Ranch Style Bean Substitutes

Anyone who’s a fan of the food that comes from Texas kitchens knows that a big pot of ranch style beans has pride of place at every Texas barbeque.

Ranch style beans are also a great favorite at camp-outs, cooked over a fire pit in a Dutch oven. Nothing like a bowl of hot, smoky, sweet and tangy ranch style beans eaten outdoors as evening sets in.

Ranch style beans, and really any bean recipe, can be cooked on the stovetop or in a slow cooker. All it takes is to put all the ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 8-12 hours.

Some people like to finish their cooked ranch style beans by putting them in a casserole and grating plenty of sharp cheese over them. They then broil the beans for a few minutes until the cheese melts.

Ranch style beans are great as a main dish over rice and topped with cheese, and can also fill enchiladas and tacos. They go well with grilled chicken, hamburgers, and steak.

Other main dishes that ranch-style beans go well with include grilled pork chops, beef barbeque, short ribs, quesadillas, and barbequed chicken.

You can find canned ranch style beans in Texas supermarkets and grocery stores, but outside of the Lone Star State, canned ranch beans are hard to find. 

So if you get a sudden craving for beans with that special Texas flavor and you’re far from Texas, it’s good to know that you can cook up a pot of your own with very little expense or trouble.

It’s not hard to produce tender beans in rich chili gravy and that ranch-style flavor. But it does take time if you’re cooking from scratch.

The ingredients of ranch style beans include pinto beans, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Seasonings are chili, ground cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and something sweet. 

Stock is often the liquid base for cooking the beans. A piece of smoked meat such as bacon is sometimes added to ranch style beans, although not always.

Here we break down the ingredients of the best possible ranch style bean substitute: 

Ranch Style Bean Substitutes

Beans. Some argue that pinto beans are the only possible kind that should go into ranch style beans. But sometimes pinto beans are just not available.

In that case, light red kidney beans work very well. Dark red kidney beans are also delicious cooked ranch style.

Remember, though, every bean has a distinctive flavor. Be prepared to taste some variation in the flavor of the finished dish if you’re subbing another bean for pintos.

Onions and garlic. Every bean dish needs onions and garlic, that’s just a given. The best is to use fresh, as the beans will be cooking for a good few hours. 

But if you’re in a rush or stuck without fresh onions and garlic, use powdered onion and dried, granulated garlic. Be aware: dried ingredients will never be as tasty as fresh, but only make an acceptable substitute.

Tomatoes. We’re fans of fresh ingredients. Juicy, ripe tomatoes, chopped up just before adding to the pot, make the best ranch style beans.

But reasonable substitutes are tomato paste, canned chopped tomatoes, commercial tomato sauce, dried tomatoes, and even ketchup. When subbing tomato sauce or ketchup, you’ll need to adjust the amount of sweetener in the recipe.

Chilies. You have a variety of chilies to choose from, to get that bit of heat into the beans. Each kind has its own level of heat and its own flavor. 

For the authentic ranch-style flavor, buy chilies with a smoky flavor. Ancho chilies and other typical Mexican chilies are available smoked – search for one and use it in the recipe.

Smoked chilies are dried, either whole or in powder form. Whole dried chilies should be soaked in warm water for a few minutes.

Once whole dried chilies are softened in warm water, slice away the stems, slit the chilies open, and remove the seeds. The seeds are the hottest part of the chili; leaving them in may make your beans too spicy.

Chili powder also works. You’ll need to add it to the pot a little at a time, tasting as you go to ensure the level of spiciness you want. 

Hot paprika can be used instead of chili powder. As a last resort, use enchilada sauce or red chili sauce.

Fresh hot chilis can be sliced into the bean pot if no smoked chilis are available. A little smokiness is desired, but the main thing is to provide that zing of heat.

Dry spices. Cumin is the favorite spice in many Tex-Mex dishes and is important in ranch-style beans. Its warm, earthy flavor can’t really be substituted.

You may add a few pinches of powdered coriander seed to the pot as well. The flavors of coriander seed and cumin complement each other.

Oregano also imparts that typical ranch-style flavor to beans. If you don’t have oregano, substitute small amounts of thyme or marjoram.

Sweetener. A little sweetness offsets the heat and spiciness of ranch style beans. The most often used sweetener is brown sugar. 

A little molasses can be subbed for brown sugar. As with any substituted ingredient, stir in just a little at a time, and keep tasting the results.

Maple syrup can be also be used and adds a light, sweet layer of flavor to the beans. But although tasty, maple syrup is the least authentic of sweeteners for ranch style beans.

Stock. You can certainly cook your beans in plain water, but there’s no denying that stock adds the best, home-cooked flavor. We recommend a strong broth of beef or beef bones.

Flavorful stock is also made from chicken or turkey wings or necks, or the bones and meat leftover from roast chicken or turkey.

If you choose to skip making stock, buy commercially prepared stock or broth and use it to cook the beans in.

Meat. Although meat is optional, many cooks like to add cubes of bacon or a ham hock to the bean pot. This adds substance and hearty flavor.

However, vegetarian ranch style beans are delicious cooked in a quickly-made vegetarian broth.  

Fry until soft, in good oil, an onion, a garlic clove, two celery stalks, a tomato and a chopped carrot.​ Cover the vegetables with water and add a bay leaf and salt. 

Cook on low 30 minutes. Cool the broth; strain it, and it’s ready to use.

Note: try to stay as close as possible to the original ranch beans recipe. Replace as few ingredients as possible to obtain the ranch-style bean flavor you want. 

Below are several recipes for ranch style beans. Choose the recipe that suits your taste and available ingredients.

Ranch Style Beans With Lots of Chili 

YIELD: 6-8 servings.


1 package (16 ounces) dried pinto beans

1 quart water

1 can (6 oz) tomato paste

1 cup chopped onion

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1-2 tablespoons chili powder

2- 3 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram


Put the beans in a large pot or soup kettle.

Add water to cover the beans by 2 inches.

Bring the water to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat. Cover it and let it stand for 1 hour.

Drain the beans and discard the water. 

Return the beans to the pan and add 1 quart of water.

Bring the beans to a boil. Reduce heat, then cover the pot.

Simmer for 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours, or until the beans are tender but not mushy. 

Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil again. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and simmer the beans  1-1/2 hours longer. 

Quick Three-Bean Ranch Style Beans

This is an unconventional, quickly-cooked variation on ranch beans. It makes a great filling for quesadillas.

Serves 6-8.


2 tablespoons oil

2 chopped onions

1 can each kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 cups canned chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon chili powder

Maple syrup to taste

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste


Drain and rinse all the beans.

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and fry until golden over medium-low heat.

Add all the beans, and the garlic. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes. 

Fry all for around 2 minutes, then add chili powder and chopped tomatoes with all their juice. Cook, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes soften –10-15 minutes. 

Add the maple syrup, smoked paprika, and cumin.

Season with salt and pepper.

Cook for 15-20 minutes. Serve.

See Related Topic: Mustard Seeds Substitute Guide

Ranch Style Beans Made From Scratch

This recipe offers both the traditional method of soaking the beans overnight in lots of water or a quicker alternative: put the beans in a pot and cover them with water, then boil them. 

Let the beans sit in the hot water, covered, 1 hour. 

Either way, drain the beans and proceed with the recipe.


16 oz. dried pinto beans

6 ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed

2 tablespoons oil

1 cup of warm water

1 large onion, diced

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 15 oz. can of tomatoes or 2 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon oregano

6 cups of beef broth

Salt and black pepper to taste


Sear the stemmed and de-seeded ancho chilies in a dry skillet, on both sides. Turn the heat off and add 1 cup of warm water to the skillet, just covering the chilies. Leave the chilis to soak for ½ hour.

Heat the oil in another skillet, over medium heat. Add the onions. Stir and cook the onions for 10 minutes.

Add the garlic. Cook 1 minute further.

Place the onion and garlic mixture in a blender, adding the brown sugar, vinegar, tomatoes, cumin, paprika, oregano, and the chilis in their water. Blend until it becomes a puree.

Get your blender and place the cooked onion and garlic, including the tomatoes, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, paprika, cumin, oregano, water, and the anchos chili. Blend until they form a puree.

Have ready a soup kettle or large pot. Cook the beans in the beef broth and the pureed seasonings over high heat until they boil. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook 2 hours, or until the beans are tender and the gravy thick.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve.


Ranch Style Bean Substitutes

So what’s the difference between ranch style beans and chili beans?

Chili beans are a recipe also based on pinto beans, but differences in the ingredients give them their own unique flavor.

How about ranch style beans vs. baked beans?

Baked beans are usually made with white beans and are much more highly sweetened than ranch style beans.

I want to make ranch style beans using canned pinto beans. 

Canned beans are cooked through and can be cooked with all the seasonings right away. 

It’s best to drain and then rinse canned beans before cooking, to get rid of the salt in the canning liquid.

Any tips?

The personal taste of the cook is as important an ingredient as any on the recipe list. 

The most important parts of the recipe don’t change: beans, onions, garlic, something acidic like tomatoes or vinegar, spices, and something sweet. Take the recipe instructions as a guide, not as law. 

Stock as the basic cooking liquid is considered essential by some and optional by others. Some feel that if the beans cook with bacon or beef, the stock isn’t necessary. 

If you don’t like the taste of oregano, substitute marjoram, and so on. Tweek the recipe until you find what you consider the perfect combination of flavors. 

See Related Article: Tumeric Substitution

Help! How can I make substitute ranch style beans in a big rush?

This is what’s known as a “quick and dirty” recipe. It’s not at all dirty, just quick. 

Combine a can of pinto beans and a can of chili sauce and heat it through. That’s it. 

But you can freshen the flavor with a few more additions.

Stir in half a teaspoon of paprika, oregano, marjoram, or cumin, or add a little onion or garlic salt. Lacking those spices, stir in a package of taco seasoning. 

Note that you must keep tasting for salt when adding commercially prepared seasonings like onion and garlic salt and taco seasoning. It’s easy to spoil the dish with too many salty add-ins.

To get that distinctive smoky flavor, add a teaspoon of liquid smoke to the beans and let it heat through.

Taste and adjust seasoning.

What to serve with ranch style beans

Cornbread is the classic accompaniment to ranch style beans. And remember to set out bowls of toppings for the beans, such as:

Shredded cheddar cheese

Thinly sliced jalapeño peppers (for the real chili-heads)

Chopped green onions

Thinly sliced white onions

Chopped cilantro or parsley

Sour cream

Storing ranch style beans, or any cooked beans

The cooked beans can stay out safely for up to 2 hours, at normal room temperature. After that, they should be stored in the refrigerator.

Leftover beans will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Freeze them for up to one month.

To reheat frozen beans, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. Warm them over low heat until hot enough for your preference.


Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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