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Refried Beans

Here's how to make traditional Mexican refried beans, just like a restaurant's but even BETTER! Serve them as a side dish for any Mexican meal, turn them into a dip, or use them in burritos and quesadillas.

Refried Beans
Elise Bauer

I love refried beans! Don't you?

We had refried pinto beans at least once a week my entire upbringing. They are such a staple in our family nary a week goes by without my mother making a batch.

Great with Mexican food (obviously), refried beans also go beautifully with a juicy steak and a big serving of salsa.

Why Are They Called Refried Beans?

"Refried" doesn't mean the beans have been fried twice. The word comes from the Spanish name for the dish—frijoles refritos. In Spanish "refritos" means "well fried".

To make the beans you have to cook them in water first to soften them. Then you fry them in a pot or skillet with fat and seasonings.

Refried Beans Made From Scratch
Elise Bauer

What Kind of Beans Are Used to Make Refried Beans?

Traditionally, for Mexican style refried beans, pinto beans are used. But black beans are also wonderful prepared this way too, as are cranberry beans.

In a pinch, I've even used white navy beans to make refried beans for tostadas. I just add some chipotle powder to them for seasoning. But usually we use either pinto beans or black beans.

Pressure Cooker vs. Stove Top Beans

There are two basic ways of initially cooking the dried beans:

  1. Using a pressure cooker, which takes about a half hour to cook the beans.
  2. On the stovetop, which can easily take 2 to 3 hours to cook the beans.

Since we make beans so often, we use a pressure cooker. It's the first step of making the meal — put the beans in the pot, cover with water and cook while preparing everything else. By the time the beans are done, so is the rest of the meal.

If you don't have a pressure cooker, no worries! We have included directions for both methods.

  • Tip: Old beans take longer to cook

Note that 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. If you have dry beans that have been sitting around for more than a year, they may be tough. In this case, you might want to add an eighth of a teaspoon of baking soda to the cooking water. That can help soften the beans.

mash cooked beans with onions and fat to make the best refried beans
Elise Bauer

How to Cook Refried Beans

Once you cook the dry beans, you strain them and cook them with onions and fat in a skillet, mashing them while they cook. That's the "fried" part of refried beans.

You can also simply strain canned whole beans and mash them and fry them. 2 cups of dried beans cooks to the equivalent of three to four 15-ounce cans of pre-cooked beans.

How to Store Refried Beans

Once made, the beans will last about 3-4 days in the fridge. To reheat them, just add more water and heat them up on the stovetop. If the beans smell at all bad or have developed mold, discard them.

You can freeze the beans, either before or after you mash them. Let them cool to room temperature, then put them in meal-sized portions in either heavy duty freezer bags or covered, air-tight containers. They'll last for several months frozen. If dry upon defrosting and reheating, just add more water and oil.

Ways to Use Refried Beans

Our favorite way to use refried beans? Along side a juicy steak with some green chile tomato salsa. The combination of the steak, beans, and salsa is fantastic!

Refried beans are a standard accompaniment to Mexican dishes. We use them:

More Great Mexican Side Dish Recipes

Refried Beans

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 55 mins
Servings 6 servings
This recipe gives instructions for making refried beans from scratch, starting with dried beans. You can also easily use canned beans, in this case use three 15-ounce cans of whole pinto beans, and skip to step three, rinsing and draining the beans and adding to the pan with a little water in step 4. If you have access to the Mexican herb epazote, use a large sprig of epazote in place of the oregano. Not only is epazote the traditional herb used with these beans, it has anti-gas properties to make the beans easier to digest.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups of dry pinto beans (about 1 lb or 450gm)
  • Water
  • 2 teaspoons of salt (less or more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons of dried oregano, or a large sprig of fresh oregano
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) bacon fat or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup bean cooking liquid or water
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (optional)
  • Cheddar cheese (optional)

Method

  1. Rinse the dry beans:

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

  2. Cook the beans on the stove top or in the pressure cooker:

    Stove Top Method

    Put beans into a pot and cover with at least 3 inches of water—about 3 quarts total for 2 1/2 cups of dry beans. Add 1/2 an onion, salt, and oregano. 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. If the beans are still hard after 2 1/2 hours, add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda to the pot and cook a half hour or more longer.

    Pressure Cooker Method

    Put beans into a 4 quart or larger InstantPot or pressure cooker with a 15 lb weight. Add 8 cups (2 quarts) of water. (Make sure you never fill a pressure cooker with water more than two thirds of the way up the pot.) Add the onion, salt, and oregano.

    Cook for 30 to 35 minutes on high pressure, then let the beans cool naturally for 10 minutes before releasing the pressure valve. The beans should be soft and the skins barely breaking open.

    If the beans are still quite hard, add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda and bring to pressure again for 10 minutes.

    Note: If you are using a standard pressure cooker (not an InstantPot), 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 How to Make Fast No Soak Beans in a Pressure Cooker.)

    Either method: Strain the beans from the cooking water, reserving about a cup of the cooking water. Remove the remnants of onion or oregano sprig if using.

  3. Sauté onions in fat:

    Heat the bacon fat or oil in a wide, sturdy frying pan (not a flimsy nonstick) on medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. (You can do this while the beans are cooking.)

  4. Add beans, mash them in pan:

    Add the strained beans and about a 1/4 cup of the bean cooking water or plain 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.

    mash cooked pinto beans for refried beans
    Elise Bauer
    mash cooked beans with onions and fat to make the best refried beans
    Elise Bauer
  5. Add water, additional seasoning:

    Add more bean water or plain water to desired level of creaminess and to keep the fried beans from getting too dried out. Add more salt to taste. Stir in 1/2 a teaspoon of chipotle chili powder if using. Add a few slices of cheddar cheese, or some (1/2 cup) grated cheddar cheese if you want. Or top with some cotija cheese when serving.

    When beans are heated through (and optional cheese melted) the beans are ready to serve.