Most barbecue joints serve ladlefuls of smoky, deep-flavored beans alongside the slabs of ribs and mounds of pulled pork. We wanted to make those creamy textured, saucy beans at home to accompany our own barbecue, but we couldn’t find a pitmaster who would give up their secret recipe. We were on our own, then, to develop a recipe for cowboy beans. Here’s what we discovered:
Test Kitchen Discoveries
Use dried pinto or navy beans. Canned beans turn mushy long before the sauce’s flavors have blended.
The beans can be soaked overnight or “quick soaked,” which involves boiling the beans for five minutes, then allowing them to sit for one hour before draining and proceeding with the recipe. Don’t worry about timing.
Bacon is a convenient substitute for smoky barbecued meat.
Blend mustard, barbecue sauce, and brown sugar for a sweet but spicy, deep flavor. A fair amount of garlic and onion help here too.
The secret ingredient in cowboy beans is coffee. The roasted, slightly bitter flavor ties all the ingredients together.
Simmer the beans slowly in the oven to keep the beans whole. Cooked too quickly, they will break apart.
How to make it
A heavy-bottomed Dutch oven prevents the beans from cooking too rapidly or scorching. If you're thinking ahead, you can soak the beans in 6 cups of water overnight (then skip step 1). Adjust the heat, smoke, or salt by stirring in more Tabasco or barbecue sauce at serving time.
1 pound dried pinto or navy beans , washed and picked clean of any debris
4 slices bacon , chopped fine
1 medium onion , chopped fine
4 medium cloves garlic , minced
4 1/2 cups water
1 cup strong black coffee
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons prepared brown mustard (such as Gulden's)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce plus 2 additional tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1. Place beans and 6 cups water in large Dutch oven. Bring to boil over high heat and cook for 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat, cover, and allow beans to sit for 1 hour. Drain beans. Clean and dry pot.
2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Add bacon to pot and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in onion and cook until beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add drained beans, water, and coffee. Bring to simmer over high heat and cook for 10 minutes. Add brown sugar, mustard, 1/2 cup barbecue sauce, Tabasco sauce, and 2 teaspoons salt. Return to boil over high heat, cover pot, and transfer to oven.
3. Cook until beans are just tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove lid and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has thickened to syrupy consistency, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce, and season to taste with salt and pepper. (Beans can be refrigerated for several days.)