My Brilliant Hack for Making Canned Beans Taste As Good as a Restaurant

published Mar 20, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Refried beans topped with cotija cheese and cilantro in a blue ceramic bowl with vintage spoon
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

I grew up in Texas, land of Tex-Mex, where every platter of sizzling fajitas comes standard with a little plate of Spanish rice and refried beans. The beans were (and still are) my favorite part of the whole experience. Bean and cheese was always my favorite breakfast taco. I will order refried beans just about any chance I get, and I make them often at home. 

The problem is that homemade refried beans take a long time to make, and the store-bought cans tend to have a gluey consistency. That’s where my refried beans come in. I like to call them semi-homemade because you are doing a little cooking, but only a teensy fraction of the real thing.

You frizzly-fry some onions quickly in a saucepan with whatever fat you have on hand. I love using schmaltz or bacon fat, but you can keep them vegetarian if you want with butter or olive oil. Then you dump the whole can of beans and liquid into the pan. (Do not drain and rinse the beans!) The starchy bean liquid will rapidly thicken everything up. I like to sprinkle in some taco seasoning, but you could add whatever spices you like — garlic powder, cumin, and chili powder are all good calls. 

Then, you mash the beans up directly in the pan and add just a little bit of vinegar at the end to really make the beans sing. The whole process takes about 10 minutes and it’s leaps and bounds better than any store-bought refried beans I’ve ever had.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Why It Works

  • These beans come together in about 10 minutes, but taste much closer to homemade refried beans than the store-bought cans.
  • This method can be applied to any beans you prefer.

How To Make Semi-Homemade Refried Beans

  1. Cook onions. Halve and thinly slice a small onion, then cook in a small saucepan over high heat with a tablespoon or two of the fat of your choice — bacon fat, schmaltz, butter, and olive oil are all great options. Fry the onions until they are softened and crispy in spots.
  2. Add the beans. Dump a can of pinto, black, or cranberry beans and the can liquid into the saucepan along with a few teaspoons of taco seasoning (you can adjust this to your taste). Cook for a few minutes to warm everything up and thicken slightly, about 5 minutes.
  3. Mash the beans. Remove the saucepan from the heat and roughly mash the beans with a potato masher or a fork. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and season with kosher salt to taste.

Try It with These Recipes