Here’s how to make traditional Mexican refried beans, just like restaurants but even BETTER! Serve them as a side dish for any Mexican meal, turn them into a dip, or use them in burritos and quesadillas.
Photography Credit: Elise Bauer
I love refried beans! Don’t you?
We had refried pinto beans at least once a week my entire upbringing. They are such a staple in our family nary a week goes by without my mother making a batch.
Great with Mexican food (obviously), refried beans also go beautifully with a juicy steak and a big serving of salsa.
Why are they called refried beans?
“Refried” doesn’t mean the beans have been fried twice. The word comes from the Spanish name for the dish—frijoles refritos. In Spanish “refritos” means “well fried”.
To make the beans you have to cook them in water first to soften them. Then you fry them in a pot or skillet with fat and seasonings.
What kind of beans are used to make refried beans?
Traditionally, for Mexican style refried beans, pinto beans are used. But black beans are also wonderful prepared this way too.
In a pinch, I’ve even used white navy beans to make refried beans for tostadas. I just add some chipotle powder to them for seasoning. But usually we use either pinto beans or black beans.
Pressure Cooker vs. Stove Top Beans
There are two basic ways of initially cooking the dried beans:
- Using a pressure cooker, which takes about a half hour to cook the beans.
- On the stovetop, which can easily take 2 to 3 hours to cook the beans.
Since we make beans so often, we use a pressure cooker. It’s the first step of making the meal — put the beans in the pot, cover with water and cook while preparing everything else. By the time the beans are done, so is the rest of the meal.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, no worries! We have included directions for both methods.
- Tip: Old beans take longer to cook
Note that although beans have a relatively long shelf life, the older they are the longer you’ll have to cook them to get them to soften. Find a source that supplies fresh dry beans.
If you have dry beans that have been sitting around for more than a year, they’ll be tough and not as good, you’ll need to cook them longer.
How to cook refried beans
Once you cook the dry beans, you strain them and cook them with onions and fat in a skillet, mashing them while they cook. That’s the “fried” part of refried beans.
By the way, you could also just strain canned whole beans and mash them and fry them. But if you are going to do that, you may as well buy already prepared canned refried beans to begin with! You’ll get a lot more flavor if you make the beans from scratch.
Once made, the beans will last about 5 days in the fridge. To reheat them, just add more water and heat them up on the stovetop.
Ways to Use Refried Beans
Our favorite way to use refried beans? Along side a juicy steak with some green chile tomato salsa. The combination of the steak, beans, and salsa is fantastic!
Refried beans are a standard accompaniment to Mexican dishes. We use them:
More Great Mexican Side Dish Recipes!
Updated January 14, 2019 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle! No changes to the original recipe.
Refried Beans Recipe
We use bacon fat in this recipe, though you can easily use olive oil or lard. Although the recipe only calls for 2 Tbsp, we find that the flavor is greatly enhanced with the addition of a couple more tablespoons of bacon fat, just for flavor.
You can also get some smokey flavor in the beans by adding a bit of chipotle powder, sauce, or chipotle Tabasco.
Many recipes call for soaking the beans overnight and discarding the soaking liquid. We don’t. There is no need to pre-soak the beans. Here’s a great explanation why by Russ Parsons from the LA Times.
- 2 1/2 cups of dry pinto beans (about 1 lb or 450gm)
- 3 quarts of water
- 1/2 cup chopped onion (optional)
- 2 Tbsp (or more to taste) pork lard, bacon fat, or extra virgin olive oil (for vegetarian option)
- 1/4 cup water
- Salt to taste
- Cheddar cheese (optional)
1 Rinse beans: Rinse the beans in water and remove any small stones, pieces of dirt, or bad beans.
2 Cook the beans on the stove top or in the pressure cooker:
Stove Top Method – Put beans into a pot and cover with at least 3 inches of water—about 3 quarts for 2 1/2 cups of dry beans. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours.
The cooking time will vary depending on the batch of beans you have. The beans are done when they are soft and the skin is just beginning to break open.
Pressure Cooker Method – Put beans into a 4 quart or larger pressure cooker with a 15 lb weight. Fill the pressure cooker with water up to the line that indicates the capacity for the pot (about two thirds of the way). Cook for 30 to 35 minutes, until the beans are soft and the skins are barely breaking open.
Allow the pressure cooker to cool completely before opening. If there is resistance when attempting to open the cooker, do not open it, allow it to cool further. Follow the directions for your brand of pressure cooker. (See How to Make Fast No Soak Beans in a Pressure Cooker.)
Either method – Strain the beans from the cooking water.
3 Sauté onions in fat: Add the onions and lard/fat/oil to a wide, sturdy frying pan (not a flimsy nonstick) on medium high heat. Cook onions until translucent. (Note the onions are optional, you can skip them if you want.)
4 Add beans, mash them in pan: Add the strained beans and about a 1/4 cup of water to the pan. Using a potato masher, mash the beans in the pan, while you are cooking them, until they are a rough purée.
5 Add water, salt, cheese: Add more water if necessary to keep the fried beans from getting too dried out. Add salt to taste. Add a few slices of cheddar cheese, or some (1/2 cup) grated cheddar cheese if you want.
When beans are heated through (and optional cheese melted) the beans are ready to serve.
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