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Southern Pinto Beans with Country Ham

Every pinto beans recipe seems to be different and doctored with tons of spices. Let’s take this classic back to its southern roots with just a hunk of country ham, some salt, and a side of cornbread and sliced onions. It’s delicious simplicity y’all.

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a bowl of pinto beans with a spoon

Yes we all know beans are good for your heart because the more you eat the more you…

Well.

All gas aside, pinto beans can be a simple and healthy dinner solution with some planning. They are so incredibly easy to do, but you need time to make them tender and delicious with deep flavor.

How and why you should soak your pinto beans

Soaking beans overnight has a two fold benefit: It allows the beans to absorb water which makes them cook faster. It also breaks down the phytic acid in the beans making them more digestible and nutritious.

Phytic acid loves to steal magnesium and other minerals from your body as it passes through so it’s good to soak all beans before you use them or buy them pre-soaked and re-dried.

Rinse then soak

This recipe starts by rinsing your pinto beans first. In a big bowl of water, sift them through your fingers and look for any rocks or small pebbles that might have made it in to the bag. I rarely find any.

Drain away that water and add your beans to a bowl that can hold at least twice the amount of beans (they will swell). Cover them in water at least 2-3 inches above the level of the beans. I use filtered water because we avoid fluoride and chlorine–but use what you have. Temperature of the water doesn’t matter.

Let the beans soak 8-12 hours if you can before cooking them. I often do this step at night and cook mine the next day around noon. Buy pinto beans on Amazon.

a bowl of pinto beans soaking in water

Quick soak if you’re out of time

If you are out of time or forget, you can soften your beans by adding them to a large pot with a couple of inches of water to cover. Bring them to a rolling boil then turn off the heat and let them sit covered for one hour before continuing.

Do I have to soak pinto beans?

You can skip soaking yours (my mom never soaked, my mother in law always soaks). Just put them in to the pot after rinsing, but your pinto beans will take longer to get tender. It could be as much as 1 to 2 hours longer so factor for that.

Choosing meat for your beans

Some sort of smoked meat is essential here. We are using a few slices of country ham but you can also use ham hocks, a couple of pieces of uncooked bacon or even a bit of bacon grease.

I feel like county ham is truly the best. If you live in the south, most grocery stores have it in their deli and will slice a 1/4 pound for you or you can find it sealed on a rack near the meat section. It’s not refrigerated because it’s cured and salted so don’t confuse it with spiral or honey ham. If you shop on Amazon, this ham would be perfect.

Tips for the best pinto beans

  • Don’t boil your beans while they cook. Keep the heat low so they gently simmer or lightly bubble.
  • Add water a cup or two at a time when the water level gets low. Try to keep the water about an inch above the beans.
  • Avoid the temptation to stir them a lot unless you like mush. The more you stir the more the beans will break down and go soft. Just lightly stir up from the bottom once or twice an hour while cooking.
  • Don’t salt the beans until the last 45 minutes of cooking. This gives the salty country ham time to flavor the beans and you can adjust from there. Remember the liquid in your beans will reduce a bit more after salt is added so slightly under salt them and once they are cooked you can add a bit more.
  • Don’t add baking soda to your beans. Some people say it makes them more tender when in fact it does the opposite.
  • If your beans cook for the specified time and never get truly soft, you may have a bag of stale pinto beans. It’s hard to know if yours are stale until you try to simmer them and they stay firm.

Cook pinto beans step by step

Step 1: After soaking, add the drained beans to a large pot and add the ham in. It’s fine to leave it in big pieces.

a big pot of pinto beans with country ham before adding water to cook

Step 2: Cover with more water to cover by 2 inches or so. Cook on low/medium low 2 1/2 to 3 hours until tender.

adding water from a jug to a pot of pinto beans

How to salt pinto beans

I can’t tell you exactly how much salt you’ll need. That depends on the ham’s salt, how concentrated your water gets, and what kind of salt you use. I use coarse celtic sea salt. All my conversion sources say sea salt and table salt are equivalent, but I’d caution you to add salt half at a time, stir, wait 5 minutes and taste it.

If you are new to seasoning food, take a small bit of the beans and add them to a bowl. Add salt until they taste good to you then add salt to the main pot until it tastes the same. That way you don’t ruin the whole pot.

What to serve with pinto beans

Serve pinto beans with cornbread of course. This recipe made into cakes is perfect slathered in apple butter. You can also make a batch of fried apples or mustard greens. Fried chicken is wonderful but labor intensive, and macaroni and cheese would round out your delicious southern fare!

a bowl of pinto beans with cornbread and  spoon
a bowl of pinto beans with a spoon

Southern Pinto Beans with Country Ham

A simple yet delicious classic with slow cooked flavor and no fussing.
Print Pin Save Recipe Text to Phone
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Soak time: 12 hours
Total Time: 15 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 5 people
Calories: 157kcal
Author: Rachel Ballard

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces pinto beans
  • 1/2 gallon water more may be needed as the beans simmer
  • 3/4 tablespoon coarse sea salt start with half as much table salt if using
  • 2 ounces country ham a heaping 1/4 cup, or 2 small "biscuit" slices

Instructions

  • Add dried beans to a bowl and cover with water. Sort through the beans by letting them fall between your fingers and remove any stones or dirt. Drain the water.
  • Cover the beans with clean water at least 2" over the beans. Let the beans soak overnight or for 8-12 hours.
  • After 12 hours, drain the water and move the beans to a large pot. Add the ham and cover with 2-3 inches of fresh water. Bring to a very gentle simmer over medium low/low heat and simmer 2 1/2 hours stirring gently only once or twice an hour.
  • Add salt (half to start), stir, wait 5 minutes and taste; adjust seasoning to your preference. Simmer an additional 30 to 45 minutes until the beans are tender throughout.

Nutrition

Calories: 157kcal | Carbohydrates: 24g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 7mg | Sodium: 1201mg | Potassium: 428mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 55mg | Iron: 2mg

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