Pinto Beans – A Cheap and Nutritious Meal Starter

As a child, I recall eating more than my fair share of beans. My family was poor and beans were cheap. Mom always had a huge kettle on the burner and corn bread in the oven. It kept our bellies full.

Pinto beans in a pair of human hands forming a heart

Now, years later, I find that I have followed in her footsteps. Although I do not serve this versatile legume for every meal, I enjoy them frequently. They are not only economical, but healthy, tasty, and versatile as well.

Pinto beans can be found in nearly any grocery store, with both canned and dried varieties available. They come in a variety of name brands, package sizes, and prices. Vegetarians beware, some even have ham flavoring added.

These legumes are a good source of protein and excellent in fiber. They are low in calories, and fat-free (except what you add).

If you have never had the experience of cooking a pot, you might wonder how those hard, gray, pebble-like, objects become tasty, and tender, in a thick brown soup, just waiting to absorb that steaming hot chunk of homemade jalapeno cornbread.

It is actually a simple process. You must sort and wash the beans, and then cook them for several hours in a large pot of water.

Although beans are nicely packaged in a sealed bag, they are dirty little things, as is anything grown in a field.

Sometimes the bags contain small pebbles and clumps of dirt, so it is very important to thoroughly sort the bag by grabbing a small handful at a time and sifting them from one hand to the other while watching for something you would not want to eat.

I am convinced that this step is often over-looked. Many times I have bitten down on a small rock while eating a bowl full that someone else prepared.

Next, Beans must be washed and rinsed under running water. You would not believe how dirty they are actually are until you see their bath water.

I usually use a large bowl to wash them in room temperature water, agitating by hand, draining, and refilling several times, before a final rinse in a colander.

beans being sorted. Some in a bowl and a few loose ones on the table.

Now that the they  are clean, you can put them in a large pot and cover with cold water. Just remember, like pasta, beans swell as they cook. So keep that in mind when choosing what size pot to use.

Then, basically, all you do is simmer the batch for several hours being sure to not let them boil dry. You may have to add water as they cook.

The longer they cook, the more tender the ingredients and thicker the soup. The long cook time will also help to reduce gas, a very embarrassing, and very common, side effect!

At some point during the process, add a little oil or shortening and salt. The type of oil used will change the flavor a little. Anything from lard to olive oil can be used. I prefer coconut oil. You may even want to add a little bacon or ham for a meaty flavor.

Another thing that can change the texture and flavor of your beans is what you cook them in and the temperature. Beans can be cooked in a crock pot, a large pot on the stovetop, or in a pressure cooker. They can be simmered with a low heat or they can gently boil. Just be careful to not let them boil over.

I personally like to use a higher temperature because it makes the soup thicker. I use a lid to partially cover the pot leaving room for steam to escape.

Beans are forgiving. As long as you sort them, wash them, and cook them long enough, while adding plenty of water, you will not go wrong. While this may seem like a long process, it can actually save time.

They freeze very well and thaw easily. I often make a large kettle and freeze in amounts needed for weeks ahead. In just a matter of minutes, I can have tacos, burritos, veggie patties, refried beans, dip, or soup.

bean soup in an organge bowl on rustic wooden table with purple onions nearby

A word of caution, beans may cause an unpleasant side effect. If you have heard the various jokes associated with these marvelous legumes, I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Those jokes are true.

Because beans are high in fiber, they can cause intestinal discomfort if you are not used to eating them. Many times, slowly increasing your intake of fiber will reduce bloating and gas. There are also remedies available in your local pharmacy.

While I encourage everyone to at least try a bowl full, I realize not everyone will be impressed. For those who absolutely detest beans, try to discover why. Is it the flavor? Is it the texture? Perhaps you do not care for beans and cornbread, but what about substituting the cornbread for biscuits?

Maybe try adding different spices to achieve variety in flavor. Garlic, onion, salsa, even a little sugar can change the flavor dramatically. Experimentation is the key. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to check on my kettle.

About Lynne Jaques

Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!

32 thoughts on “Pinto Beans – A Cheap and Nutritious Meal Starter”

  1. What a great tutorial and overview for how to work with pinto beans. I’ll have to look into that when the weather starts getting closer to soup weather. 🙂

  2. I love beans in soups, stews, and chili. Pinto beans are versatile and I can throw them in just about anything. My favorite soup to put them in has kale, carrots, onions, and herbs. With fall officially here I’ll be making it more often.

  3. I am a longtime buyer of canned beans, but I’m thinking about converting since I saw your post! The only reason I don’t cook my own beans is the few times I’ve made them, they weren’t as soft as the canned ones are. I cooked them like the package said to, so I assumed I was doing it right, but now that I’ve read this, I’m realizing they just weren’t cooked quite enough.

    I’m going to give cooking my own beans another chance. We are on rather a strict budget these days, so an inexpensive source of protein would be quite welcome. And I’ll try the coconut oil too. I have some in my cupboard already, and I love the smell so much.

    • It is getting chilly and Pinto Beans would be a great comfort food with the addition with rice and sautéed onions. I am guilty of using canned beans, as well. The last time I tried to soak bean, it did not quite work. The instructions are lifesaving for me. Thanks.

    • I thought i was the only one who had a thing for canned beans until one day i opened a can of beans and they tasted so ‘tinny’ metallic taste that i gave up that dream altogether, anytime am at the grocery store and my hand moves to pick a can, the memory springs up too quickly, its stops my hand right there from moving in the pick-me-up-motion.. i rarely eat beans but if am in the mood, i’d rather head to the grains store and prepare them from scratch.

      • I had a “bad bean” experience a few years back too! Since then, I have never touched the tinned beans, always choosing to prepare my own too.

      • Until recently most can beans were no more than being flavored corn syrup. I have always made my own baked beans. I tried a brand of dried pinto beans the name was Pecos Pete’s pinto beans. I don’t know if I can attach a photo but I found 3 incredibly dangerous items in the beans. They looked like some kind of thorn off of a bush. I can’t believe that this product was not sabotage. This thorn was not part of any bean plant. It is possible that I got these beans from a discount store that was selling recalled products. I cannot find any reference online to Pecos Pete pinto beans.

    • Cooking them long enough is important, but so is adding some sort of oil or fat. I found that mine just never got as tender as I wanted them to be without some form of oil or fat. My mother in law (rest her soul) filled me in on this tip. Now, I usually just throw in a piece of ham or drizzle a bit of olive oil to help them along. My husband loves ham with beans and cornbread anyway, so that’s my “go to.”

      I usually eat the cornbread with the broth and some freshly chopped, raw onion. I was brought up eating beans, but they always hurt my tummy, so I stuck to the broth to lessen the discomfort. Now, I take Beano before I eat, and it works great.

  4. I love beans but my husband is not at all keen, so we have reached a happy-ish compromise that I will add beans to dishes like stews, soups and of course chilli, but I don’t serve him meals where beans are the main ingredient. Though, having said that, if they don’t actually look like beans (beanburgers or loaf, for example) he often enjoys them without realising!

    It means I don’t get them as often as I’d like – as you say, it’s quite a long process, so there doesn’t seem much point in going to all that bother just for me to have a bowl for my lunch, but I didn’t realise you can freeze them once they’re cooked. Maybe they’re back on the menu after all, if I set a big batch going and freeze in me-sized portions.

  5. We eat a lot of dried beans at our house because they are so filling, cheap, and versatile. This is one of the staples that you will always find in our pantry. I like to cook pinto beans with a ham bone and a chooped onion. Yum!

  6. All this time i never knew they were called pinto beans!!..just amazing, yes i do have my fair share on the beans side effect and its been awhile since i ‘ve eaten them but by golly that bowl of soup looks scrumptiously tasty…again my mouth waters 🙂

  7. My goodness! If I never eat another pinto bean that is absolutely fine with me, however, my mother and another person close to me loves them. I’d run out of ways to make them (I always end up making them a ‘meaty’ dish so I can eat them). Thanks for the information.

  8. I love pinto beans, but I haven’t cooked them myself. I never realized how easy it would be. I agree that people often forget about sorting the beans, as I have had rocks in beans from others as well. Good thing you mentioned the intestinal discomfort that can arise, as for some people it can be much worse than others.

  9. A good homemade pork-and-beans tomato stew is one of my favorite dishes, especially if it was made with good pork stock, or lots of bony pork bits.

    It is, in my opinion, also one of the best side dishes ever to exist. Goes well with anything fried or roasted.

    • Pinto beans are absolutely fantastic in a pork stew – I like to make mine as hot as possible with plenty of fresh chilli. The best thing is, they really bulk the meal out, which usually allows me to save a portion for the freezer.

  10. I recently had some leftover rub from a pork dish that we make. I cooked some pinto beans in it, and the family loved it. Beans are full of fiber, nutrients, and cheap, but that won’t do any good if your family doesn’t like to eat them. These came out really good, and they said they would definitely eat it again. It made a good pairing with the pork.

  11. Great article! I have never been great at cooking beans so I always end up purchasing canned products instead. I always follow exactly what the package instructed but they always end up under cooked. I find that your article is much more detailed that what the back of a package would have to say. I’ve always wanted to cook them in a pot and season them myself rather than relying on canned. I just printed out this article and can’t wait to try this out.

  12. Beans are so good for your body and so inexpensive to cook. I usually soak my mine over night to reduce the cooking time.

    When I want to make a batch and do not have the time to wait for them to get tender on the stove I will put prepare them in a pressure cooker which only takes about an hour.

  13. I have a fondness for almost all beans, except limas. Those I can do without. This post makes me want to cook some with the also mentioned cornbread.

    Years ago when I was a young, single-ish mother, my grandmother semi-scolded me for not cooking more lentils due to the tight budget that I was on.

    She asked how often I cooked them, and when I told her the answer, she told me that– that was not nearly enough. She also gave me a good piece of advice that I didn’t know back then about cooking.

    I told her that during the cooking process, if the pot starts to get dry I add cold water. She told me that I need to add HOT water to the pot, or else they’ll never get done. Sounds simple, but I didn’t know that.

    From that time on, every time I make a pot, if they need more water, I’ll heat it up on the stove first, and then add it in. They come out better and more tender now I think, than they did when I was adding cold water to the cooking pot.

  14. All these tips & uses are not really specific to pinto beans as they are so much to legumes in general. Every bean can be a cheap nutritious meal in its own right. I’ve always found pintos excel in soup above all others though. that’s my go to variety.

  15. Great, I’ve never even had pinto beans before but I heard that they were great. they seem to be a very versatile type of bean and very nutritious, too. I’ve always loved beans because they’re high on vitamins and protein. A healthy alternative to your usual pork or other meats.

  16. I usually eat garbanzos or black beans, but I think I’ll have to add pinto beans to my pantry. I’ve just started converting from canned beans to dried, so no matter what variety of beans I eat, I think these tips will come in super handy. I used olive oil while cooking garbanzos, but I’ll definitely have to try coconut oil with both pintos and garbanzos.

  17. If you’re lactose intolerant, you probably normally avoid milk at all costs. If you’re eating a pot of beans, you really should avoid milk entirely. The abdominal pains from either are awful enough but I wouldn’t wish the combination on my worst enemy.

    As an addition, most anybody that cooks beans knows this, but for those of you who don’t eat this as a staple food, you might miss out. Most grocery stores carry packs of bacon that are essentially random cuts of bacon that aren’t good for strips or sandwiches, but perfect for soup and beans. This bacon is a lot cheaper than buying it in strips, though if you prefer leaner bacon this may not be the best kind for you. This bacon is also useful for omelets and other places where small chunks of bacon are desired. Probably not saldas, though, because as I mentioned it’s fatty.

  18. Homemade cornbread and bean heavy chili (lots of pintos) is one of my favorite meal. I used to have just pintos like this camping while I was younger and loved them. I forgot about them till I read this! I have some on hand and this gets to be lunch tomorrow. With a salad of course to even things out.

  19. Normally I would buy the can of beans already cooked, but I’ve been wanting to make my own from scratch. This guide is great for that, so thank you! I have tried in the past to cook dry beans but they always came out too hard. I think the key is to be patient and keep adding water and simmering them as you mentioned. This information helps a lot and I can’t wait to start cooking them myself! I love pinto beans, they are my favorite next to black beans. I like to spice them up with Chili powder and cumin, so I think I will do that during this cooking process.

  20. Beans and rice are easily a healthy staple for any meal. You can easy versatile these two ingredients and make some awesome and delicious meals! And also avoid half the calories!

  21. Hi Lynne! I like your very informative article on Pintos. I, too, grew up eating these wonderful beans. My mother was pretty much vegetarian, so we had lots of meals that included stewed potatoes, corn, slaw, cornbread and Pinto beans. I enjoy this meal to this day. It is a favorite. Here in the mountains of Western North Carolina, the potatoes and corn are often grown in our gardens. And that makes this meal extra special and tasty! I hope more folks will consider trying Pintos. They are cheap and not very time consuming to prepare. Well worth a little effort.

  22. As a mexican man, beans have always been there, on well, the majority of foods, and I cannot picture people don’t know how those little simple beans can be tasteful, there’s so many things that you can do with them! Have you tried black beans? those with some caldo on them, grilled oaxaca cheese on the top, some homemade flour tortillas and a hot cup of Café de olla it’s still my dream dinner.

  23. I am fond of beans of all kinds, and whenever I can I make a bean curry stew, which is the only bean recipe I knew, until now. Thanks for sharing this one. I want to incorporate more beans into my family’s diet, and this recipe sound like something that they will all love. And it’s great that beans make for a seriously economical meal.

  24. A cold day is a great time to put on a pot of these. The jalapeno cornbread is definitely something that works well with this dish. It’s so delicious. Real butter is a must.

    I also have to garnish this dish with raw onion. That’s the way we always ate it growing up.

    I like what you said about freezing them and using them for many different things. This truly is one very versatile food. It’s very filling too. A great staple for the colder months.

  25. An old trick that works is to add 1/4 teaspoon soda to 1 lb pinto beans while cooking to remove gas! It works. You will see the gas bubble up.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.