Charro Cowboy Beans

These are the saucy, whole pinto beans that you see cowboys (charros) eating off a tin plate by a campfire in old Western movies. Pinto beans cooked this way taste a whole lot better than doctored-up beans from a can (though I do use canned pinto beans for different reasons and situations), and sometimes I’ll eat these beans all by themselves as a whole meal with a bit of Cotija cheese on top. I use both onion flakes and fresh onion in this recipe because I think it adds some complexity to the flavor. An entire head of garlic may seem like a lot, but the flavor mellows substantially as it cooks. Dried pinto beans are very economical. You can get a 16-ounce bag for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

charro cowboy beans in a white side dish. Recipe photo from The Taste of Tucson Cookbook by Jackie Alpers
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 minutes
Charro Cowboy Beans
Servings: 8 servings
Vegan recipe for the saucy, whole Sonoran-style pinto beans cowboys (charros) eat in movies, from the Taste of Tucson cookbook by Jackie Alpers.


  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 16-ounce bag dried pinto beans (2 cups)
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or more to taste, preferably Sonoran
  • ½ cup diced fresh tomatoes
  • ¼ cup minced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste


  • Rinse the beans and examine them carefully. Remove anything that doesn’t look like a pinto bean such as small rocks or other debris. Pour the beans and about 2 quarts of water into a large Dutch oven or stock pot, making sure to leave 2 inches of water at the top of the beans. Stir in the chopped garlic and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered until the beans are soft, 1 ½ to 2 hours. If the water evaporates too much during cooking, gently add more water so that the beans are always completely submerged.
  • DO NOT STIR THE BEANS! Apparently, stirring the bean pot at any point during the 2-hour cooking time is the sign of an unconfident chef, and you don’t want the beans to feel insecure about their fate.
  • Once the beans are soft, mince the remaining 3 garlic cloves and add them to the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, red onion, vinegar, dried onion flakes, oregano, and tomato paste. Simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes to reduce the liquid a bit. You want the beans to be slightly saucy, not soupy.  Taste to check the seasoning to see if you need to add more salt, pepper, oregano, or onion flakes, then cover with a heavy lid, remove from heat, and let sit for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to merge before serving.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American, Sonoran, Taste of Tucson cookbook recipes
Keyword charro beans recipe, Cowboy beans recipe, how to make cowboy beans, vegetarian pinto beans recipe, Vegetarian whole pinto beans recipe

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