I was talking to a friend of mine from Delaware the other day, and mentioned beanie wienies. “Beanie wienies?” she said. “What’s that?”
I was shocked. I thought everyone grow up eating beanie wienies, the simple yet satisfying mix of pork and beans with sliced hot dogs.
Perhaps it’s just a name thing as some people might know them as frank and beans, though I think beanie wienie is much more fun to say. And while there are canned versions made by Van De Camp sold under the name Beenie Weenie, it’s not that hard to slice your own hot dogs into a pot of beans—such a cinch, in fact, that a kid could do it. I know I did and my mom also grew up making herself beanie wienies. But what about beanie wienies for grown-ups? Even though it’s considered a kid food, they are still satisfying on a cold snowy day, no matter how sophisticated your palate.
The summer after I graduated from high school, my parents went on vacation without the kids, shipping my little brother to my grandparents and leaving me home alone with only one rule: no parties. So, naturally, my friends and I decided to defy my parents and throw a party. But as we considered ourselves burgeoning adults, instead of having a blow-out with kegs and crowds, my best friend Laura and I decided instead to host an elegant dinner party for 8. We made our boyfriends wear ties while we girls wore heels and our pearls. I trotted out my family’s good china, silver flatware and table linens and played Vivaldi on the stereo. We thought we were tres sophisticated.
Laura and I served several hors d’oeuvres such as bacon-wrapped dates, spinach-stuffed mushrooms, a cheese plate and toast points with cheap caviar we bought at Randall’s. (And it was these little bites that ended up getting me in trouble with my parents as my mom found toothpicks all over the house, not to mention mushroom and spinach on the ceiling since I’d turned on the blender without the lid. I was busted!) We served a salad and then it was time for the main course. When planning our menu, we couldn’t decide on what to cook so we decided to be silly and serve our childhood favorite—beanie wienies.
Our guests thought it was hilarious and it was a fun way to say good-bye to childhood, dressed up in our Sunday best slurping beanie wienies from fine china. But what we hadn’t done was make them from scratch or more flavorful by adding spices or condiments. And while I was thinking about this party, I realized it was probably the last time in my life I’d eaten beanie wienies. Twenty years is too long.
I set out to make my grown-up beanie wienies by making baked beans from scratch. Most of the time, I just doctor up a can of beans with ketchup, mustard, etc.—and it’s good. But after seeing a Mark Bittman recipe for baked beans that used dried beans and didn’t take all day, I started with that. I used pintos instead of navy beans, because for me they’re meatier and have more surface area to sop up the sauce. And I decided to keep the recipe simple, like they would have been made by a cowboy long ago, since some allege that beanie wienies were originally chuck-wagon fare.
Using only salt pork, molasses, coffee, chile powder and mustard, after several hours in the oven these baked beans were rich, smoky, fiery, slightly bitter and slightly sweet—definitely not your canned pork and beans! Throw in some slices of good quality hot dogs and I now had beanie wienies complex enough that an adult would enjoy them, though just sweet and silly enough that a kid would love them, too. Beanie wienies—welcome back into my life!
1 pound pinto beans
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic
1/4 pound salt pork, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup molasses
3 tablespoons chile powder (I used a mix of ancho and chipotle chile powders)
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup black coffee
Pinch baking soda
8 good-quality hot dogs, sliced into ½ inch thick slices
Soak the beans in a pot filled with 8 cups of water and the salt overnight, or do a quick soak by boiling the beans in 8 cups of water and then covering the pot with a lid for 1 hour. After soaking, drain the beans and leave the beans in the colander.
Preheat the oven to 300° F.
In the pot you soaked the beans, add the canola oil and cook the onions on medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
Stir in the molasses, chile powder, cayenne, mustard powder and brown sugar. Add the soaked beans, and stir in the coffee, baking soda and diced salt pork.
Add enough water to cover beans with 2 inches of water.Cover the pot, and place in the oven. Leave alone for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, stir the beans, add more water if needed, then cover and then leave in the oven for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on beans tenderness.
Take pot out of the oven, and taste beans. Make taste adjustments with mustard powder, chile powder, molasses, and the spices if necessary. The beans should be tender at this point. If they’re not, cook covered a while longer until they are.
Turn up heat to 400° F, uncover pot, and add hot dogs and cook for 30 more minutes or until sauce is thick.
Yield: 6 to 8servings
Adapted by Lisa Fain from a Mark Bittman recipe