Amped Up Refried Beans

I hate to say it, but re-fried beans are generally seen as the throwaway side dish when you order a Fajita or Taco plate.  They’re like the plain Jane green salad of the Mexican dinner, the thing that everybody politely tastes and nibbles sparingly before digging into the smothered and covered Enchiladas on the other side.  It makes sense, because re-fried beans are usually either slimy and gummy or lumpy and dry. They’re generally devoid of flavor, and often they only appear because we all expect them to be there and we’d get mad if they weren’t….even though we don’t actually WANT them. Oh, and because they’re canned. CANNED. You cannot and must not have a Mexican Fiesta and serve CANNED re-fried beans. Oh, perish the thought!! I shudder at the mere suggestion!

Re-fried beans are easy to make, and I hate to be the tooter of a horn over here (hehehe – I’m not mature enough to talk about ‘toots’ during a bean article and not snicker, just a little bit) but these re-fried beans are really, REALLY good.  Mike described them as “The dark-horse surprise victory of the meal”.  But don’t let me convince you, let my dinner guests.  This is what the plates started looking like when people were taking their second helpings.

Amped Up Re-fried Beans

Makes roughly 2.5 cups

  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 1/4 large onion
  • 3 medium to large cloves of garlic
  • 2 small or 1 very large habanero pepper
  • 2 cans of Pinto beans
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 3/4 tsp thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste



Take your 4 rashers of bacon, cut them horizontally into half and then dice them into small squares.

Begin to saute the bacon over medium heat, keeping an eye on it and stirring as it cooks down.  In the mean time, finely chop your 1/4 onion and mince the garlic.

When the bacon is nice and crispy, remove it from the pan and set it to drain on some paper towel.  DO NOT pour out the bacon grease.  Turn the heat under your pan to medium low.

Scoop your onions and garlic into the hot bacon fat, and let it slowly start to cook down, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t burn.  We want this to cook slowly so that the onions start to caramelize and sweeten, and it would be such a shame to burn the garlic.

Seed and devein the habanero peppers, and mince them as finely as you can.  These puppies are hotter than Hades, so chunks are a definite thumbs down.

I might be blushing as I say this, but there’s just something about caramelized onions in bacon fat that sets my heart aflutter.  Please don’t judge me.

Drain the pinto beans, and give them a good wash to get rid of all of the starch, cellulose, and heaven knows what that has collected into sludge at the bottom of the can.  Pour all of the rinsed beans into the pan.  Add the chicken stock and let this cook for just a minute or two so that they can begin to absorb the flavors.

Measure in the cumin and dried thyme.

Let this simmer for about 5 – 10 minutes until some of the liquid has been absorbed into the beans, and a few of the weaker ones are just starting to break down.  Do not simmer it for longer than 10 minutes because we want that moisture when we mash.

Speaking of mashing, gird up your wrists and go for it!  You do not want this mixture to be too smooth and seem pureed, so leave some of the lumps and bumps.  

Mash until the mixture is combined and all of the stock has been incorporated into the beans.  When you’re satisfied with the texture, scoop it into a bowl and garnish it with the crispy bacon bits that you made earlier.

Oh, these beans are a thing of beauty, believe you me.  The bacon gives it a salty, smoky, creaminess.  The habaneros add a significant kick of heat, and the thyme pulls up the rear, imparting an earthy herbal note.  When we were packing up, Mike elbowed me and said, “hey – WE HAVE LEFTOVERS!  WE HAVE LEFTOVERS!”  We tried to be civilized and restrained at first, daintily scooping it into a wrap or thinly smearing it on a piece of bread…but by the second day, I had no pride left and I ate it out of the bowl with a spoon.  

It is that good.

These were a very welcome addition to our Mexican fiesta of Flank Steak Fajitas, Roasted Corn, Chayote and Black Bean Salad, Discount Salsa Del Sol, and Mango Margaritas.




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  • Margie

    Sounds like you’ve got it down. I live in Dallas and I love refried beans. But, the key to making them good is the lard/grease. I use bacon grease myself. Probably more than you have used here. And I use spicey beans that have been cooked with bacon, chili powder, jalapenos, etc. You seem to have a clear understand of the difference between tasteless refried beans and something that really compliments a meal. I love them on breakfast tacos with chorizo, egg and potatoes. Yum!

  • Tina


    Thank you so much, Margie! We probably would have enjoyed them on breakfast tacos too, except that I wasn’t kidding – we got greedy enough that we (okay, *I*) ate the last of them with a spoon.

    Spicy beans that are already seasoned sound great! I wish that we could get those around here. I’m within spitting distance of a plethora of Asian and East Asian grocers, but we don’t really have many Southwestern options…..but I certainly wish we did!

  • Susan

    I love mexican food! Your beans look wonderful. I loathe canned beans as well. I make my refried beans similar to yours…without the habenaros…I use jalepeno or serrano. Bacon fat is a must! I won’t judge you for loving your onions cooking in bacon grease~ there’s just nothing like it is there?
    BTW- I am from Texas and know good mexican/tex-mex when I see it. 🙂

  • Tina

    Susan – thank you so much for the comment! I like using jalapenos as well, but I’ve been posting so many jalapeno recipes (and will likely continue to do so until the plants *finally* stop producing!) that I went for a bit of variety 😉

    Thank you for acknowledging the joys of bacon fat! I know a good number of people that would be appalled by the use of bacon fat, but like you and Margie say – the bacon fat IS A MUST!! I also think I might be blushing a little bit at the compliment, thank you so much. Oh, yup, I am. My face is on fire. Thank you again!

  • Margie

    Sorry about all the grammatical errors above. I must have had a glass of wine or something! The beans that I was referring to are just plain dried pinto beans. I cook them with the peppers, chili powder, bacon or ham hock, onion, etc. I always end up making far too much. But, that’s why God made freezer bags, right?!

    Love your site! Your pictures are fantastic.

  • Tina

    Ham hock…..bacon……oh, let’s say it again. HAM. HOCK.
    (Margie, I want to eat your beans)

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  • Margie

    You’re funny!

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  • Karilyn

    These beans are absolutely fantastic. They’re always a huge hit at Mexican night. Thanks for the recipe and the great site.