Use black or pinto beans for a zippy dish of Frijoles Charros
Who doesn’t like a side of beans when you’re eating Mexican? They’re the perfect accompaniment to tacos, enchiladas, or just about anything else.
You could have refried beans, of course. But we prefer something with a bit more zing. So we turn to Frijoles Charros—brothy Mexican-style beans enhanced with succulent pork (we vote for bacon), spicy chilies, and tangy tomato.
They’re easy to make, and actually taste better if prepared a day ahead. Convenient! And they’re perfect for Cinco de Mayo. Which just happens to be coming up in a few weeks (funny how that works in the blogging world).
Recipe: Mexican Charro Beans
In Mexico, “charro” refers to a traditional horseman (sort of like a cowboy) who typically dresses in colorful garb. So “charro beans” are beans cooked as a charro would prepare them.
The dish most typically features pinto beans, though black beans are a common substitute. We prefer black beans because we like their color and their depth of flavor.
To make this dish, you start with cooked beans—what in Mexico would be called Frijoles de Olla (an olla is a clay cooking vessel often used to cook beans, so the phrase translates as “beans from the pot”). We like to use dried beans, but you can substitute cooked, canned beans if you like (see Notes for instructions).
Traditional Mexican cooking doesn’t call for soaking dried beans before cooking. Instead, the beans are placed in a pot with water, then cooked until tender. They take longer to cook than presoaked beans, but taste just as good. We use that traditional method for this dish.
We have divided this recipe into two parts. The first part involves cooking the dried beans (which you can do a day or two ahead of time if you wish). The second part involves flavoring the cooked beans with ingredients that transform them into Charro Beans.
Prep time for this dish is half an hour or so. Total cooking time is about three hours, although much of it is unattended.
This recipe yields a quart or so of beans. Leftovers keep well for a few days (and actually improve in flavor) if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Or you could freeze the leftovers.
Charro beans make a great side dish. But they’re also hearty (and tasty) enough to serve as a main course. If you go that route, serve them with tortillas or cornbread.
For the initial cooking of the beans (Frijoles de Olla):
- ½ pound dried beans (either black or pinto beans are traditional; if you prefer to used canned beans, see Notes)
- 5 cups water
- 1 tablespoon lard (preferably leaf lard; may substitute bacon drippings or olive oil—see Notes)
- ½ medium onion (white onion is traditional, although yellow works too)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 sprigs of epazote if using black beans (very optional; see Notes)
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or to taste)
- 4 slices thick bacon (see Notes for substitutions)
- 2 additional garlic cloves
- 3 to 4 jalapeño and/or serrano pepper chilies (to taste; see Notes)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (to taste)
- ~¾ of a 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (reserve the remainder for garnish, or use for another purpose)
- salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- garnish of chopped white onion, sliced jalapeño and/or serrano peppers, or diced tomatoes
For the initial cooking of the beans:
- Sort through the dried beans, removing any grit or stones. Rinse the beans, then place them in a 3- to 4-quart cooking pot. Add the water, then add the lard to the pot. (If using canned beans, you can skip this part of the recipe and proceed to the “assembly” section below; see Notes).
- Peel the onion and cut it into dice of ½ inch or so. Add the diced onion to the cooking pot. Peel the garlic and mince it finely. Add the minced garlic to the cooking pot.
- Bring the cooking water to a boil, then reduce it to the merest simmer. Cover the pot, then set a timer for 2 hours (1½ hours if using pinto beans). Add more water during cooking if too much evaporates (the finished dish should be brothy).
- When the timer goes off, add the epazote (if using) and the salt. Cook for an additional 30 minutes, or until the beans are tender but still firm.
- We recommend cooking the beans a day ahead of time. If doing so, take the beans off the heat at this point and cool them in the cooking broth; then refrigerate the cooked beans and broth in an airtight container until you're ready to assemble the Charro Beans. If you prefer to cook the beans and assemble the finished dish all in the same day, you can move on to assembling the Charro Beans at this point (see below).
- If you’ve cooked the beans a day or so ahead and chilled them, add the beans and broth to a 4-quart saucepan and turn the stovetop heat to medium low (to begin warming the beans). If you are cooking the beans and assembling the final dish all in one day, begin assembling the Charro Beans after Step 4 in the Procedure above.
- Cut the bacon into pieces of 1 inch or smaller. Place the bacon pieces in a cold frying pan over medium stovetop heat, then cook the bacon until it begins to brown and turn crisp (5 to 8 minutes).
- While the bacon is browning, continue with the rest of the prep work: Peel the garlic and slice it thinly or mince finely. Set aside.
- Wash the jalapeño and/or serrano peppers, cut off their stems, then slice each pepper lengthwise. Using a teaspoon or soup spoon, scoop out the seeds (the oil from the seeds will definitely be hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Mince the peppers finely (reserving a slice or two of pepper for garnish, if you wish). Set aside. Now wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot pepper oil from your skin.
- Wash the cilantro and chop it finely (both leaves and stems). Set aside.
- Once the bacon is beginning to brown, add the minced garlic and chopped peppers; cook for 1 minute. Then add the chopped cilantro and the diced tomatoes; cook for an additional 10 minutes.
- Scrape the bacon mixture into the cooking pot that contains the beans. Stir to combine, then taste the beans. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Serve with a garnish of chopped white onions, slices of jalapeño and/or serrano pepper, or diced tomatoes.
- You can use any kind of dried bean in this dish, but pinto or black beans work best, in our opinion.
- If using canned beans, you can skip the first part of the preparation instructions (entitled “For initial cooking of the beans”). Instead, open two 15-ounce cans of beans and drain them into a colander or large strainer. Rinse off the gunk the beans are stored in. Then add the beans to a 4-quart cooking pot and proceed with Step 1 of the assembly instructions (entitled “For assembly of the Charro Beans”).
- Epazote is a strongly flavored herb (somewhat similar to anise, but stronger; some people compare it to turpentine). It’s often used with black beans in order to reduce their tendency to produce digestive “gas.” You can find it in any Mexican market (and in many supermarkets throughout the southwestern US). But just omit it if you can’t find it.
- Lard is the fat of choice for Mexican cooking. It adds a rich smoothness and wonderful mouthfeel to beans.
- Although lard has a reputation for being “unhealthy,” it actually contains less saturated fat than butter. And even though it’s made from rendered pork fat, high-quality lard doesn’t add a “porky” flavor.
- It can be a bit tricky to find good lard. Most of the commercial lard sold in supermarkets is hydrogenated, which makes it shelf stable. Problem is, hydrogenation helps form trans fats—which are not good.
- Shopping online is usually the best way to find pure rendered lard (leaf lard is the best). Many butchers also sell it.
- If you don’t have access to decent lard, you can substitute rendered bacon fat or olive oil in this recipe.
- You can use any kind of onion in this dish. But in Mexican cooking, it’s typical to use white onion (which has a sharper flavor than yellow).
- Serrano peppers (which are a bit hotter than jalapeños) are traditional in this dish. But we like to use a mix of both.
- If you don’t want to use serrano or jalapeño peppers, you can substitute a tablespoon or two of dried ancho chile pepper powder.
- We like to use bacon in this dish, but Mexican chorizo makes a nice substitute. Or try some chunks of ham.
- You can easily turn Charro Beans into Borracho Beans (drunken beans): During the last 15 minutes or so of cooking, just add ½ to ¾ bottle of beer to the beans. The cook gets to drink the leftover beer.
“Who knew beans could taste so good?” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, scooping her Charro Beans with a corn tortilla. “Love the smooth mouthfeel too.”
“That’s probably the lard I added,” I said. “Even a little bit does so much for this dish.”
“Yup, lard is wonderful. I’ve been using leaf lard in baking lately,” said Mrs K R. “It’s great in pie crusts—makes them so tender and flaky.”
“Speaking of which,” I said. “I, um, borrowed some of your leaf lard for this dish. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Aha! I was wondering why my lard has been disappearing,” said Mrs K R.
“Lard have mercy on me!” I said. “It’s in a good cause.”
“Well, OK,” said Mrs K R. “I won’t make a pig fat deal out of it.”
“Good lard,” I said. “These puns are terrible.”
“Yes, better wrap this up before they get any worse,” said Mrs K R. “We’ll make a greaseful exit.”
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Hi John , I know this dish tastes deliciously good . I like that you used black beans and used dried beans , longer cooking time but the flavor is better . I think I will have a hunk of japaleno cornbread . Thanks for sharing :) Pinning
Ah, my dad would have loved a big bowl of these beans. He could have eaten beans with every meal. Thanks for this delicious recipe. I think I'll make a pot in his honor . . . and yours too of course.
Hi Nee, aren't black beans so nice? Love their looks! And their flavor is terrific, which is the important thing. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Karen, I'll bet your dad would have loved these! We sure do -- and lucky us, we have some in the freezer. :-) Thanks for the comment.
That first picture is of a complete meal in my book. No need to serve as a side. Just give me a big bowl of these beans and I'd be happy! Having never made charro beans I definitely appreciate your sharing this recipe. IWe both would love these beans with a few warm tortillas. YUM!!! Thanks John!
I've bean meaning to tell you how much I like these bean recipes! Manservant could eat beans every which way! Dried beans aren't kosher for Passover but when it ends these would be perfect! With a big hunk of bread, though I suppose a tortilla would be more fitting!
Hi MJ, we love these as a main! With tortillas. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, we're a little bean-crazed ourselves. ;-) These would be good with bread, but tortillas are more fun. Thanks for the comment.
A bowl of these beans, served over brown rice, and topped with some shredded cheese would take me to paradise. Thanks for another great recipe. --Rocquie
Good lard, those puns ARE terrible! But they made me giggle. Terrific beans, too!
I would just call this vegetarian chili and have a big bowl or two. I guess the bacon would technically rule that out huh?
Love charro beans and love the look of yours. So enticing!
These look so good, love beans prepared like this.
Love the colors and flavors of this dish as well as the fact that you can prepare it well in advance.
Viva Mexico and of course Viva John for sharing this treat so generously with us!
Hi Rocquie, these really are good beans. May need to thaw some for dinner tonight. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, aren't those puns awful? Fun, though. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Madonna, we'll happily eat these for dinner. And one serving isn't enough. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Chris, don't charro beans have so much flavor? Can't resist them! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Caroline, beans have so much flavor, don't they? And these are especially good! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Daniela, the more dishes I can prepare ahead of time, the better I like it. Viva make-aheads! :D Thanks for the comment.
Looks fab - John - love beans and usually use dried - a bit of soaking and longer cooking is worth it for flavour and cost.
Lardy Lardy those puns were bad but you succeeded; you made me laugh!
I love black beans the best; with a bit of spice? Even better!
Side dish, heck, I would make this my meal. :)
I've actually never made a bean dish quite like this before, but I sure love my Mexican cuisine - so I can imagine I would love it. Looks pretty delicious!
It looks simply amazing! Beans is a staple food in my home country. Something that I grew up eating and enjoying!
It's hard to believe Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner. How time flies. But I bet these beans taste so good that one spoonful will have time stand still. Hearty and delicious looking!
This looks like something that I'll like with tortilla chips too!
We love beans of all kinds and this dish is definitely going to be a favorite...a bowlful of these beans soft,juicy and absolutely delicious will go perfectly with soft tortillas...a yum dinner....and love that it tastes better next day...will come in so handy for a quick lunch pack....loved this beautiful,flavor-rich dish throughout and thanks for making us learn what is Epazote...never knew about it before,thanks so much :-)
Hi Rachel, I agree dried beans are so worth using! Much cheaper, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Barb, I know, those puns were awful.But we couldn't help ourselves! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Debra, we actually did make this our meal! But we have just enough left in the freezer for a couple of side dishes. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Thalia, if you like Mexican-style beans, this really is a dish worthy trying once. Tons of flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Denise, beans aren't really a staple for us, but we certainly eat them a lot. More than many folks, I'd guess. We love them! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, I love dishes where one spoonful stops time! Maybe if I eat 5 or 6 spoonfuls I'll be young again? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Peachy, tortillas + beans = pure bliss. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kumar, epazote is interesting stuff, and really marries well with black beans. I don't often use it because it's not in my usual grocery stores (but easily found -- I just have to go somewhat out of my way). But it's worth playing with. Thanks for the comment.
John, I must admit, I have never had charro beans, and after reading the ingredients in this dish, I am sure that I will enjoy...looks and sounds very hearty.
Have a great rest of the week :)
Hi Juliana, these are really good -- just Mexican-style beans with loads of extra flavor. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I really do love beans but sadly cannot eat them... I love their starchy textureeee! Thanks for making me miss them - lol
Hi GiGi, too bad that you can no longer eat beans! We'll have some extra for you. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I just happen to love beans - even with the stomach "discomfort"! I need to get my hands on some Epazote (never heard of it before) so I can enjoy the whole pot of this Frijoles Charros! With bacon, spicy chilies, and tangy tomato - this is one bean dish that's not gonna last long in my house!
Hi Shashi, this is a great dish, and perfect for bean lovers. Which we are. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
My boys love beans, and this would go so well with tortillas or fresh bread. Bookmarking it. I need these recipes, else summer holidays will see me going totally bonkers. Thanks John!
I love everything about this post! Your writing is amazing - from the very first sentence. The ending is fabulous and I am so happy every time I come for a visit! Really great recipe too - and it's not often you find someone who will talk about good quality lard.
This is such a lovely dish and very convenient to try in the coming cinco de mayo.. Thanks
What a hearty dish! I would just need a spoon and the whole pot please - irrespective of the "consequences" of eating those many beans :)) .. spiced up beans are even better! Truely wonderful dish and recipe, John.
Hi Minnie, this dish appeals of boys of every age. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Tricia, lard is good stuff, isn't it? Thanks for that very kind comment.
Hi Amira, this dish is really worth trying -- so much flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ansh, I could probably eat a batch of this all by myself. Not a good idea on several levels, but it's so good that I could. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I love healthy, flavor and simple dishes like this, I would probably eat for lunch dinner and in between
I would totally eat this for dinner! When I make bean dishes like this, I don't even need anything to accompany them.
Yeah, your puns are lame. So I love love them. I am smiling as I am typing. I had to pin these beans. I like them with zing myself. As far as I am concerned, these are a meal by themselves. YUM.
Hi Katalina, yup, this great for lunch, dinner, even breakfast! (And I've actually had it for breakfast!) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Laura, I agree this is good all by itself. Although a few tortillas on the side are nice, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carol, actually this batch of puns is beyond lame. It happens, sometimes. :-) Thanks for the comment.
OMG! I love this recipe! Perfect dinner for Saturday! I will give your recipe a try! Thanks for sharing!
Lard definitely makes the best pastry. Great looking beans. We don't have a lot of Mexican influence down here in Oz but the cuisine is starting to become a lot more popular which is great because I do love to eat Mexican. The corn tortillas look very good too xx
Hi Marcela, isn't this a fun dish? Loads of flavor too! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, lard really is worth using -- such a shame it fell out of favor, although it's been coming back (particularly for baking). Thanks for the comment.
I'm happy to see you snuck some lard in. No true-blooded Mexican bean dish is complete without it. Yet lard still gets a bad rap. I even prefer lard to butter in my biscuits most of the time, but that's because that's how my mom made biscuits. GREG
Hi Greg, lard really is good stuff! Not only does it have a lot of flavor, but it has some unsung health properties. For a fat, that is. :-) And you're right -- lard is biscuits is wonderful! Thanks for the comment.
Hmmm, come to think of it, I've been having some 'digestive gas' recently. Never heard of epazote before sounds like it might come in handy!
Hi Fran, epazote is interesting stuff -- really does add a hint of flavor. I'm not sure how "effective" it is, but it's worth using just for flavor reasons. Thanks for the comment.
This is lovely. It's something my mother would have called a comforting bowl of love.
Hi Maureen, this is indeed a comforting bowl of love. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Great post - and thanks for the education on lard! I've learned something today. And your beans look terrific.
I could definitely make a meal of spicy beans like these! They look so good with the stack of tortillas.
Hi Beth, lard is really incredibly good stuff. We didn't use it for years (all the health scare talk), but now use it all the time. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lisa, beans and tortillas are one of the world's great combos, don't you think? ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I've been eating a lot of black beans lately. Apparently, not only do they do the belly good, they do the heart good too!!! I've been in seach of a new and exciting black bean recipe (you might remember my black bean brownies:) and I think you have just gifted it to me! I will need to omit the lard though but, I don't think a bit of bacon will hurt.
I'm going to try this recipe John from scratch too. It sounds just perfect! I may add the beer too, lol...
Thanks so much for sharing, John...
Things are still in an uproar around here but, we are doing well. I most likely won't be bck to blogging for a while yet...
Hi Louise, I do remember your black bean brownies -- great recipe! As is this one. :-) Glad you're doing well, and eagerly await your return to blogging! Thanks for the comment.
Such beautiful presentation John. We love a good side of red or black beans with our tacos. This is great, wholesome and with the addition of lard (mine is probably out of date I can just imagine reading the ingredients on a packet now) I can see it would melt in your mouth. Just awesome, with enough chillies for an impact. Sold!
Mmm...wondering if that's something Julie has tried while in Mexico recently. She has tried quite a few dishes with beans but not always sure of the names ;)
Julie & Alesah
Gourmet Getaways xx
Hi Merryn, beans can be so great, can't they? And they are wonderful paired with tacos! Thanks for the comment.
Hi J & A, I'll bet Julie did have something similar in Mexico -- this is a pretty popular dish (although only in some parts -- not throughout all of Mexico). Thanks for the comment.
A bowl of this dish would be perfect now for our current weather here.
I enjoy cooking food that enhances the flavor (by itself) as time passes! I feel it's extra bonus to cook a lot and purposely save for later. I learned a lot about this dish. Although I haven't had a chance to try it before, I will definitely enjoy it. "Good lard" made me smile. :D
I think that these beans sound really tasty. They would be yummy with any Mexican dish.
Hi Raymund, this is one of those dishes that's wonderful either in hot or cold weather! We'll eat it any time of the year. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nami, those puns were awful, weren't they? The best kind! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dawn, this really is a tasty dish -- tons of flavor. Thanks for the comment.
Love this fun meal and delicious spices. Now this recipe I have to save as this would be a good one for the men during deer hunting season. Spicy and hearty and warming. Love the over the top photos wight he red bowl. Did you send that one off to our usual social media places or your first photo.? You know sometimes it is just difficult to choose but notice they like to see a more detailed photo with composition. What are your thoughts on this? Good stuff!
Hi Bam, this is a great dish! Loads of flavor. Perfect for hunting season! Re which photos to submit to our social media friends, it really can be hard to choose. In this case (as I often do) I sent a couple of photos around -- the top to FG, 2nd to TS, for example. The overhead view shot is my personal favorite, but I'm a sucker for that kind of shot! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I am drooling like a new pup!
Your writing is incredible. Now to these beans, never had charro, looks good to me and super delicious. The lard, definitely made me smile.
Hi Candy, these are really wonderful, aren't they? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Asha, these are so worth having -- such great flavor. Thanks for that very kind comment.
I make these all the time, and prefer them to rice as a side dish. And easy if you put the beans in the crockpot for the day.
Hi Lea Ann, I really should try a crockpot version of these! I have one, but rarely use it -- silly of me. Thanks for the comment.
Nice flavors. I think I want to serve this over rice or noodles, it will be a really good dinner. Of course, serve with bread will be good if having this for lunch. And I really like the idea adding beer. :)
Hi Yung, beans and rice is a classic combo! Like the idea of the noodles, too. And beer always improves any dish, doesn't it? ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I feel a pun-filled play coming on ... Goodness those beans sound good. Would love to try them with chorizo. Yes, I'll take these over refried beans any day!
Hi Claudia, chorizo is really good in these. Of course chorizo is good with anything, or all by its lonesome. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
You make the smartest lard-thief on the face of mother earth planet :D
I'll substitute it with Ghee because I want that good-greasy look in my bean-bowl like yours. A truly impressive recipe with yummy images. Fantastic!
Hi Nusrat, :-) Ghee would be fun -- haven't tried that, but I'll bet the flavor would be wonderful. Thanks for the comment.
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