Charro beans are a delicious pinto bean side dish cooked with spices, your choice of meat, and peppers. These beans, also called Cowboy Beans or Frijoles Charros, are unique to Mexico. Serve with a scoop of pico de gallo on top and alongside any Mexican dinner you love!
Charro beans are spicy and fancy pinto beans, and they're perfect alongside any Mexican dinner, like enchiladas, tacos, or tostadas. It is believed that the recipe developed in northern Mexico, where pinto beans reign supreme. As you head closer and closer to the equator, pinto beans fall out of favor and black beans become more dominant. Here at BeanRecipes.com, we love beans of all kinds. We don't play favorites, but we will admit that we make these charro beans at least once a week.
Can you buy charro beans?
At this moment, we're not aware of a place to buy charro beans pre-made, besides hot bars at upscale grocery stores. Whole Foods frequently has a serving tray of charro beans, and many Latin grocery stores do, too. It's okay though, because they're so easy to make from scratch!
This recipe is especially easy, because we're using canned pinto beans to start with. You can absolutely use dried pinto beans, but the steps are different.
How do you make charro beans from scratch?
To make charro beans from scratch (not starting canned pinto beans like this recipe does), soak 1 ½ cups of dried pinto beans overnight. Cover the beans with fresh water and cook on the stove top for 90-120 minutes or in the slow cooker on LOW for 7-8 hours or on HIGH for 3-4. When the beans are done, stir in 2 teaspoons of salt, and then taste. Drain the beans and use them in this recipe to make charro beans.
- canned pinto beans: You need 2 cans of drained and rinsed pinto beans for this recipe. It's a good idea to always rinse canned beans, because the solution they soak in can be very salty. With rinsed beans, you are in control of the saltiness of your recipe!
- bacon: Four slices of bacon, black pepper bacon is best, in our opinion.
- jalapeños: You can use two jalapeños or two serranos for this recipe. Technically, according to the Scoville scale, serranos are spicier than jalapeños. Remove the seeds and ribs of any chile pepper to control the heat.
- vegetable broth: You could also use chicken broth or any kind of homemade broth.
- salt and pepper
- pico de gallo: Just for serving. Something slow cooked, like beans, always tastes best with something fresh on top, and a big scoop of pico de gallo can be just the thing. The fresh lime juice in pico de gallo livens up beans.
Other types of meat to use besides bacon: chorizo, soyrizo, ground beef, bulk sausage meat, or even cut up beef hot dogs.
How to make charro beans:
- Gather your ingredients. Drain and rinse the pinto beans, and set aside.
- Add the chopped bacon to a medium Dutch oven, and allow to cook over medium-high heat until the fat starts to render out of the bacon. When it looks like there is enough fat in the pan (about half way through cooking the bacon, nowhere near the crisp stage), add the chopped onion to the pan.
- Next, add the peppers, garlic, oregano, cumin, vegetable broth, salt and freshly ground black pepper . Cook until very fragrant to bloom the spices, about 2 minutes. Finally, add the pinto beans. Let the mixture simmer for 25-30 minutes. It will be very fragrant, and appear homogenous when it's ready.
- Remove the peppers and garlic cloves, and serve immediately, or store in the fridge for 2 days.
What's the difference between charro beans and refried beans? (And which is healthier?)
Charro beans are whole pinto beans cooked with spices, some type of meat, and jalapeño peppers. Refried beans are just cooked pinto beans mashed with a type of fat (usually lard or shortening) until smooth and creamy. It's hard to say definitely which one is healthier, because the meat in charro beans can contribute nearly as much fat as refried beans require to be smooth. My opinion is that charro beans are healthier because they contain vegetables and spices.
To reduce the fat in charro beans, you can drain some of the fat from the bacon after it cooks. Or, you can use turkey bacon. I've seen recipes that use chorizo for the meat, and you can do that and drain it after cooking. Another option is to use fat-free beef hot dogs as the meat.
If you want to make this recipe vegetarian or vegan, you need a replacement for the meat. If you can find soyrizo, which is chorizo made with tofu instead of pork. If you can't find soyrizo, my go-to method for making something smoky and meaty without meat is to stir in a few teaspoons of smoked paprika while the onions cook. I use this method for my green beans and potatoes when I want to make those vegetarian.
Can you freeze charro beans?
Personally, I haven't had great luck freezing and defrosting beans. Beans that are frozen and then defrosted tend to split when rewarmed. However, I would argue that since this dish is a big mix of flavors and has pico de gallo stirred in, you can do it, as long you don't mind some split beans. Never freeze the pico de gallo, though--stir it in before serving only.
- 2 15-oz. cans pinto beans, rinsed
- 4 slices bacon, sliced into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 jalapeños or serrano peppers, sliced in half
- 2 cloves garlic, whole but smashed
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 ¾ cup vegetable broth
- ½ tsp fine salt
- ¼ freshly ground black pepper
- for serving: a scoop of pico de gallo
1. Drain and rinse the pinto beans. Set aside.
2. Place the chopped bacon in heavy-bottomed small Dutch oven, and turn the heat to medium. Let the bacon cook and render its fat while you stir every few minutes. Keep an eye on the heat so the bacon doesn’t burn or get crispy.
3. When the bacon is about half-way done cooking, add the diced onion. Cook the onion with the bacon for about 5-7 minutes. Lower the heat if the onions start to brown or burn.
4. Next, add the peppers, garlic, oregano, cumin, vegetable broth, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until very fragrant to bloom the spices, about 2 minutes.
5. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and then add the pinto beans. Stir everything together, and let simmer for 25-30 minutes.
6. Remove the peppers and garlic cloves, and serve the pinto beans immediately, or store in the fridge for up to 4 days.
canned pinto beans: You need 2 cans of drained and rinsed pinto beans for this recipe. It's a good idea to always rinse canned beans, because the solution they soak in can be very salty. With clean beans, you are in control of the saltiness of your recipe!
bacon: Four slices of bacon, black pepper bacon is best.
jalapeños: You can use two jalapeños or two serranos for this recipe. Technically, according to the Scoville scale, serranos are spicier than jalapeños. Remove the seeds and ribs of any chile pepper to control the heat.
vegetable broth: You could also use chicken broth or any kind of homemade broth.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 385Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 11mgSodium: 837mgCarbohydrates: 62gFiber: 20gSugar: 3gProtein: 24g