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Refried Beans woe

I am a huge fan of refried beans. Over the years, I've tried many version of making my own using dried and canned beans - and the results I've gotten have just never quite matched what I can do by doctoring up a can of premade refried beans.

So I am asking Chowhounds for your wonderful refried bean recipes - can have meat or be vegetarian. Use dried beans or canned. Whatever, I'm going to give this a few more tries before just accepting that the time and effort I've been putting into making my own just isn't worth it.

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  1. Maybe what you like is the extra-concentrated flavor the store-bought refried beans have that comes from commercial canning. I don't know exactly how you can achieve that at home.

    Some things I do to intensify the flavor of beans I cook for refritos are to add one or two cloves, a bay leaf, a tiny bit of tomato paste ( say 1/4 tsp per cup of dry beans), a tiny bit of soy sauce (again only about 1/4 tsp per cup of dry beans or even less), a pat of butter for every cup of dry beans, and lots of chopped onion and garlic in the last half hour of cooking the beans. (I never use canned beans for this purpose, because the pot liquor seems pretty important to the flavor. If I have extra cooking liquid, I freeze it for times when I have to use canned beans.)

    I also refry with well-sauteed onion, garlic and jalapeno and saute those things in chorizo or bacon fat when I want a meaty taste.

    One last thought is to not use pinto beans or to add some more flavorful beans, like kidney, adzuki, black or those little Creole red beans in with the pintos.

    1. What do you "doctor" to premade refries?

      What I like... Dry pintos, cooked with onion, maybe a dry chile or chile flakes, plus salt until soft. To refry, saute bacon in a little oil. When the fat is rendered (but bacon is not too crisp), add beans (scoop out of pot with slotted spoon). Mash (potato masher works well) and heat. Add enough bean liquor to get the consistency that you want. Add more salt to taste.

      1. Hi cresyd,

        What brand of refried beans do you prefer? I had a similar experience (could not replicate the canned version at home). Then I looked at the nutrient panel on the can and I realized that there was almost a full teaspoon of salt in just one 16 oz can (this was a vegetarian version - don't know the salt content of regular refried beans). That is far more salt than I would ever knowingly add to 16 oz of beans, but IMHO that's why my homemade version never tasted as *good* as canned refried beans.

        7 Replies
        1. re: MrsPatmore

          Yeah, a bunch of salt.

          Also, never could figure out how my favorite place got their beans to taste so damn good, until I watched a friends mother cook them in her kitchen,

          She used at LEAST a quarter cup of rendered lard in the pan. I cant even imagine what is in the restaurant version.

          Ruined me forever.

          1. re: hyde

            Yeah - I think this may be why I revert to the canned variety. I can get a fat free or largely fat free can of refried beans, and then "fry it up" with extra spices, garlic, and some lime. Sometimes I'll add some bacon, but I'm able to control the quantity.

            1. re: hyde

              Yup, lard and salt are the secrets to great refried beans.

              1. re: hyde

                I worked at a fast-food mexican place way back when I was in high school for the refries, and huge block of lard was melted and added to the industrial size pot pot of beans... then we used a drill with a blade on it to mash!

                1. re: firecooked

                  Fascinating, firecooked. I always wondered whether the fast-food places used canned or made their own from dried beans. I guess in huge quantities it would be more economical.

                  1. re: LorenzoGA

                    I don't know how long ago firecooked worked in the fast food Mexican place, but alot of them now use a dehydrated refried bean product. Add water, stir and let sit for 30 minutes.

            2. I like onion, garlic, lard, salt, cumin, cloves...and whatever else I might think of at the time.

              1. Lard and salt. Repeat until desired result.

                1. It's all about the lard. You can't use the 1# blocks like Armour.I get rendered lard from a Hispanic grocery store which makes great refried beans.

                  1. If you buy a good quality brand of canned refried beans--made the traditional way with lard--what is there to "doctor up"? I like La Preferida brand, but there are plenty of others. I can't imagine being able to make refried beans that taste that good from scratch. And why bother? The only reasons I can see--and they are not bad reasons--would be (1) for the sheer do-it-yourself challenge, and (2) for those who insist on organic ingredients or something of that sort. I know lots of people make refried beans at home, but there are some things that I think are just so good in their commercial incarnations that I don't feel the effort would be worth it. Also, I fear homemade would never--no matter how high the quality of ingredients--meet my palate's expectations of what refried beans are supposed to taste like, the same way homemade ketchup will never taste like the Heinz I grew up with. I apologize for not actually addressing your question!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LorenzoGA

                      I would say that the "sheer do it yourself" challenge would be most apt to describe why I'd like to make my own.

                      And without getting too deep into a debate on what the fat content of refried beans should or shouldn't be - I think that the collective responses have been really helpful in helping me think through how I want to proceed.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        You may want to buy and analyze a can of rosarita refried beans, i've always loved their vegetarian version and the mexican grocery where i grew up sold tons to mexican families. 2g fat in the regular ones.

                    2. If making from scratch, use either black beans or flor de mayo, or flor de junio beans (Rancho Gordo has the flor beans, IIRC)

                      With black beans, you need to add a sprig or 2 of fresh epazote during cooking, along with at least 1/2 a white onion and a small clove of garlic. Season the whole pot - liquid and all - with salt, using a little more than you think you really need

                      To actually refry the beans, heat lard - rendered, not that white block of weird stuff lard - in a large, wide skillet. And you'll need a good amount of lard, more than just filming the bottom of the skillet, Drain out about 2/3 of the bean liquid, but reserve it. Pour the remaining beans and liquid into the skillet, have a splatter screen handy cuz it will pop and splatter when the bean liquid hits the hot lard.

                      Once the splattering dies down, stir and heat the beans through until very hot. They're way easier to mash if they're hot. If you happen to have a wooden bean masher, start mashing the beans and stirring to incorporate. If you don't have a wooden bean masher, try using the smooth side of a meat mallet. I've found that an "S" shaped potato masher doesn't do a very good job of mashing, but if that's all you've got, mash away.

                      As the beans begin to mash up, and thicken up, add some of the reserved bean juice to thin it down and keep the mass pliable. Keep mashing, stirring and thinning until you get the consistency you want. Taste and reseason with salt if needed. Just remember, beans are a starch and will tighten up, so don't be afraid to use that reserved bean liquid.

                      If you want creamy refrieds, mash and thin, mash and thin. If you want beans in the refrieds, reserve some whole beans before you start frying and stir them back into the mashed beans. You can cook them so they're fairly dry and then roll them out of the skillet like an omelet and serve studded with totopos and cotija cheese. Once you've gotten them to the flavor and consistency you like, you can add whatever other enhancements you'd like.

                      Take your time, it's a process that requires more than a few minutes

                      1. I have been told my homemade refried beans are good. I prefer my own refried beans to most that are served in restaurants.

                        I usually use Mayocoba beans. I cook them until they're soft. Then I fry onions and garlic in oil, I don't bother with lard.

                        I add chili powder and toasted, ground cumin to taste to the onions. I put a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste in as well. The beans go in along with some of the cooking water. I will also add about a pint of my homemade salsa. I let this cook for a while and then use an immersion blender, we like our refried beans smooth.

                        1. Lard. Or at least bacon drippings. Olive oil will do in a pinch, but IMHO aren't as flavorful.

                          Otherwise, when I make refried beans starting with dried ones, I cook them with cumin, onion, garlic and bay leaves until they're tender. Then I remove the bigger chunks of vegetables, drain them (saving at least some of the liquid). When I fry them, I put some fat in a cast iron skillet, then when it's melted, add the beans and mash them with a potato masher, adding some of the cooking liquid if they look too dry.

                          The best refried beans I've had were at a small Mexican restaurant in Arizona. I asked the waitress for the recipe, only to be told that no one knew just what was in them: the owner's mother sent up jars of her special spice blend every month and the kitchen just mixed them in!

                          1. homemade beans (from dried beans), fat of your choice (oil, lard, bacon grease, etc) is imperative. There is no such thing at low fat refritos frijoles...its more about the fat than the beans. I like to saute onions (and garlic and/or spices of choice) then add the beans. This is a traditional tool for mashing beans, it is a beautiful piece to own, or gift as well.


                            1. Hmm, well today I made refried beans for the first time ever. I don't know why I've never done this before. Err, maybe because it makes so danged much! I don't know what I'm going to do with this bounty of refrieds, though. Freeze most of it, to start, I'd guess.

                              I used mayocoba beans, and prepared them as directed in the livestrong.com recipe (using bacon grease), only the bag o' beans from the bulk bin that I eyeballed while scooping was only about 1¾ cups:


                              Once the beans were soft, I scooped them into a deep pan with just enough of the liquid to whiz them to a soft consistency with the immersion blender. Then I used butter in the pan to refry them briefly with some salt and pepper. I was very surprised at how little salt they needed. Overall, very happy with this experiment.