Make Pinto Beans and Ham

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We’re traveling back in time today to learn how to cook dried beans the traditional Southern way. Then we’re gonna take those beans and make this scrumptiously tender Southern pinto beans and ham recipe.

Spoonful of pinto beans and ham.

I’m not kidding when I call pintos (or pinto beans as you might know them), beloved in the south. A bowl of pintos, seasoned with ham, topped with onion, and served with a big old wedge of hot cornbread – that’s just good old Southern soul food in my neck of the woods. For many Southerners these days, this pinto beans and ham recipe is the food of nostalgia. Mention them to my grandmother and you’ll hear “Mmmmm, mmm, I just love me a bowl of pintos in the fall!”. 

Originally, this meal came about as a staple in the diet of “po folks” down south. Dried beans were affordable, stored well, full of much-needed protein, carbs, and fiber, and were filling enough to provide a stick-to-your-ribs meal that was greatly appreciated by people who had spent their day working the fields or other backbreaking labor.

Why I love to cook dried beans

Now there are several great things about dried beans. First is their shelf life. Dried beans can keep almost indefinitely (my mother says they do keep indefinitely but I have never seen them last very long at my house because they are gobbled up). They can also be an excellent source of protein, take very little to prepare, and are filling, to boot! Toss in how inexpensive they are and it’s easy to see why they were a depression-era favorite.

Nowadays, I’ve seen several movements encouraging people to have a “meatless meal” night in their homes, both for health and economical purposes. Well, folks, Southerners have been having meatless meals ever since the war between the states!

This method of soaking and cooking dried beans will work for any type of dried bean, not just pintos. Some of my favorite dried beans are lima beans (any variety of lima beans), navy beans, and of course black eyed peas! Cooked beans also keep very well in the fridge with no difference in quality or taste when reheated. I often make a big pot of beans and eat them as a meal one night before serving them as sides another night or two that week!

Hands holding a bowl of pinto beans and ham.

My pinto beans and ham recipe

Today, as well as showing you how to cook dried beans the traditional way, I’m gonna show you how to turn dried beans into this delicious pinto bean and smoked ham hock recipe. If you want to make beans like the Southerners do, you’re going to need some meat to season your beans. If you’ve ever eaten a whole ham at a Southerner’s house you’ve probably noticed them saving the hambone and wrapping it in foil to place in the freezer. We are notorious for saving bits of ham and bones from here and there so that we always have something to season our beans with.

Another great thing about seasoning your beans with ham hocks or a ham bone with ham still on it is that after your beans are cooked all the way, we take out the hocks and pick the tender meat off of them to put back into the pot. Oh my! Bits of savory and tender cooked ham in with this pinto beans recipe… oh lawd, we’re eatin’ good now! If you’re looking for other recipes to make with leftover ham, you’re gonna want to check out this post. Okay, let’s get cookin’!

Ingredients for pinto beans and ham.

Recipe Ingredients

  • Pinto beans
  • Ham hocks, sliced ham, or bacon
  • Sugar 
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Vegetable oil

How to Cook Dried Beans & Make Pinto Beans and Ham

Sort dried beans before placing in large pot.

Sort your beans. Sometimes, tiny little stones make their way into your bag of dried beans. What we want to do is carefully pour a handful at a time and look through them. I just do this as I am putting them in my pot.

Fill pot with dried beans completely with water.

Fill your pot completely with water. These dried pinto beans need to be soaked overnight before we cook them. You want plenty of water because you’ll be surprised at how much your beans soak up.

I have filled a bowl to the brim with water before and woke to find the beans dry again and expanded to the top of the bowl!

Place lid on pot and soak dried beans overnight.

Quick Soak Method

There are methods of quick soaking on the package which involve sorting beans, covering them with water, and bringing them to a boil as a replacement for the overnight soak. While these methods work in a pinch, I find that my beans taste the absolute best when I just think ahead and soak them overnight. After using the quick soak method a few times, I’ve found that it’s just not worth it for me. But if you would like a recipe for the quick soak method, click here.

Add more water the next morning to the dried beans.

The next morning, drain off that water and cover the soaked beans in new water. Fill your pot as high as you can because they are going to cook down often and you want them to remain at least covered in water.

Add sugar to pot.

Making Pinto Beans and Ham

Now we’re going to season our dried beans to make pinto beans and ham. First, I add one tablespoon of sugar, because my great-grandmother always did like to add a “lil bit of sugar in thangs”.

Add salt to pot.

Next, add two tablespoons of salt. You will likely end up adding more but two is a good starting point.

Add pepper to pot.

Then 1 tablespoon of pepper…

Add oil to pot.

And about three tablespoons of vegetable oil.

Add ham hock to pot with dried beans.

Now toss in your ham hock or bone or whatever you are going to use for the meat seasoning. You can do without that if you are a vegetarian… just pretend you put the ham in. 

Stir pinto beans and ham ingredients together and bring to a boil.

Now just stir that up and bring it to a boil.

Simmer pinto beans and ham for several hours.

Once it is brought to a boil, turn it down to a simmer and simmer for several hours.

I get mine on in the morning right after my son goes to school and then let it simmer all day, eating it at supper. By supper time that juice in the pot is every bit as good as the beans.

Pinto beans and ham after simmering for hours.

Tada! How good do these pintos and ham look?

How to cook dried beans to make this bowl of pinto beans and ham with bread.

I serve mine with chopped onions, bits of cooked ham from the ham hocks I used, and a big old wedge of cornbread.


  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
  • You can also freeze cooked dried beans for months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating as above.

Recipe Notes

  • If you want to boost the veggie intake, add 1 cup of chopped celery and 1 chopped onion to the saucepot.
  • Want to add some heat? Go ahead and add 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or chili powder when you throw in the other seasonings.
  • You can use so many different types of meat in this recipe. Substitute the ham hock for leftover ham slices, bacon, smoked turkey legs or wings, browned smoked sausage, or even chicken if you like.
  • Some other seasoning suggestions: 1/2 teaspoon of dried or fresh thyme and 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, 3 cloves of minced garlic or 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, or 2 bay leaves.

Recipe FAQs

Can I cook pinto beans and ham hock in the slow cooker?

Absolutely! Crock pot pinto beans are a popular dish. So once you drain the beans, place them in the slow cooker and continue with the instructions. Instead of simmering for several hours, you can get the same effect by cooking it on low for 6 to 8 hours. The end result will be just as flavorful and tender.

You may also enjoy these recipes:

Red Beans and Rice Recipe Louisiana Style from Hello Fresh

Red Beans and Cornbread Online Potluck of Recipes!

The Best Cornbread Recipes

Bowl of pinto beans and ham.

How to Cook Dried Beans to Make Pinto Beans and Ham

Learn how to cook dried beans the traditional Southern way and use this method to make this scrumptiously tender pinto beans and ham recipe.
Prep Time: 8 hours
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 10 hours
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: beans, ham
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 127kcal


  • 1 package dried beans
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp pepper
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 package ham hocks, sliced ham, or bacon Optional and use as much as you like. Adds a nice flavor to the beans.


  • Sort your beans and place them in a large pot, covering them with water. Let the dried beans soak overnight.
    1 package dried beans
  • Drain the soak water and cover your beans with new water. Add the following according to taste: salt, pepper, sugar, and oil. A good rule of thumb is to start with a tablespoon of each and then taste it several hours later and add more if you think it needs it. Add one of the following for additional seasoning: ham hock, ham bone, or slices of country ham. In a pinch, I have actually seasoned my beans with bacon before.
    1 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp pepper, 3 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 package ham hocks, sliced ham, or bacon
  • Bring water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and reduce heat to low. Stir the beans occasionally to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot, about every 30 minutes. Gently cook beans over low heat until tender and the consistency that you want, 60 to 90 minutes (may take more time depending on how you like them).


Calories: 127kcal
Tried this recipe?Mention @southernplate or tag #southernplate!

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  1. I remember my mom cooking dry beans. She always had a small pot of water she would bring to a boil then when the water in the bean pot was getting low so she could add water without slowing down the beans cooking.

    We lived in Arkansas and didn’t have air conditioning when I was a kid so she always cooked her cornbread in the morning before it got so hot. When I was young I didn’t understand that but now I know southern women are so smart.

    I also was a picky eater. Probably didn’t eat the beans but what I would give to get to walk in her kitchen and have some beans and cornbread now. Lost my mom in 1993.

    1. Yes, Kathy, wouldn’t it be wonderful to walk in the kitchen and cook with mom again! Lost my mom in 2009; miss her every day!

  2. Thank you for posting the pinto beans recipe. I would love to be able to make them like my grandmother, and I think this is pretty similar, although I believe she almost always used fat back instead of ham. Cannot wait to try it with just that one alteration and pickled cauliflower and fried taters… lol and of course cornbread for the hubby. Thanks again.

  3. I love pinto beans, and will do them in my slow cooker, I don’t bother to soak and rinse them, since they go on early in the morning, I simply clean them, put them in the cooker, and add tons of water (I use my largest cooker, and usually a pound of beans,) put it on low and leave to cook all day, I never salt my beans before cooking, but have been known to put in a chunk of ham or a ham hock. Sometimes I will season them after cooking, but I usually just put out the salt and pepper and everyone seasons them in the bowl. My favourite way to eat them is to chop onion fine add to the bowl, add a good chunk of butter, and some salt and pepper, and start eating. I have been known to start them at 5 am, and they will cook until 5 pm or later on low.

  4. This is without a doubt the BEST beans I’ve had! I never thought to add a little sugar to them. Southerners are genius and this made me a little homesick. 🙂 My husband and kids all agreed that these were amazing, not a single “This is all we’re having for dinner?” from anyone. They just gobbled them up. Saved the ham bone from Christmas dinner and threw that in, with a little extra Christmas ham chunks I had set aside as well for a little more substance. Happy mommy, happy family, happy tummy!

    1. Christy,
      Thank you so much for posting the pinto beans recipes and all the other delicious southern recipes. My father was raised in MS and my mother in IL. My mother was raised by her grandma who didn’t want help in the kitchen. My father and his brothers were not allowed in the kitchen until time to eat. My mom learned to cook after they got married. The first time my mom visited MS, the family was sitting in the great room shelling crowder peas. My mom asked why they were shelling them. They answered they were shelling them to eat. My mom said that they gave those peas to the cows. She asked to help in the kitchen and was told to fix the okra. My mom said she would be happy to fix it if someone showed her where it was and hw to cook it. She was not well liked in my father’s family for many years. I did not grow up eating southern foods but I love them. My husband is from TN and loves pintos. I asked his mom how to cook them but I got a strange look so I just continued to eat them at her house. You have been a tremendous blessing to me and my family. I look forward to your email every day and open it first. Thanks so much for all you do.

  5. Hey. Being from the south, I looooove me some good I’m southern country cooking. I am commenting on the BBQ sundae. What a doggone wondermous idea. Looks like Heaven in a cup! Sheer Genius!!!

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