback or salt pork (about 1 inch deep and 4 inches long and 1 inch wide; may substitute 4 slices of uncooked bacon or one medium-size ham hock)
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or less, depending on your proclivity for heat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (or a roughly equal combination of ancho, chipotle and chili powders)
  • 1/2 cup sliced sweet onion (about 1/4 medium sweet onion)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)


Rinse the beans by placing them in a bowl of cold water. Drain into a colander, then repeat until there is no trace of grit in the bowl. Pick through the rinsed beans, discarding any debris.

Soak the beans in cool water (to cover by an inch or two) in a large pot or bowl for at least 8 hours and preferably overnight.

Drain the beans into a colander placed over a bowl (to reserve the water). Transfer the drained, soaked beans to a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Cover with about 3 cups of the reserved soaking water, or as needed so the beans are just submerged.

Add the fatback or salt pork and 2 tablespoons of the butter; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then cook for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter; reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chili powder, cayenne (to taste) and black pepper; cook (still over medium-low heat) for 10 minutes, stirring as needed. Discard the fatback or salt pork.

Stir in the sweet onions and salt, if using. Serve warm.

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Recipe Source

From Washington resident Jessica Shahin.

Tested by Andrew Sikkenga.

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