I feel like I should wait and do a comparison post with this recipe, because I have a friend who makes some seriously good cowboy beans. Hers are full of meat with a dominant sweet flavor. They’re always one of my favorite dishes on the potluck table.
For my own version though, I wanted something lighter to serve as a side dish to barbecued ribs. When you’re spending hours cooking big slabs of meat, you don’t really need ground beef in your side dish. A few slices of bacon provide plenty of meaty depth, combined with sweet-bitter molasses and a slew of acidic ingredients like ketchup and beer.
To be honest, I’m not sure what makes a pot of beans “cowboy” instead of just “baked.” A lot of recipes contain ground meat, but not all of them. This is the only one with spicy chiles. But honestly, I don’t much care. What matters most is that these are perfect along barbecued meat, and if I want a chile-less, meatier version, I can have that too.
If you don’t want to buy two kinds of beans, feel free to choose one or the other.
I didn’t use the liquid smoke because I didn’t have any, so I can’t attest to how it affects the beans. I doubt adding smoky flavor would be a bad thing though.
6 ounces (about 1 cup) dry pinto beans, rinsed and sorted
2 ounces (about ⅓ cup) dry kidney beans
6 slices (about 6 ounces) bacon, chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon allspice ground
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ cup beer
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with chiles
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the beans and 1 teaspoon salt in a 5-quart Dutch oven; add enough water to cover the beans by 1½ inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 75 minutes, until the beans are tender. Drain the beans. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
2. Add the bacon to the now-empty Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until fat begins to render, 3-4 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, allspice, coriander, black pepper, and mustard; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beer and scrape the bottom of the pot to release the browned bits. Add the tomatoes and chiles with their juice, the ketchup, molasses, cider vinegar, liquid smoke (if using), and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
3. Cover and transfer the beans to the oven. Bake for 4 hours. Serve.