The first time I had this dish was at a get-together with my then-future-in-laws. My mother-in-law made it, and it was consumed immediately with none left for later. I have since seen this recipe in many variations under many different names. I actually have it titled “Dana’s Cowboy Beans” in my personal recipe book because Dana is my mother-in-law’s name 🙂
Usually the recipes call for canned beans, which does make this dish very easy to throw together. And since it makes a large amount, it is an ideal potluck dish.
I keep it more frugal and a tad healthier by using dried beans and cooking them together, or using beans previously cooked and pulled from the freezer. If I don’t have bacon on hand, I just leave it out or add a tablespoon or less of bacon grease, which we save in a jar in the refrigerator. Additionally, I don’t buy pork and beans so I just leave those out and add in a bit more of the other types of beans. (If I were using canned beans, I would personally rinse them, but if you aren’t worried about sodium, then just dump them in straight from the can.)
A good substitution for the barbecue sauce is tomato sauce or tomato paste. Really any kind of tomato product. Sometimes I have it and sometimes I don’t, but I always have a canned tomato product so I usually use that.
And, lastly, for substitutes, I have also swapped out the ground beef with browned bulk sausage, leftover spaghetti sauce with meat and leftover sloppy joe mixture, all with success, albeit a slightly different taste with each.
So, in a nutshell, this is a recipe that is easily adaptable to whatever you have on hand and also lends itself to turning leftovers, such as sloppy job mixture, into a new meal. Don’t be afraid to just wing it because really I have never messed this one up!
Dana’s Cowboy Beans
- 2 tsp dry mustard or Tb prepared mustard
- 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 2 Tb white syrup (corn syrup or Karo syrup)
- 1 can each butter beans, pork 'n beans, pinto beans & kidney beans
- 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
- 6-8 slices bacon, diced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- Brown the ground beef, bacon and onion in a pan. Drain. Add all other ingredients to the meat mixture and stir to combine. Transfer to a baking dish and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
While I haven’t tried it, I do think this dish can be frozen ahead and popped into the oven to warm. To make in a slow cooker, after cooking the meat, add all ingredients to the slow cooker and mix to combine. Cook on low for 3-4 hours or high for 1-2 hours until warmed through.
If you try this recipe, please let us know in the comments what variations you used and how your family liked it!