Some food, some drink.
Because Potato Chips Don’t Count as a Side: Slow-simmered BBQ “Cowboy” Beans.
We're on the verge of grilling season proper in these parts, and while it's great to be dreaming about all the seared critter coming off the fire, it's also a good time to consider the unsung hero of the backyard BBQ: The side dish. A proper barbeque just isn't complete without sides, and everyone knows that beans are the quintessential side for outdoor cooking. Assuming you like to grill it up the right way, you'll want to start those beans from scratch; and assuming you've got access to a cast iron dutch oven, it's not at all as scary a prospect as it sounds. These smoky-sweet, spice-kissed BBQ "Cowboy" Beans can be made in the oven or over the coals; and thanks to the not-so-secret "no-soak" dry bean method, the texture of these legumes is like no other pot of beans you've ever had.
Ever since I discovered how to skip the soak and bring dry beans to done in 90 minutes, I've been smitten with dry legumes. To know that I can cook a pot of beans in the short part of the afternoon has really changed how I look at side dish options for meals. The texture and flavor are like nothing you've ever had out of the can, and I think it gives the cook a whole new appreciation for the lowly legume. I'm not saying that it's not an investment to go out and buy a cast iron Dutch oven, but given the versatility of said cookware, and the pennies on the dollar price of dry beans, I'm pretty sure you'll get back what you paid with dividends over the life of that pot. As awesome as "turbo beans" are, there are occasions where only a slow simmer will produce those deep and complex flavors. And while I'm not at all keen on mushy bean, this is a case where a modest amount of bean texture has to give way for the common culinary good.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
90 Minutes' Worth of Beans
What Makes 'em Saucy
For the first round of cooking, preheat your outdoor cooker (or your oven) to 250F. Rinse and sort the dry beans, then dump them into a 5 quart cast iron dutch oven with a heavy lid. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and enough water to cover the beans by an inch and a half. Bring the pot to a boil on the stove over high heat, stirring occasionally. Once boiling is achieved, lid up the pot stuff and move it to the BBQ over indirect heat (or the stove). Set the timer for 75 minutes and walk away. When 75 is up, remove from the hot box, wait 10 minutes before opening and then drain.
For round two, move the temperature up in your cooker (or oven) to 300F (again you want indirect heat). Add the cooked beans back to the dutch oven, then add the diced tomatoes and chiles, chopped onion, minced garlic,diced bacon,ketchup, molasses, applesauce,cider vinegar,liquid smoke,allspice,Kosher salt, dry mustard, coriander, and black pepper. Give it all a good stir, lid the pot back up and put it back into the cooker/oven for 4 hours or until desired doneness is reached.
- I'm just gonna address this up front: Yes you could use canned beans for this. If you're looking to give your can opener even more exercise, it'll take two cans of the beans of your liking, rinsed and drained, then mixed with all the other saucely ingredients. In an appropriate-sized Crock Pot or similar slow cooker, you can expect beandom in 2 hours on high with frequent stirring (say about every 20 minutes), or 4 hours on low for a proper simmer.
- While you're gonna need a Dutch oven, you don't necessarily need to be doing these outside on your grill. The oven works just as well as charcoal, and at the end of the day, I suppose it's your choice as to how you want to increase your carbon footprint.
- I personally dig the thick cut bacon for this. The thin stuff tends to get lost in there, but if you're in a hurry (for SLOW simmered beans?!), and you gotta use that paper-thin pre cooked stuff, you'll need to triple up on those strips. This is no time for self-denial.
- These cook so long that the cut of the onion is really all about texture. Cut 'em big if you want identifiable pieces in there, or consider a dice if you've got onion-haters in your house so as to have 'em melt into oblivion. Whatever you do, just don't leave 'em out; it's integral to the flavor of the dish.
- Between the acid in the tomatoes and that straight shot of vinegar, there is a potential to do some damage to that hard-earned layer of carbon gilding your cast iron cooker. Use an enameled pot if you've got it (and you're paranoid), or be sure to evacuate and rinse the pot ASAP upon desired bean doneness.
So for a six hour start-to-finish trip, is it possible to achieve slow-simmered legume awesomeness? Imho, the answer is an emphatic "yes," with an asterisk. These aren't the beans you're used to; that is to say that there's gonna be some chewing involved (but this is a good thing). The way I have it figured, canned beans have long since jaded the modern consumer's expectation of beans in general. Put another way, this is a pot of beans with texture; where the beans are identifiable and not lost in a sea of sauce. If saucy mush is more your thing, then you could add a can of beer during the second stage of cooking and plan for another 2 hours over the fire.
We simmer things for a reason, and being lazy doesn't count. We're building layers of flavor, and when you do a simmer right, your beans won't taste like a muddled mess. The spiced sweetness of the molasses and the onion hit you up front, and as you finish a bite, that subtle smokiness and a trailing bit of heat perfectly illustrate that point about how a good simmer is all about layering those flavors. You can pretty much serve this pot of beans with anything that comes off the grill, whether it be a juicy burger, a thick steak or even pork chops. Or, forget the grilled fare entirely. Ignoring the pork belly, a bed of white rice will turn this side into a satisfying quasi-vegetarian meal ('cuz we all know vegetarians are closet bacophiles anyhow).