Refried Beans

Frijoles Refritos

Pinto beans, prepared Mexican style, are such a staple in our house a week rarely goes by without my mother making up a batch. Although beans have a relatively long shelf life, the older they are the longer you’ll have to cook them to get them to soften. Find a source that supplies fresh beans. If you have some that have been sitting around for more than a year, they’ll be tough and not as good, you’ll need to cook them longer.

“Refried” is actually a misnomer. In this instance, refritos means “well fried”, not “refried”, though you can certainly reheat the beans as you go through a batch. Before frying them though you’ll need to cook them, in water, to soften them. There are basically two ways to initially cook the beans – with a pressure cooker and without. Since we make beans so often, we use a pressure cooker. It greatly cuts down on the cooking time. Here are directions for both methods.

Refried Beans Recipe

  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 6 cups of refried beans.

We use bacon fat in this recipe, though you can easily use olive oil or lard. Although the recipe only calls for 2 Tbsp, we find that the flavor is greatly enhanced with the addition of a couple more tablespoons of bacon fat, just for flavor. You can also get some smokey flavor in the beans by adding a bit of chipotle powder, sauce, or chipotle Tabasco.



  • 2 1/2 cups of dry pinto beans (about 1 lb or 450gm)
  • 3 quarts of water
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp (or more to taste) pork lard, bacon fat, or olive oil (for vegetarian option)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • Cheddar cheese (optional)


1 Rinse the beans in water and remove any small stones, pieces of dirt, or bad beans.

2 Cook the beans in water.
Regular method Put beans into a pot and cover beans with at least 3 inches of water - about 3 quarts for 2 1/2 cups of dry beans. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours. The cooking time will vary depending on the batch of beans you have. The beans are done when they are soft and the skin is just beginning to break open.
Pressure Cooker method Put beans into a 4 quart pressure cooker with a 15 lb weight. Fill up the pressure cooker with water, up to the line that indicates the capacity for the pot. Cook for 30-35 minutes - until the beans are soft and the skins are barely breaking open. Allow the pressure cooker to cool completely before opening. If there is resistance when attempting to open the cooker, do not open it, allow it to cool further. Follow the directions for your brand of pressure cooker. (See safety tips on using pressure cookers.)

Strain the beans from the cooking water.

3 Add the onions and lard/fat/oil to a wide, sturdy (not with a flimsy stick-free lining) frying pan on medium high heat. Cook onions until translucent. (Note the onions are optional, you can skip them if you want.) Add the strained beans and about a 1/4 cup of water to the pan. Using a potato masher, mash the beans in the pan, while you are cooking them, until they are a rough purée. Add more water if necessary to keep the fried beans from getting too dried out. Add salt to taste. Add a few slices of cheddar cheese, or some (1/2 cup) grated cheddar cheese if you want. When beans are heated through (and optional cheese melted) the beans are ready to serve.

Note that many recipes call for soaking the beans overnight and discarding the soaking liquid. We don't. We discard the cooking liquid and just add some water back into the frying pan when we are frying the beans.

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Showing 4 of 79 Comments

  • gina

    Everytime I make refried beans I don’t usually “fry” them. I have found that this recipe works just as well without the oil. Just keep the pan on low heat and it should come out just as good! : )

  • Elise

    Hi Gina – thanks for your comment. Sometimes we don’t “fry” them either, just mash them. Sometimes we use onions, sometimes we don’t. Just the beans themselves are wonderful.

  • Bocas

    Hi! I’m a big fan of beans in all forms. Here are a few tips for great refried beans:

    2 1/2 cups of boiled and mashed beans
    2 Tbsp pork lard or olive oil
    1 Chorizo or sausage
    1 can of chipotles

    Mash the beans and put them aside. Put a little oil/lard on a pan and fry some chopped onnion. Then add chorizo (spanish sausage) and fry it until it’s almost done. Chop one or two chipotles (you can find these in the mexican food section at supermarkets) and remove the seeds. Add the chipotles to the onion and chorizo and stir for a few minutes until the flavors mix. Finally add the mashed beans and cook for a few more minutes.

    Here is another recipe for Frijoles Rancheros:

    2 1/2 cups of dry beans boiled as indicated above
    1 chopped tomato
    1/2 cup chopped onion
    2 slices of bacon
    1 chopped jalapeno pepper

    Boil the beans as indicated a bove. Don’t mash them! and don’t discard the boiling water. Set aside. In a large pot put the onion and the bacon and fry it until it’s almost done. Then add the tomato and the jalapeno and keep frying for a few minutes. Finally add the beans with the water. Let it simmer for a few more minutes.


  • Deb

    Elise, I just made refried beans for the first time this weekend and posted about it here:

    I did discard the soak water, but kept the cooking water and added that back into the beans for some liquid. But it sounds as if you did it exactly the opposite.

    Is it better to add in fresh water? rather than the cooking water? What would be the difference? Seems like cooking water would add more flavor. Thanks.

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