Southern Classic Pinto Beans Recipe

By Staff
8–12 servings SERVINGS


  • 1 pound dried pinto beans
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled, cut in half
  • 1 smoked ham hock, 1 smoked turkey wing, or 4 ounces raw bacon (not chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt


    • Pick through the dried beans and remove any broken beans or small pebbles (beans are mechanically harvested and sometimes carry along debris). Place the beans in a 8-quart (or very large) pot and cover with water by 3 inches. Cover the pot and bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Uncover the pot, stir, and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Allow the beans to sit in the hot liquid undisturbed for 1 hour.
    • Drain the beans in a colander, then rinse and drain again. Rinse out the cooking pot. Pour the beans back into the pot and fill with enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Add the onion; the ham hock, turkey wing, or bacon; and the cayenne. Don’t add the salt at this point—adding salt to uncooked beans can make them tough.
    • Cover, set over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Remove the lid and adjust the heat so that the beans simmer gently. Cook for 2 hours. During the last 10 minutes of cooking—once the beans are tender—add the salt, stir, and allow to bubble away for the final 10 minutes. Remove the ham hock or any remaining pork and the onion and discard. If you used the turkey wing, remove the bone and discard. Serve with some of the bean liquor. Cornbread makes a delicious and traditional accompaniment.

    More from Learn to Cook 25 Southern Classics 3 Ways:

    Hungarian Chicken Paprikash with Dumplings RecipeKryptonite Pimento Cheese RecipeTuscan White Bean Soup
    From Learn to Cook 25 Southern Classics 3 Ways: Traditional, Contemporary, International by Jennifer Brulé. Copyright © 2016 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.
  • Learn to Cook 25 Southern Classics 3 Ways (University of North Carolina Press, 2016), by Jennifer Brule features classic recipes that can be prepared 3 different ways.  In the following recipes, readers are encouraged to learn the basics of cooking, and then expand on them by using contemporary and international inspiration through ingredients or cooking techniques to make variations of the classic recipes.

    A big pot of pinto beans is a mainstay in many parts of the South, especially in and around the Appalachian Mountains. They are very simple to prepare, super-inexpensive, and a good source of protein and soluble fiber. I use the quick-cooking method to rehydrate dried beans. If you have time to soak the beans overnight, that’s even better — just pick up this recipe at step 2. Serve with cornbread for a truly authentic southern dining experience.

    • Published on Jul 13, 2018
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