I grew up with pinto beans and cornbread! I have a mama from Virginia and a daddy from Texas and they are both farmers' kids. And what THAT means is that they learned early on to love great food, sometimes "peasant food" like beans, and LOTS of food. Those farmers need lots of nutrition! Chuck Wagon Cowboy Beans is my adaptation of pinto beans and I think it's something any chuck wagon cook would've set in front of any cowboys he was cooking for with no reservations!
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A cozy childhood memory from France
What?! You think pinto beans and living in France don't go together? Well, when you have southern parents, they bring the South with them wherever they go!
One of my greatest memories is of my mom putting beans in a large pot on the wood-burning stove in Maison Salomon (our house had a name!) in the Alps. They would simmer all morning while we did school, then she would make a crispy pan of cornbread in the wood-fired oven and lunch was served. Not a lunch that our French neighbors were having, but one that we dipped our forks and spoons into with gusto!
Speaking of "lowly food" ... I made this once when my son was small. He came to the table, he said, "Ooof .... peasant food again!" I'll take it! And I think he has learned to love it, too.
To soak or not to soak?
I wrote an entire post on this question, and although the cook on soaked beans is better, the real difference is in the digestibility. I believe in treating our bodies well so soaking is my thing. Let the soaking do most of the work before you eat! You can read all the questions I posed and answered in this post.
Chuck Wagon Cowboy Beans are super simple and start with bacon (of course!), onions, and garlic.
Cook the bacon first, then add the onions and cook them till they are tender, and finally add the garlic. Don't add the garlic too soon to avoid it getting brown and bitter.
Add chili powder and cumin and let it become fragrant in the heat.
Finally, add the soaked and rinsed pinto beans and the chicken (or beef) broth. Bring to just under a boil, then simmer for a couple of hours. Your house will smell amazing!
The recipe card also has instructions for using an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker.
During the last hour or half hour of cooking the beans, start the Crunchy Cast Iron Cornbread.
The best way to eat Chuck Wagon Cowboy Beans
Step One: Cut a slice of that cornbread and divide it in half horizontally.
Step Two: Slather it with butter. Trust me ... this is a necessary step.
Step Three: Ladle beans and their "soup" over the corn bread. Top it with onions, maybe some Chow-Chow (I need to get this recipe on my site! Right?!), or some Cole Slaw ... et voila! One of the best lowly, peasant meals you'll ever enjoy!
Unless you are feeding a boatload of people (or FOUR brothers!), you'll likely have leftovers. I use them in my Classic American Chili and I also freeze them in wide-mouthed quart jars.
Other lowly recipes you'll love:
Chuck Wagon Cowboy Beans
- 3 cups dried pinto beans sorted and rinsed
- 2 quarts chicken broth or beef or vegetable
- ½ pound bacon (about 6 thick-cut slices) sliced across
- 1 large onion
- 1 Tablespoon garlic chopped small
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- Plenty of salt
- Put the beans in a 2-quart measuring cup and fill with water. Soak the beans overnight, or for at least 8 hours. Rinse before cooking.
- In a large pot, brown the bacon on medium heat. If there's a lot of grease, drain it. If not, don't sweat it. Add the onions and cook till they become translucent, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the chili powder and cumin and cook about a minute, stirring, until the spices become fragrant.
- Add the beans and broth. Bring to a low boil, and turn the heat to simmer. Cook for 1½-2 hours until the beans are soft, checking occasionally to be sure there's enough liquid. Add more as needed. Season with salt and serve with cornbread.