The Weird Ingredients You Need To Know For A Ranch Style Beans Substitute

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If you've ever lived in Texas, you've probably learned that the secret to many perfect barbecues comes in a black can of beans. Ranch style beans are sweet, smoky, tangy and unlike any other baked bean on the market. Unfortunately, once you leave Texas, you're stuck with either online ordering or finding your own ranch style beans substitute recipe.

When I moved, I was desperate to make my own version. There are some definite common ingredients in all recipes. Here are 12 great substitutes to use for your own version of the perfect Texas bean recipe.


1 - Pinto Beans


Pinto beans are not the most common choice for a baked bean recipe; navy beans are normally used instead. Native Americans who made these early baked bean recipes that used navy beans also used maple syrup and bear fat.

One of the things that make ranch style bean recipes unique is that they use pinto beans instead of navy beans. Pinto beans can be mashed and used to make refried beans.

In some parts of the country, people crumble cornbread into pinto beans for texture while in Mexico, beans can be eaten whole in a chili sauce (often called pot beans) or mashed into refried beans. Though some of the flavor profiles are similar between the Mexican and Texan bean recipes, there are some serious differences as well.

There are lots of recipes for pinto beans for chili gravy, which mainly consists of ranch style beans. However, the recipes can vary with the seasonings that are used by cooks and the regions of the country where they're being made.

Pinto beans can be found canned or dried. If you have never seen a dried pinto bean, the next time you're at the store, you should look for tan beans with little brown spots on them.

These beans get their name from the coloration, which is similar to that of a spotted pinto horse. Dried beans should be soaked until they are soft before you begin to cook with them.

2 - Stock


Via newsouthfoodcompany.com

Stock is a seasoning base for soups and sauces that is made by cooking down vegetables, meat and bones. The cooked-down product can then become a base of flavor and fat for your sauces, soups and stews.

Stock differs from broth in that it is made from bones and connective tissue and has more of that Japanese mouth feeling called umami, which is also known as the 5th flavor profile after hot, sour, salty and sweet. Using stock is where you can really experiment with your ranch style beans to try and get the most authentic recipe possible.

If you search for recipe substitutes online, you will find that many ingredients are the same, but the kind of stock can differ widely. This means that you can try a few different versions of stock until you find the one perfect for you. The video below can be a great reference.

Depending on the substitute recipe, some have tried to make ranch style beans with beef stock while others have used chicken stock. Some people will create an in-sauce stock by adding a ham hock in addition to one of the aforementioned choices.

To add more depth to the sauce, you can add a large chunk of bacon fat that can be removed before eating or even pure lard, which was probably how the original cowboy beans were prepared.

Start with whatever stock you have on hand or cook some down with an online recipe using any meat you choose.

3 - Chilies or Chili Powder


Another basic ingredient that every substitute recipe for ranch style beans contains is chili. Chili powder can come from a number of different chili peppers, each one of which will add its own combination of hot, tangy and smoky flavors. Choosing the right pepper or the right combination of peppers is a key part of finding the perfect flavor profile for the beans.

The different recipe instructions out there will vary; some will have you roasting your own ancho chilies to using a store-bought California chili powder blend to dumping a packet of taco seasoning in with the beans.

Your interpretation on the right chilies should take into account both your need to have the flavor absolutely perfect and the amount of prep work you want to do with each step. You can watch this video to know which one to choose or learn more about 11 kinds of chilies at here.

To get a distinct, smoky flavor to the beans, you can do one of two things. The first is the choice of chilies to use, such as ancho, that naturally carry a smoky flavor. The second solution is to add liquid smoke to the recipe instead.

4 - Tomatoes


The acid and flavor in tomatoes are just part of why this fruit is one of the most basic ingredients of many sauces. There is just something about the tang and texture of tomatoes that lends so well to many sauce bases from ketchup to chili to spaghetti sauce and more.

In the case of making beans, tomatoes can be added in many different forms and at different times, depending on the other ingredients that you add. If you are using canned tomatoes, know that some brands are sweeter than others and can help avoid bitterness in your sauce.

If you are using vinegar for your sour flavor component, then tomatoes can be added early. You can use either canned or fresh tomatoes. Time and cooking will break them down into stewed sweet tomatoes.

If you are not adding vinegar, then you can get the same acidity by adding the tomatoes in the last half hour of cooking and using the acidity of the fresh canned puree as a vinegar substitute.

5 - Sweetener


Beans and barbecue sauce both tend to rely on two sweeteners: molasses and brown sugar. The sweet component of the flavor is an important one, and it can have added benefits like masking any burned flavors if you have overcooked anything.The viscosity of sugar will help give your sauce a bit of stickiness, which can thicken it.

Molasses has a stronger flavor than brown sugar, but it also contains a number of nutrients like iron, potassium and vitamin B6. Blackstrap molasses was once used as a way to take vitamins in a tasty, easily absorbed way. Learn to make your own version of super healthy molasses at this video!

Brown sugar is white sugar without the molasses removed, so similar flavors and some of the same nutrients are there, but there is a higher concentration of sweetness and a lower concentration of nutrients. Brown sugar will allow for a little less of the molasses flavor to come through if the taste is not to your liking, though.

6 - Garlic and Onion


The sulfur compounds in these savory vegetables are what give them their irresistible tang. In all recipes, both garlic and onion can be added to sauces.

There are a few different forms of onion and garlic that you can use. They can be powdered, fresh and chopped or roasted, sautéed or caramelized before being added. Each of these gives a slightly different flavor profile to the sauce.

In many cases, using the dry concentrate versus the fresh powder seems to be a personal preference. Advocates of fresh won't touch or buy the powder while others say that you can get all of the flavors without the water or volume from the powder used in the sauce or in dry rubs.

Roasting or caramelizing the onion and/or garlic before adding it to the recipe will add a sweetness to it that is hard to replicate in a powdered form, which will never appear if you add fresh ingredients to the sauce without cooking them first.

The caramelized onion does sweeten the overall flavor of the sauce, so again, it may be a matter of personal taste.

7 - Paprika


This powder, like chili powder, is created by drying and pulverizing one or several different kinds of pepper.

Paprika can be sweet, smoky or savory, depending on the preparation and kind of peppers used. While chili powder is added to the ranch style beans for heat, the paprika serves to add depth of flavor.

Whether or not you use smoked paprika, there is a certain smokiness that will get added to the beans by using any form of this spice.

As a bonus, paprika has a number of well-known health benefits. These include increasing circulation, reducing cramps, combating fever and helping digestion. Again, this can add to the overall nutrition of your ranch style beans substitute.

8 - Cumin


Via fhshh.com

Cumin is a spice that is used in many parts of the world to impart a smoky flavor to the food that is being cooked. Cumin is a spice that comes from the seeds of a plant in the parsley family, which originated in the Mediterranean region and Asia.

It is a staple in Asian, Mexican and Indian food, among others. It can be added to something as simple as eggs or used to enhance the flavor profile of sauces, chilies and beans.

In your recipe, cumin can add some of the smoky flavors to the beans as well as a unique taste all its own. It is a distinctive enough taste that most of the recipes online for substitute ranch style beans include it as an ingredient. This is not a surprise since it is also a staple in many chili recipes.

9 - Oregano


This classic Italian herb is also an important ingredient in ranch style beans, and like cumin, its taste is distinctive enough that almost all of the recipes that try and recreate the bean recipe use oregano.

Both versions use dry oregano, which is pretty typical for sauces where you put everything in at once and then let it cook for hours. If you decide to try and use fresh oregano, it will taste best if you add it in the last 30 minutes or so of cooking.

This is the case for almost all herbs when added to soups or sauces. Even if you can't specifically taste the oregano in the original, it is such a classically included ingredient in chili and chili sauces that almost everyone who tries to recreate the secret ranch style beans original recipe uses it.

10 - Salt and Pepper


This pair of culinary staples should be added to improve taste. However, the amount and kind that you use may vary based on personal preference and the other ingredients that you use.

For example, if you cook your recipe with canned pinto beans, you might want to rinse your beans or use a low-sodium version. If you are not using dried beans, be aware that you will want to taste your sauce before adding salt to it.

If you are trying to cook your dried beans to soften them, salt will slow their cooking time significantly. However, there are lots of experts who will soak beans overnight in cold, salted water or brine. This can take 8 to 12 hours.

The type of salt matters to some. There are four different kinds of salt: Two are mined from inland salt deposits, and two come from the sea.

  • (1) Iodized salt, the most common, is typical table salt.
  • (2) Kosher salt, like iodized salt, comes from the same deposits but has a physical shape to help draw liquids from meat as Jewish law requires.
  • (3) Sea salt and (4) Fleur de sel taste less salty and come from deposits in the sea. They differ in consistency, and you can taste other sea elements in Fleur de sel due to its high mineral content.

Pepper should be added to improve taste. Though white pepper is common in many other gourmet sauces, classic black pepper is typically used.

11- Cooking Time and Method


Via marthastewart.com

Though ranch style beans are modeled after cowboy beans, there are few people who would cook them today in a traditional cast-iron pot hanging over a campfire. Instead, today's main methods will include either a stove top or a slow cooker.

There are pros and cons to each method, which have been debated endlessly on forums like Reddit. It's really up to you and what you prefer. Either way, most recipes insist that the best way to get savory, complex flavor is to cook the softened beans and sauce together on low for at least 12 hours.

There are some shortcuts that use canned chili sauce and canned beans with a few additional ingredients. Some recipes may just have you put some chili powder into canned and cooked pinto beans in a sauce. Even these sites consider the recipe to be a quick fix and not the equivalent of gourmet Tex-Mex cuisine.

There really is no shortcut to the layered flavor that slow cooking achieves. If you want the authentic flavor that made you fall in love with ranch style beans and crave them from afar, then take the time to do it right. Here's a great recipe of ranch style beans using slow cooker for you to follow.

12 - Recipes

Even though the ingredients are pretty uniform when making ranch style beans, a few minor adjustments can be made. Here is a look at some highly rated recipes on the web:

Cowboy Beans Video

This video is a simple, no-nonsense version of cowboy beans. This version has a little more kick than some of the others because it uses bacon and chorizo and adds some classic Mexican ingredients like lard. It is a slightly meatier version of the original classic.

Homesick Texan

This is a recipe from someone who understands the culinary basics of how things are made. The blogger on this site is a Texan turned New Yorker who uses some pretty authentic but gourmet techniques, like blistering fresh ancho chilies in a cast-iron pan.Check out this amazing recipe at here.

The Food.com Experimenter

The author of this recipe has the single goal of replicating the canned recipe as perfectly as possible. The recipe shies away from smoky ancho chilies and uses liquid smoke and generic California chili powder instead. It is a less expensive and less time-intensive version of some of the other recipes. Check that recipe right here.

Have Your Texas Dish Ready Today!


Did you enjoy the list? What ingredients have I missed that you use in your own version? Let me know in the comments below.

If you're as homesick for the black can of beans as I am, then I hope this helps you find your own perfect substitution for one of the greatest foods in Texas. Happy cooking!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
larry - January 13, 2017

thanks.i’m a 76 yr old man who likes to cook the basic foods but doesn’t know shit about spices or even different types of beans and ingredients. new to computers too as you can probably tell. learned a lot from this posting.i’m going to try the ranch style beans. thanks again.

Paula Hughes - January 16, 2017

Hello Larry, glad to hear you found this article very useful! You may be new to computers but it sure looks like you’re getting the hang of it. So many ingredients out there that you can try and learn about with just a few clicks. You gotta love the Internet for that! Let us know once you’ve tried the ranch style beans, it is definitely one of my favorites!

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