Barbecue Beans

The perfect side dish for any barbecue is beans

Cowboy Beans
Cowboy Beans. Bob Ingelhart/Getty Images

Whether you call them baked, barbecued, or just beans, they are the perfect side dish for any barbecue. That is, of course, if you prepare them properly. The secret to making beans that go perfectly with the meat you are smoking is to add the same flavors to it. This is one reason I always suggest you aim for leftovers when you smoke foods. You will have those tasty morsels to add to your beans.

Take for instance a good batch of Texas-style cowboy beans. If you have saved some burnt ends from your last brisket in the freezer, then you will have the most important ingredient for your beans. Burnt ends are the crusty edges of a properly smoked brisket. They are full of smoky flavor but tend to be too tough to eat on their own. This is just the ingredient you need to give you beans a fantastic smoky beef flavor.

Of course, if you are preparing smoked pork shoulder or smoked pork ribs you will want to use some good smoky pork for this. The secret is to keep the flavors complementary. This goes for spices, sauces, and other flavors. A lot of people use barbecue sauce in their beans. It is a great way to add flavor. Use the same sauce you serve with your smoked meats. The regional variations in sauces holds true for barbecue beans as well. In the Carolinas, you'll find that people use cider vinegar and ketchup instead of complex barbecue sauces. In places like Kansas City the beans have a sweet smoky flavor much like their sauces. In Texas, they add a little heat to the beans with a jalapeno or two.

Now for the beans. The selection of beans is a regional choice. If you want traditional Texas-style beans to go with your smoked brisket then you'd better be using pinto beans. These are not only a favorite in Texas they are about the only bean you'll find. As you move east towards Memphis and Kansas City you'll find a combination of pinto or red kidney beans with navy beans. By the time you reach North Carolina you find a lot of lima beans. These choices are typically made because of the beans that are grown in the area. Of course, with mass-market groceries and the internet, regional recipes and favorites have given way to more standardized tastes. I prefer, however, to make my beans match my barbecue. It's the only way to go.

Now for the practical stuff. Dry beans cost about 2/3 to 1/2 that of canned beans and while neither are very expensive you can save yourself some money by buying dry beans. Of course, recipes typically call for canned or dry beans. Since you might one when the recipe calls for the other here's the rule for conversion.

One 15-ounce can of beans is:

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked beans or,
  • 1/2 cup dry beans

1 pound dry beans is:

  • 2 cups dry beans or,
  • 6 cups cooked beans or,
  • 4 15-ounce cans of beans

Rinsing: It is very important to rinse beans whether canned or dry. This eliminates any debris that might be in with the beans, particularly the dry ones. Rinse thoroughly in a colander until the water runs clear.

Soaking: Dry beans should be soaked for long periods of time to eliminate what we tend to associate with beans and to help them cook faster. Soak dry beans, covered, in a large pot with twice as much water as it takes to cover them. Leave them to set for anywhere from 8 to 24 hours. You can refrigerate if you don't like the idea of leaving them on the counter, however, it if fine to do so.

Cooking: Once your beans are soaked (if you are using dry ones) rinse them in a colander until the water runs clear. Pour into a large pot, big enough to be no more than 2/3 full. Add twice as much water as the beans. Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. The amount of time it takes the beans to cook will vary based on several factors. The package of beans should give you an idea of how long it will take.