This cowboy beans recipe takes beans to a whole new level with ground beef, bacon, brown sugar and tangy barbecue sauce, a great side dish, for dinner parties or for cookouts! It's so easy to make!
Cowboy beans is a popular dish in the southwestern U.S. At its core, it is a collection of beans and ground meat in a tangy, sweet bbq-like sauce. Ground beef and pinto beans are traditionally used, though the recipe has certain variations with other meats and beans. It is quite adaptable.
I enjoy making a version with ground beef and bacon, and a mixture of beans, which you'll see below.
What Are Cowboy Beans?
In texture and appearance, Cowboy Beans is very much like a pot of chili, being primarily a big pot of beans and meat with sauce. Flavor-wise, I'd almost call it a BBQ Chili because of the tangy sauce and overall ingredients.
It goes by other names, like Campfire Beans, Texas Cowboy Beans or Chuck Wagon Beans.
Cowboy beans are quite hearty and filling. Total comfort food. It's a great side dish to pass around your backyard barbecue or summer cookout.
Personally, we think it is hugely delicious. It's easy to spice up with other peppers and seasonings, too.
Let's talk about how to make Cowboy Beans!
Cowboy Beans Ingredients
- Vegetables. Onion, jalapenos, garlic
- Ground Beef. 80-20 ground beef. You can use other ground meats as well, such as ground sausage, ground pork, or even ground turkey. Or, use a combination of meats. It's GREAT with Mexican chorizo.
- Sauces/Flavors. Barbecue sauce, ketchup, spicy brown mustard, molasses, red wine vinegar, hot sauce to taste.
- Seasonings. Brown Sugar, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.
- Beans. Kidney beans, butter beans, pork and beans.
- FOR SERVING: Shredded cheese, if desired.
How to Make Cowboy Beans - Recipe Directions
Cook the Bacon. First, heat a large skillet or pot to medium heat. A Dutch oven is good for this. Cook the bacon in the pan about 5 minutes, or until it becomes nice and crispy.
Remove and drain on a paper towel. Remove any excess grease.
Pepper and Onions. Next, add the chopped onion and peppers. Cook them down 5 minutes to soften.
Ground Beef. Add the ground beef and break it apart with a wooden spoon. Cook it down about 5 minutes to brown it all over, stirring, until it is no longer pink in color.
Garlic. Stir in the garlic and cook another minute, until you can smell that gorgeous garlic.
Get Ready to Bake. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Stir in the Sauces and Seasonings. Add the bbq sauce, ketchup, mustard, molasses, vinegar, brown sugar, chili powder, and salt and pepper into the mix.
Remaining Ingredients. Next, add all of the beans and the reserved bacon. If you’d like a kicked up version, stir in some hot sauce as well.
Stir to Combine. Stir it all together, like so. Get it nicely mixed together for better flavor development.
Bake the Cowboy Beans. Set it into the oven and bake for 1 hour.
Remove from Heat. Remove from heat when it is nice and bubbly. Looks great, doesn't it?
Top with cheese, if desired, or enjoy it as it! Serve with extra hot sauce!
BOOM! DONE! It is an easy recipe for sure.
Recipe Notes & Tips
- Baked Cowboy Beans. This recipe is a baked version, though you can make it either as a stew in a large pot or Dutch oven, or in a slow cooker or crock pot. Either way will offer great results. Just cover and cook to develop all those wonderful flavors.
- Dutch Oven. In the Dutch oven, rather than baking it, simply simmer it on the stove top with the mostly covering it. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring every so often, until it thickens and the flavors develop.
- Slow Cooker Cowboy Beans. For the slow cooker or crock pot cowboy beans, transfer all of the ingredients to the slow cooker after you've cooked down the vegetables and ground meat. Cook on low for 4 hours, until the flavors develop. Slow cooker or crock pot version. Yes.
Best Meats for Cowboy Beans
Most recipes call for ground beef, though you can (and should!) incorporate other meats. Consider ground turkey for a lighter version. Italian sausage or brats (ground pork) work great here. Feel free to use your favorites.
Try adding in sliced hot dogs. I love it with Mexican chorizo. Use a combination of meats for your preferred flavor.
Best Beans for Cowboy Beans
You can change up the kind of beans used to make cowboy baked beans. Pinto beans are normally used, but use a mix of different fresh or dried beans for variety. Some options include:
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Baked beans
- White beans
- Lima beans
- Butter beans
The list goes on.
Try making a smoked version in your smoker. Smoked Cowboy Beans! Yes! Or use liquid smoke for a smoky flavor.
Try Some of My Other Popular Recipes
- Easy Cowboy Caviar
- Cajun Red Beans and Rice
- Cuban Black Beans
- Charro Beans (Frijoles Charros)
- Southwest Beef Chili
- Southwest Style Chicken Gumbo
- Mike's Zesty Three Bean Salad
- Black Bean Salad
- Frito Pie
Got any questions? Ask away! I’m happy to help. If you enjoy this recipe, I hope you’ll leave a comment with some STARS. Also, please share it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us at #ChiliPepperMadness. I’ll be sure to share! Thanks! — Mike H.
Cowboy Beans Recipe
- ½ pound bacon chopped
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 jalapeno peppers chopped (or use a bell pepper for a milder version)
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 pound ground beef 80-20
- ¼ cup bbq sauce use your favorite
- ¼ cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
- 2 tablespoon molasses
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 16 ounce cans kidney beans (drained)
- 1 16 ounce can butter beans (drained)
- 1 16 ounce can pork and beans
- Hot sauce to taste
- FOR SERVING: Shredded cheese if desired
- Heat a large pan or pot to medium heat. A Dutch oven is good for this.
- Cook the bacon in the pan about 5 minutes, or until it becomes nice and crispy. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Remove any excess grease.
- Next, add the chopped onion and peppers. Cook them down 5 minutes to soften.
- Add the ground beef and break it apart with a wooden spoon. Cook it down about 5 minutes to brown it all over, stirring.
- Stir in the garlic and cook another minute, until you can smell that gorgeous garlic.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Stir the bbq sauce, ketchup, mustard, molasses, vinegar, brown sugar, chili powder, and salt and pepper into the mix.
- Stir in all of the beans and reserved bacon. If you’d like a kicked up version, stir in some hot sauce as well.
- Set it into the oven and bake for 1 hour.
- Remove from heat. Top with cheese, if desired, or enjoy it as it! Serve with extra hot sauce!
NOTE: This recipe was updated on 5/28/21 to include new information and video. It was originally published on 3/27/19.