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 (often spelled beanie weenies), 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!
Beanie wienies for grown-ups
- 1 pound pinto beans
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- Pinch baking soda
- 1 tablespoon safflower oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 pound salt pork
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons mustard powder
- 1 cup brewed black coffee
- 8 good-quality hot dogs, sliced into ½ inch thick slices
Place the beans, salt, and baking soda in a large pot, cover with 2 inches of water, and either soak for 8 hours, or do a quick soak by bringing to a boil, turning off the heat, then covering 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 30 more seconds. Add to the pot the beans, salt pork, chili powder, and cayenne. Cover with 2 inches of water, cover the pot and place in the oven for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, stir the beans, then add the molasses, brown sugar, mustard powder, and coffee. Cover the pot and return to the oven for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until the beans are your desired tenderness.
Take the pot out of the oven, and taste the beans. Make any adjustments with the mustard powder, chile powder, molasses, salt, and spices if necessary. The beans should be tender at this point. If not, cook covered until they are.
Turn up heat to 400° F, uncover the pot, and stir in hot dogs. Cook uncovered for 30 more minutes or until the sauce is thick.