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Refried beans recipe: a life pursuit

I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and it was filled with a heaping serving of refried beans. OK, the spoon may not have been exactly silver, but ever since I can remember, refried beans have been my favorite food. When my parents were young and still in college, we often ate at Pancho’s because kids got free rice and beans. And since I was too young to take umbrage at eating what was essentially poor-people food, I fell in love with the refried beans—the texture, the flavor, the way they filled my mouth and belly with a luscious, toothsome bite of beany goodness. I craved them all the time. Even today, while I enjoy the food that sits in between the rice and beans on your typical Tex-Mex plate, I still eat the beans first and regard everything else as secondary. I’ve even been known to order an extra plate of refried beans just to satisfy my desire.

Some of my favorite refried beans on the planet are served at Las Manitas in downtown Austin, TX. This café is known for its breakfasts, but I could care less about anything but the beans. I recommended the restaurant to my buddy Christine when she made a recent trip to Austin, emphasizing she must try the beans. And as she noted, they did not disappoint. I always suspected they make their dreamy beans by using bacon grease, and after a quick call to the restaurant my hunch was confirmed. The lovely woman I spoke with did not give me a recipe per se. But she did share with me her technique, which is very simple. Just fry up some bacon, remove the cooked meat, throw your beans in the pot and mash away. This is how I’ve long made mine, and I was pleased that I had been doing it correctly all along. And while many others may use lard for making their refried beans, which also makes them soft and smooth, I prefer to use bacon grease because it has that added smoky flavor.

refried beans | Homesick Texan

Robb Walsh has called refried beans the mashed potatoes of Tex-Mex and he’s correct. They are our comfort, our staple and our necessity. You can’t have a Tex-Mex meal without them. For me, they are the foundation of every great plate. This blog was even founded on that principle—my pursuit of good refried beans. I dare not say great, however, because that’s usually too much to ask. But even with my standards slightly lowered, I still rarely find delicious—let alone sublime— refried beans here in the Northeast.

I chalk that up to people trying to be healthy. While you can make a decent batch of refried beans fried in peanut oil, the only way you will achieve the finest refried beans is to fry them up in pig fat. And since so many people have an aversion to porcine products, this crucial step is usually omitted. But as I’ve so often discovered, spice and care is lacking as well, leaving you with a soupy, tasteless brown pile of mush. So I don’t want to put off the heart-healthy or vegetarians out there—you can fry them in peanut oil and add enough onions, garlic and spices to give them a good flavor. But if you want that memorable and authentic bite, it’s best to go with bacon grease or lard.

Besides refried beans being one of the first foods I put in my mouth, I had a recent revelation as to another reason why I am so enamored with them. Have a look at this picture:

This is a typical West Texas vista. Look closely at the ground. Does it bring to mind anything? Do you see it? To me, it has the color and texture of refried beans. So it’s little wonder I love refried beans so much—it reminds me of the rich soil my state rests upon. They are an edible embodiment of Texas, both our foundation and our heart—a staple and a necessity indeed!

So I’m off to Texas in a few days and while my time there may be short, I plan on indulging in a fair share of my favorite foods. And I’ll raise my fork to you, dear readers, for joining me as I muse on life, love and, of course, the pursuit of good refried beans.

5 from 8 votes

Refried beans

Servings 6
Author Lisa Fain


  • 1 pound dried pinto beans
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 pound salt pork slit with a knife
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, whole
  • 4 slices uncooked bacon
  • 1/2 cup medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced


  • Place the beans in a large pot with the salt and cover with 2 inches of water. You can either soak them overnight or do a quick soak by bringing to a boil and then turning off the heat and letting them sit for an hour.
  • After soaking, add to the pot the half onion in the pot and the salt pork. Bring beans to a boil, cover and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.
  • The time it will take to cook the beans will depend on the freshness of the beans and the hardness of your water. If they’re not completely cooked after an hour, let them simmer a while longer until they’re done.
  • Discard the salt pork and onion and then drain the beans, keeping 1/2 cup of the bean broth.
  • Cook the bacon in a skillet on medium-low heat, turning once, until crisp and the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes.  Remove the bacon and save for another use. 
  • Leaving the bacon fat in the skillet, add the diced onion and cook on medium-low for 5 minutes or until softened, then add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.
  • Add the drained cooked beans into the skillet, adding 1/4 cup of the bean broth. Mash the beans with a potato masher, adding more bean broth for desired moisture. Keep stirring the mashed beans in the bacon fat until the texture is a chunky paste. Serve warm.


You can substitute 1/4 cup of lard for the bacon grease. Or you can use 1/4 cup of peanut oil. If you don’t want to cook a pot of beans, 2 (15-ounce) cans of cooked pintos can be used instead.

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5 from 8 votes (7 ratings without comment)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the info on Refried Beans! I've been doctoring the canned stuff for years here in SoCal, 'cause I couldn't find any like I remembered as a kid in the '50's. Finally found a hole in the wall restaurant up in the mountains that used real lard. What a difference! I'm partial to Pinto Beans, 'cause the other types taste like dirt to me (I think it goes back to not being able to get the taste off of my tongue when my brother & I made & ate mud pies in our back yard). Also, back then we got a lot of canned veggies, so I grew up detesting Peas, Limas & Butter beans. I've only recently been able to keep down & enjoy Pea Soup. The other thing is that, as I'm now an old curmudgeon, I look with a very jaundiced eye upon anything now being promoted as "healthy". After the "margarine is better than butter", coffee is bad for you, "eat Bran Muffins", & they took coconut oil out of movie popcorn. Now all of that "science" has been called into question & natural fats are back to being better for you in the latest "studies", I'm severely skeptical of all heath claims nowadays.
    Go with flavor, lard & bacon!
    Disclaimer: In moderation of course (Including moderation).


  2. I know this recipe was posted several years ago, but does anyone know if pork belly is an okay substitute for salt pork. The tiny market I went to this weekend didn't have salt pork and I bought the pork belly thinking I could just up the final seasoning on the beans to make up the difference. What do you think? Will this work okay?

  3. Lisa Fain says:

    Laura–I've never tried it with pork belly, but I bet it would be good.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I take my a pot beans and leave enough of the juice to puree with my stick blender. Grab my cast iron skillet and throw in at least 4 strips of bacon that I have cut real small. I get that browning and put in a at least 5 or 6 cloves of garlic and whole finely diced sweet yellow onion and cook till totally translucent. I have also been know to add Hatch green chiles or Serannos in as well.
    Add the bean puree and cook down till thick and creamy. Serve with fresh Tortillas and Salsa. Other additions… Longhorn Cheddar or Cream Cheese, a whole slice of crispy Bacon ….. you get the idea ..

    Freezer friendly and easy to reheat.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Julie for me, in my version the whole sweet yellow onion cooked till translucent in the bacon grease is what gives you that sweetness and creaminess.