How to Make Refried Beans

Three Methods:Cooking Fresh Refried BeansQuick-Cooking Canned BeansAdding Variations

Have you ever gone to Taco Bell and/or other Mexican restaurants and wished you could have those same good-tasting beans in the comfort of your own home? Well if you have, then follow step by step, and learn this easy and simple recipe so you can enjoy refried beans and put them in your burritos or other Mexican dishes you can think of, without having to go out.


Using Fresh Beans

  • 2 1/2 cups dried pinto or black beans
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • Six tablespoons lard, oil, animal fat, or butter
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • Salt, pepper, and seasoning, to taste
  • Water

Using Canned Beans

  • 2 15-ounce cans pinto or black beans
  • 2 tablespoons oil, butter, lard, or animal fat
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method 1
Cooking Fresh Refried Beans

  1. Image titled Make Refried Beans Step 1
    Choose your dried beans and rinse off 2 1/2 cups in cool water. Do not soak the beans, as this old technique has since been proven to ruin flavor and texture. Simply rinse them off and move on. The bigger decision, of course, is which beans to use:[1]
    • Pinto beans are the classic choice. Sweet but savory, with a good size for mashing and a creamy texture, they are the top refried beans.
    • Black beans are slightly courser, without the sweet notes of pinto beans, which can lead to a somewhat more muted flavor that compliments many flavors well without overpowering.
    • Navy, cannellini, and white beans can all be used for delicious refried beans, though they won't be "classic" by any stretch. They tend to have a lighter flavor and creamy texture, but are all open for culinary experiments.[2]
  2. Image titled Make Refried Beans Step 2
    Cover the beans with at least 2" of water and bring to a boil. The water should be at least a few inches above the beans, as they will absorb the liquid as they cook.
  3. Image titled Make Refried Beans Step 3
    Lower the heat to a simmer and let the beans cook for 1-2 hours, until tender. You should be able to easily pierce each bean with a fork when they are done.
  4. Image titled Make Refried Beans Step 4
    Drain or strain out the beans, retaining the water they were cooked in for later. These water, which is lightly flavored, will help cook the beans the second time, in your frying pan. Ladle out at least one cup of the bean cooking liquid for later.
  5. Image titled Make Refried Beans Step 5
    Pick out your fat and heat 5-6 tablespoons of it on medium high heat. Use a skillet big enough to fit the beans, melting your frying fat first while the cooked beans sit to the side. The type of fat you use will greatly impact the flavor of your final dish, so choose wisely:
    • Lard: the "king" of refried bean fats, this is the most common fat used to cook the beans. Pork fat, in particular, is a spectacular choice.
    • Bacon drippings: the second-most common fat in recipes, as it is readily available and lends a rich, smokey flavor to the beans. Can be mixed or cut with vegetable oil.
    • Vegetable or Canola oil: these mild oils will allow the flavors of your spices, beans, and onions to shine through. Don't use high-flavor oils like olive or truffle unless you want those flavors in the beans -- which most cooks don't.
    • Butter: not incredibly common, but still delicious, butter imparts a rich creaminess to the beans that is unconventional, but certainly delicious.[3]
  6. 6
    While letting beans sit, fry the chopped onions in your oil. Cook them over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until translucent, at least, adding a dash of salt right when they hit the pan.This means they are starting to become see-through. The longer you cook the onions, the sweeter they'll get, which can be a good thing if you want a rich, sweeter dish. If so, cook until the edges brown and begin to caramelize.
    • You can add as much or as little onion as you want. Most cooks aim between half of an onion or one full, medium-sized onion.
  7. 7
    Add garlic, along with salt and seasonings, when onions have 1-2 minutes to go. Add as many cloves of chopped garlic as you desire, a dash of salt, and any combination of the spices listed below. These ingredients only need a minute or less to cook up, so work quickly. It can help to pre-mix the spices in a small bowl ahead of time, then add them all at once:
    • 1 teaspoon cumin
    • 1 teaspoon chili powder
    • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    • Juice from 1/2 a lime[4]
  8. 8
    Add the beans fry everything for 2 minutes or so. Let the flavors meld, stirring regularly to make sure everything is well coated in spices. They should start to bubble and simmer before moving on.
  9. Image titled Make Refried Beans Step 9
    Add one cup of reserved liquid and use a potato masher to smash the mixture up. Stir in the mixture, then start beating. You can smash the beans into any texture you want, from creamy, perfect purees to chunkier, more hearty spreads. Don't have a potato masher? There are other methods, as well:
    • Pour the whole mixture into a food processor or blender, pulsing until your desired texture then returning to the bowl.
    • Use a hand mixer or stick blender to puree the beans right in the pot.
    • Use the back of a wooden spoon to hand-mash the beans.[5]
  10. Image titled Make Refried Beans Step 10
    Let the mashed mixture simmer until it reaches your desired consistency. Add another pinch of salt and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Now, simply let the mixture cook on medium-low until it thickens to your liking. If things get too dry, add some more of the bean liquid, plain water, or a splash of brown to rehydrate and thin them out. Serve hot.
    • These beans are incredible with a squirt of fresh lime juice, a sprinkling of queso fresco, or a spring of fresh cilantro.[6]

Method 2
Quick-Cooking Canned Beans

  1. 1
    Heat your 2 tablespoons of oil or fat over a heavy skillet on medium heat. Like the fresh bean method, the hierarchy of fats is pretty standard-- lard and animal fat, like bacon, are best, with vegetable oil in the middle and butter being used only in a pinch.[7]
  2. 2
    Add 2-3 garlic cloves to the pan and cook until brown on both sides. Garlic has three general "stages." Raw, it is sharp and pungent. Sauteed, it mellows out a bit, retaining spice but losing its raw edges. Roasted, garlic has a rich, nuanced warmth to it. For this recipe, you can get all three flavors with ease by roasting the outside of whole cloves, while the inside retains some of the sharpness[8]
  3. 3
    Smash the garlic up with a fork and add 1/2 chopped white onion to the pan. Smashing the garlic up will make it much easier to eat later on. You can also remove them, let them cool, and cut them up into small bits if you're worried about biting into a chunk of garlic. Cook the garlic with the onions together for 3-5 minutes.[9]
  4. 4
    Add salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder to the pan and stir to coat. Many spices, especially chili, reveal their best flavors only under a little heat. "Toasting" the spices will bring out a delicious richness of flavor, but only if you move quickly. You should add the beans (the next step) within thirty seconds of the spices.
  5. 5
    Add the two cans of beans, liquid and all, to the pan bring to a simmer. The liquid in these beans is necessary to keep them hydrated as they cook. That said, you can always substitute other liquids for the beans if desired, such as stock, water, or even milk
  6. 6
    Smash the beans into your desired texture with a potato masher. If you don't have a potato masher, a food processor, hand mixer, blender, or the back of a wooden spoon can usually cover for you. You can either grind them into a smooth, consistent puree or leave some chunks and skins around -- it is entirely up to you.[10]
  7. 7
    Continue cooking until your desired consistency, adding more liquid where necessary. If the beans become too thick or dry, add some water or chicken stock, stir it in, and bring everything back to a simmer. The beans are ready to heat whenever you are -- serve hot![11]
    • Top with shredded cheese, fresh cilantro, or a squeeze of fresh lime.

Method 3
Adding Variations

  1. 1
    Add some flavor to the beans as they boil for a rich, nuanced dish. There is no reason why the beans need to sit without flavor for 2 hours while they cook! After you've covered the dried beans with water and have the heat set to boil, toss in the following to cook alongside the beans for 1-2 hours. When done cooking, remove and discard before proceeding:
    • 1 half white onion, whole
    • 2-3 cloves garlic
    • 1 large sprig epazote or Mexican oregano[12]
  2. 2
    Add other vegetables or additions to your pot before adding the beans. Kick up the flavor with some of the most popular additions to a good pot of refried beans. Each of these flavors can be added after the onions, with the garlic, depending on how long you want them to cook. They will all mash up wonderfully with the beans.
    • Can of fire-roasted peppers
    • Can of green chilis
    • Chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce[13]
    • 1/2 fresh green bell pepper, chopped sauteed alongside the onion.
    • Cooked, chopped bacon bits.
  3. 3
    Substitute chicken, vegetable, or beef stock for your bean liquid while cooking for more flavor. While some people love the simple, but rich, flavor of plain beans, every now and then you'll want a little extra kick to your dish. You can add a flavored stock or broth in place of the bean liquid to give a little more flavor to the beans, omitting the bean cooking liquid.[14]
  4. 4
    Try an Italian-inspired refried bean dish with white beans. Refried beans are a decidedly Latin American dish, but at their heart the are just a smooth, cooked bean paste, which has inspirations from across the globe. If you want to use navy or Canelli beans, nothing is stopping you, and some adjusted spices can make them an appealing dish in their own right:
    • When cooking the beans the first time in the water, add half an onion, a sprig of rosemary or thyme, and 2-3 cloves fresh garlic. You can also add bay leaves, celery, and whole carrots as the beans boil.
    • Fry up onion and garlic, like normal. Discard anything boiled with beans and add to pot.
    • Replace cumin/chili with any combination of the following spices:
      • Rosemary
      • Thyme
      • Oregano
      • Basil
      • A touch of cumin (1/2 teaspoon)
    • Drizzle finished beans with fresh lemon juice.
  5. 5
    Try the whole dish in a slow cooker for an easy, all-day recipe that just have to heat. Beans love to cook slowly, absorbing liquid as they do to stay tender and creamy as they cook. Once cooked, all you are really waiting for are the flavors to marry and develop without the beans drying out. This makes refried beans perfect for the moist, warm environment of a slow cooker, and they couldn't be easier:
    • Add dried beans, finely chopped onion and garlic, and 2 teaspoons of salt to the pot.
    • Add any desired spices, such as 1 tablespoon cumin and chili powder. If desired, add pork/ham bones or bacon strips for a richer flavor.
    • Cover everything with water.
    • Cook for 8-10 hours, adding more liquid if the beans seem to be drying out.[15]


  • The fresher the beans, the better.
  • Store any leftovers in the fridge (can last more than a week).
  • You may have to divide the mixture into halves to blend it well in the food processor.
  • Be creative with the ingredients! Try adding paprika, chili powder, dijon mustard, or taco seasoning for more flavor with a bit more kick.


  • Make sure you or your guests don’t have any allergies before using this recipe.

Article Info

Categories: Central and South American Cuisine | Rice and Beans