Refried Beans: Back to Basics

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Heather says:
My mom grew up in Arizona and has fond memories of a neighbor who made tortillas and refried beans. It has become a quest of mine, I want to know how these things should taste, not like Taco Bell tells me they ought to. Remember the pinto beans from last week? The leftovers became this week’s refried beans and the process was simpler than I could have hoped. This was my third attempt, in the past I had fiddled with vegetarian versions and they just didn’t do it, for me. If you are vegetarian, you can substitute olive oil for the drippings (and make sure you used vegetable oil when preparing the pinto beans). I would add at least another pepper, too for more flavor.

Don’t worry about the peppers adding a lot of heat. Most of the heat in a pepper is in the ribs and seeds, cooking it whole keeps those cells intact adding very little heat, but a lot of flavor. Experiment to see whether you like serranos or jalepenos more. I just happened to have an extra jalepeno lurking in my kitchen.

As a final note, I’d to mention that these are quite frugal, averaging roughly half the cost of a can of beans with more flavor.

Print the grocery list.

I had to add some color. Let's face it, squished beans aren't known for being photogenic.
I had to add some color. Let’s face it, squished beans aren’t known for being photogenic.


  • 2 TBSP bacon drippings (yes, bacon fat, trust me, you were just going to throw it out anyhow)
  • 1 whole pepper either jalepeno or serrano (whichever you have on hand)
  • 1/2 small onion diced finely
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups of cooked pintos (or 2 cans) drained, but don’t throw out the juice, keep it just in case
  • 1.5 tsp salt

Set a heavy skillet on your stove over medium heat. Add the bacon drippings, when the bacon grease is hot add the pepper and turn it occasionally. You want the skin to get nice and dark, but not black.

The oils of the jalepeno infuse into the grease, greatly enhancing the flavor.
The oils of the jalepeno infuse into the grease, greatly enhancing the flavor.

While the jalepeno is cooking, finely dice your onion. The finer the dice the more mellow the onion flavor. A small dice increases the surface area in contact with the pan, they soften more quickly and the heat mellows out the sharp onion flavor. If you prefer a sharper flavor, a larger dice is fine, unless you have kids that will object to onion bits in your beans. Mince the garlic while you are chopping.

Just cook until the onions are soft.
Just cook until the onions are soft.

Cook until the onions are soft. Remove the pepper and toss in the garlic. Cook for another 1 – 2 minutes, you don’t want to burn the garlic. Now, add the drained beans. This part is kind of boring. Stir occcasionally and wait for the beans to get good and hot.

They will seem really runny at first. Patience, Daniel-san.
They will seem quite runny at first. Patience, Daniel-san.

Once the beans are heated begin mashing them with your spoon, or if you are well equipped a potato masher. (Yeah, I don’t have one either). Stir.

Add the salt.

Turn the heat to low.

Stir some more.

Mash some more.

Fuss at the kids (oh, that’s my job, you may not have any underfoot).

Keep stirring and mashing until they are the consistency you want.

Continue stirring and mashing until the beans are as thick as you want. You don’t have to stir and mash constantly, just now and then over a ten minute window or so, I promise it’s not rocket science and nothing will happen if you have to answer the phone or door. Humble beans are forgiving like that.

If the beans are too thick, thin them with the juice you saved earlier. Stir a little more and serve.

These are excellent on flour tortillas with a bit of cheese or as a side dish to many Tex-Mex meals.


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9 thoughts on “Refried Beans: Back to Basics”

  1. Omg, those look amazing. I am trying my hand at growing peppers this year, maybe I’ll have fresh peppers to use for this recipe. How awesome would that be?

  2. MMmmMM I love homemade refried beans. I figured out my recipe much like you just did; had leftover beans n wanted refried beans.
    I do mine similar to yours only I add a dash or two of soy sauce and some garlic powder instead of peppers…
    Enjoying the site, as always! 🙂


  3. I love refried beans, and have recently been on a quest for a great recipe – your pepper, onion garlic mix looks wonderful, and will be in my next batch!

    One other tip – I use a cast-iron pan – all the scraping and smushing adds iron to the beans, and most N American women are somewhat iron deficient 🙂

  4. I agree with the cast iron pan tip that Alison gave. They just taste better when one is used……anything that is somewhat fried tastes better if a cast iron pan is used!

  5. MMM…great recipe! You can make a “Yankee” version with white beans and finely diced onion, celery, and carrot, red bell pepper, or pimento for color. Add a little black pepper and garlic if you like, but not required. Makes a good cracker spread or pita sandwich base. (I used to make this a lot when I could eat wheat.)

  6. I am loving this recipe but I do have a question. Can this be frozen? I live alone now and I make my own t.v dinners. I would love to have this along side my spanish rice and hamburg. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. Oh wow, gmail must be eating my mail. I hadn’t seen most of these responses until just now. I’m sorry about not responding more promptly.

    I’m now drooling. If my keyboard shorts, expect a bill.

    Dana B, I can definitely see how soy sauce could add a nice flavor, great suggestion.

    Alison, I miss my cast iron. I love my ceramic stove top, but that is one of the big trade offs.

    Becca, I do agree.

    Keter, I’ll have to try that some time, it sounds tasty.

    Tracy, absolutely, they should freeze just fine, if the liquid separates, just give it a stir.


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