These basic pinto beans are a Southern favorite. They're great for parties and potluck dinners, and they go well with barbecue, tacos or burritos, and fried chicken.
The ham hock seasons the beans, but feel free to taste and add salt after the beans are tender and the ham is chopped and added back to the slow cooker. The beans are hearty enough to serve as a main dish. For meatier beans, add extra diced ham to the beans. For a vegetarian pinto bean dish, omit the ham hock and add extra seasonings for flavor. For a smoky flavor, add a bit of liquid smoke or smoked paprika to the beans. Feel free to add a meat replacement to the beans, such as Gimme Lean or TVP.
To keep with tradition, serve these pinto beans with hot, freshly baked cornbread or cornbread muffins. Many Southerners insist on a spoonful of relish alongside their beans. Chow chow is wonderful with beans, or serve them with a corn relish, sweet pickle relish, or this quick tomato chutney. Add a salad to make a well-balanced lunch or dinner.
- 1 pound dried pinto beans
- 1 large smoked ham hock (or 2 small hocks)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 6 cups water
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Rinse the beans in a colander under cold running water. Sort through them and discard any malformed or damaged beans or small pebbles.
- Put the beans in a large bowl and cover them with water. Soak for 6 hours or overnight. Alternatively, follow the instructions on the beans for a quick soak.
- Place the beans and ham hocks in the crock pot with the bay leaves and crushed red pepper flakes. Cover with the 6 cups of water.
- Cover the pot and cook for 6 to 8 hours on high, or until the beans are tender.
- Remove the ham hock and dice or shred the meat.
- Taste the beans and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed.
- Serve the pinto beans with freshly baked cornbread.
Tips and Variations
- For a Tex-Mex flavor twist, add 2 teaspoons of chili powder and about 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, or to taste. Add a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes (chili-style, fire-roasted, or tomatoes with green chile peppers) when you season them with salt and pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes longer and serve them with corn or flour tortillas or crushed tortilla chips.
- Add 3 cloves of minced garlic to the beans.
- Dice a medium onion and add to the beans.
- Dice a red or green bell pepper and add to the beans.