Folks, beans have been a staple for Old Cookie since cattle drives began. Who’s that? Old Cookie was the cook that kept the trail drive cowboys fed and happy after a long day rustlin’ cattle.
Before ice boxes and batteries came along, all the food Cookie brought on the trail had to be dried – coffee, sugar, flour, beans, spices, etc. All of it. Beans need no refrigeration and they’re cheap. Cookie could buy a 50-pound bag of beans and scoop out whatever he needed to feed his crew for the next couple of meals.
On trail drives, there weren’t three meals a day. There was a morning meal and a late-night meal. As long as the fire was hot, Old Cookie would have a pot of coffee and a pot of beans on. As cowboys traded shifts to watch cattle, they’d come to camp and eat when they could.
All different types of beans can be used to make cowboy beans, but the king is the pinto. You’ll see a lot of anasazi and kidney beans used, as well. Today I am using a mixture of pinto and kidney because that is what I think tastes good. You can use what you want. They’ll all come out great once you learn how to cook ‘em properly.
Beans and Altitude
Cooking times on beans are going to vary depending on where you park your wagon. At lower altitudes, beans cook faster. At higher altitude, beans cook slower. Why? Well, the water is going to boil at a lower temperature the higher the altitude is. If you’re at sea level, those beans are not going to need soaking at all, just a good boil.
Higher altitude also causes water to evaporate faster, so you’ll need to have hot water on hand to top off the beans more often than at a lower altitude. Fortunately, beans have a forgiving cooking time, and you can try it out until you figure the best time for your homestead.
Kent Rollins’ Beans
Now, I like to use the Casserole beans brand because I’ve used them a lot and I know they’re going to be cleaned up for me. Always sift through your beans a little to remove any rocks or shriveled beans.
Grandma said to leave the rocks in and they’ll float to the bottom and be good for your gizards.
My beans are kicked up with some extra flavor, but the ingredients are traditional and the flavor will knock your hat right off your head.
Get the water good and warm before you add the beans.
My usual recipe involves jalapeno, onion, garlic and cilantro. But Old Cookie didn’t have a lot of fresh ingredients after a while on the trail so he’d use dried chiles and spices. For this pot of beans, I’m going to grind up a dried guajillo chile in the masher – not to a fine powder but just to tear up the chile a little so it will release more flavor into the bean pot. Ancho or Cascabel are also good chiles to add to the pot if you can find ‘em.
Tip: One pound of dried beans feeds about ten people.
I’m going to throw a ham hock into my beans, but Old Cookie wouldn’t have had a ham hock with him on the wagon. He’d use salt pork or whatever meat leftovers he might have from any game the cowboys brought back from the trail.
Use your hash knife to mash the garlic and cut up the onion. I love a white onion in beans. Don’t make the onions too small, you don’t want to lose them in a pot of beans. I’m using two onions for four pounds of beans, so you can use a half onion per pound.
Y’all know I like my food to bite back, so I’m not going to take out the seeds from my jalapeno. I’m going to cut it into chunks and toss it in the pot, seeds and all. If you want those beans mild, scrape the inside of the pepper and rinse out the seeds.
Like we talked about before, Old Cookie didn’t have a lot of fresh ingredients like cilantro on the trail. A lot of people taste soap when they taste fresh cilantro, so I prefer to use it dried.
If you use the dried cilantro, stop there, because we don’t want to add more spices until after the beans have been boiling for a bit. You can boil some of the flavor out of your beans if you spice too early.
Tip: If you use salt pork in your beans, don’t add salty spices to the pot.
Put the Beans on the Fire
Start ‘em up and let them come up to a good rolling boil. After 15 minutes of a good boil, get them simmering low. Now is the time to season. I’m using chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin and my original and mesquite seasoning. Season to taste, folks. My spices are a guide and will make you a good pot of beans but if your beans needs salt or garlic, add it.
Tip: As water evaporates, top off beans with pre-heated water. Don’t shock them fellers!
We’re fixin’ to eat
Tip: When we pull the beans up out of the pot and the skin cracks, we’re getting pretty close.
Once the beans are soft and still holding their shape, they’re ready to eat, y’all. Eat what you can and keep the beans warm as long as you like. Stir ‘em every once in a while, and they’re going to get better the longer they sit there and the flavors incorporate all together.
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Traditional Cowboy Beans - Cowboy Kent Rollins
- 1 lb. pinto beans
- 1 lb. kidney beans
- 1 ham hock
- 2 dried guajillo chiles
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 white onions coarsely chopped
- 2 jalapeno peppers chopped
- ¼ cup dried cilantro
- 1 - 2 tablespoons chile powder
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 - 2 tablespoons Kent’s Mesquite Seasoning see substitute
- 1 tablespoon Kent’s Original Seasoning see substitute
- Add the beans to a large pot and cover with about 1 inch of warm water.
Stir in the ham hock , guajillo chiles, garlic, onion and jalapenos.
- Bring the beans to a boil for about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the remaining seasonings. Cover and cook over a low boil for about 3 hours, or until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally. Be sure the beans stay covered with water as the cook. Stir in hot water as needed. The cooking time can greatly vary depending on your elevation.
Kent’s seasonings are available at KentRollins.com For Mesquite substitute use dried ancho chile powder, to taste For Original substitute use salt and pepper, to taste.
If you are at a high elevation, you can soak your beans in cold water overnight.