Cowboy Beans

Slow-cooked cowboy beans with pinto beans, ham hocks, barbecue sauce, and coffee. Great accompaniment to a summer barbecue.

  • Yield: Serves 8-10 as a side dish


  • 2 cups dried pinto beans
  • 1 Tbsp bacon fat (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil (if not using the bacon fat, use 2 Tbsp vegetable oil)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 smoked ham hock or ham shank
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups black coffee
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato-based barbecue sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickled jalapeños (optional)
  • Grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion for garnish (optional)
  • Salt to taste


1 Simmer the beans: Put the beans into a large pot and add enough water to cover by an inch. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes while you prepare the onions, then drain.

2 Cook onion and garlic in bacon fat: Heat the bacon fat and the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed lidded pot over medium-high heat.

Add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring often, until translucent and just beginning to brown.

Add the garlic and sauté another 1-2 minutes.

3 Add beans, ham hock water, salt, coffee to the onions, simmer: Add the drained beans into the pot with the onions. Add the ham hock, the water, a little salt, and the coffee.

Stir and bring to a simmer. Cook this way for 50-60 minutes or longer. (Some beans may take longer to cook, especially if they are older.) The beans should be edible, but still just a little firm (not mushy soft).

4 Add BBQ sauce, simmer: Add the barbecue sauce and stir to combine. Cover and simmer on low heat until the meat from the ham hock begins to separate from the bone, up to 2 hours.

Check on everything from time to time. If the beans begin to break down, pull the ham hock and strip the meat from the bone.

The acid from the barbecue sauce should help the beans hold their shape. Add salt to taste. Add pickled jalapeños or some Tabasco to taste for some heat.

Serve with a little grated cheese and chopped red onion on top.

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  • Simon ( England )

    Hi , excellent recipe I have however, used a gammon joint and put in slow cooker over night and then pulled it and added most scrumshus !!

  • Rita Kirkup

    I make these and add ground beef to it (weird but a friend of mine swears this is the true way to make cowboy beans) – great flavor – my husband loves them!

  • Killian

    Very excited to make this recipe! Would you recommend a 5 quart pot or a 7 quart pot? Thanks.

  • Shelley Barnett

    I cook beans once a week for my HB lunches. He love them and they are SOOOO good for you. I had a problem with hard beans until I learned to add 1/4 teaspoon (no more ) of BAKING SODA in my soaking bean water . Now they come out perfect every time !!!
    Thanks for a wonderful site I have been reading you Elise for over 2 years now and love it.

  • Jeanne Smith

    Just a hint: Pressure cooking, overnight soaking or parboil 2 minutes and let sit for an hour are required to have whole, tender beans in the higher altitudes, as we have in Colorado.

    I just found this site, and am delighted.

  • Billy

    I can’t get a hold of Pinto beans. What would be the most suitable substitute?

    I would try kidney beans or black beans. ~Elise

  • Liane

    I made this last night and will serve it tonight for a big group! Rice will help make it a main dish and it was cheap to make a double recipe – about $15 all told.

    Mine was more liquidy than your picture. I admit that I have questions about what a simmer actually looks like. Is it where the pot is mostly bubbling, boiling but it’s not rolling, or something else? For chicken stock my simmer is only sending up a few bubbles once in awhile, but when I translate that to other recipes they end up with more liquid than they’re supposed to. Anyway – minor technicality. I have also just gotten bold enough to actually brown things properly, so I’m sure it’s a matter of not worrying if things will burn and just focus on cooking.

    When you simmer a stock there should be hardly any bubbles. Any other simmer however, should be below a rolling boil. Plenty of bubbles, but gentle bubbles. ~Elise

  • Race_Coach

    Fastastic recipe that worked out perfectly. It was such a crowd pleaser at our neighbourhood event that they’ve been requested again for this weekend’s annual rib cookoff.

  • Kim K

    I made this today using my slow cooker.
    I soaked my pinto beans overnight and then brought them to a boil and let them cook 15 minutes before draining.
    I put the beans and remaining ingredients- including barbecue sauce- into my slow cooker and let it cook about 8 hours on low. I used bacon instead of ham hock. At the end of cooking, I added a bit of hot sauce and some salt.
    It has turned out really well. I’m serving it with chicken and cornbread tonight.
    Great recipe!

  • Mika

    I cooked a vegetarian version of this for dinner today…even without ham and bacon fat was delicious! My future husband loved it so much!!! He put it on the top ten of his favorite recipes! Thanks for sharing…Now I have to read all your posts from the beginning because I’m sure I will find some other culinary pearls like this… ^_^

  • David W

    These ended up being mighty tasty. Thanks for sharing it! I let the beans simmer with the lid off for a bit just to thicken up the sauce and I also added some molasses.

    I usually shy away from dried beans because I’ve never been able to get them right. The navy beans I was brought up on come out of a can (the Heinz variety). Those beans are very very tender. Whenever I try to make dried navy beans, they always have a grainy texture and are a bit tougher than the canned variety.

    Anyone have any tips on how to make a really tender bean? Am I just not cooking long enough? I simmered for a little longer than 2 hours in the final step of this recipe.

    (This recipe, by the way, was the closest I’ve ever got to getting the right consistency)

    You just need to cook them longer before adding the bbq sauce. ~Elise

  • Dyanna

    Made a double batch of these because I’m feeding all my neighbors tonight. Made the suggested barbecue sauce as well. The taste is lovely. Going to be served with tamales, tacos, and rice. (My neighbors LOVE me!) One thing, however: I found the cooking time to be much longer than indicated (even given that I doubled the recipe. Good thing I started last night.)

  • Walter G.

    Made your beans yesterday, (your way. Wife had the crockpot.) Had a small problem. After the 30-40 minute simmer, all the liquid was absorbed. I never checked to see if the beans were getting soft. So I added the bbq sauce and 2 hrs later, the beans were crunchy. I added 2 cups of boiling water and simmered for another hour. Softer, but still not right. I gave it one more hour, then I gave up. Beans were eatable but still a little chewy.
    I still have 2 more smoked ham hocks. I’ll try this again, only this time I’ll add 3 cups water and 3 cups coffee and simmer at least an hour before adding the bbq sauce. And this time I’ll check if their getting soft.

  • Walter G.

    I bought what I needed to make this recipe. Now I’m wondering if it can be made in a crockpot. Any idea how the time would work? I’ve read on other web sites that Pinto Beans do not have to be boiled. They can be cooked right along with everything else in a crockpot.

    One reason for boiling the beans first, and then draining the water, is to get rid of some of the things that cause you to have gas after eating beans. You can also soak the beans overnight and drain the soaking water. That said, we cook pinto beans straight all the time, usually in a pressure cooker. What you do want to do is to cook the beans a bit before adding the acidic barbecue sauce. Otherwise the beans may take a long time to soften. So, I would do all of the steps before adding the barbecue sauce, then cook the beans with the barbecue sauce in a slow cooker. ~Elise

  • Linda Burt from Washington State

    Hi Elise,
    How is your summer going?
    I have never cooked cowboy beans but I do make

    Firemen’s Skillet Beans.

    Chopped bacon about 2 to 3 strips
    1/4 t 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
    2 to 3 TBS of brown sugar
    1 squirt of mustard about a tsp
    2 big squirts of ketchup, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup
    1 to 2 small cans of pork and beans remove pork piece.
    Salt and pepper to taste, about a tsp salt 1/2 tsp pepper

    In 10 inch skillet on med heat, cook bacon till almost done
    Add onions cook till translucent
    Add brown sugar, cook till slightly melted.
    Remove from heat and add liquid only from beans, mustard, ketchup and stir to combine.
    Return to heat cook sauce till hot about a minute, then and add beans and stir.
    Simmer on low heat for 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Kathy

    I just made these beans. I followed the instructions to the “T”. They are very delicious. However, I do not like ‘crunchy’ beans and these are crunchy. I brought the beans to a boil and even let them boil for about 10 minutes. I even cooked all an extra 30 minutes. I will make this again, but I will soak the beans overnight first.

    So, you included the additional 2 hours of cooking with the barbecue sauce? Because by then end of what should be close to 3 hours of cooking, the beans shouldn’t be crunchy. If they are, you just need to cook them longer. Also, note that the older the beans, the longer you have to cook them to get them tender. ~Elise

  • David Sandford

    Been eating cowboy beans my whole life and while from the West, and grew up with and around actual cowboys, I don’t like coffee.

    I might be a traitor but when it’s cold I drink hot Tang in the mornings instead.

    Anyway… to make a long story short (too late)…
    quite often I put Coke or Pepsi in my beans. Sounds strange, but it doesn’t add the taste of the pop, instead it melds the flavors together and makes the whole mess taste better.

    -It will also calm your beans down a bit if you over do the peppers.

  • Susan

    These look fantastic. Any ideas on how to adapt them for vegetarians? I’m guessing that just leaving out the meat wouldn’t be the same.

  • Linnea

    I was wondering if you could “de-gas” the pinto beans in this recipe and if it would still work? You know, the trick of bringing the beans to boil for 10 minutes and THEN draining and rinsing them before you soak them like normal?

    Hi Linnea, the point of the first step is to de-gas and to soften the beans. It’s sort of a shortcut to the soak overnight approach. ~Elise

  • Karen

    Can you taste the coffee? I do not like anything that has the even the most remote coffee flavor but I love Cowboy beans and this sounds so good. I would hate to make them and then not get to eat them because of the coffee flavor!

    There is a hint of coffee in the resulting flavor, but nothing overpowering. ~Elise

  • Sarah

    You should really have the beans soak 8 hours or overnight first.

    You can do that. Or you can bring the beans to a boil and then drain. ~Elise

  • sarak

    Question- when you put the beans in a pot with water and bring to a boil, do you boil them for any amount of time. Or just bring to a boil and then drain immediately?

    In this case you bring to a boil, let simmer for 15 minutes, then drain. (I updated the recipe, and my reply to this comment.) ~Elise

  • Mary-Susan

    A question instead of comment – the black coffee – is that brewed or unbrewed?

    Brewed! The liquid version, not the ground beans. ~Elise