Sometimes, when you’re outside barbecuing, you just don’t want to go back inside to make a side dish. This is where “Yard Beans” come into play at my house. I can just break out my cast iron dutch oven and cook a pot of beans out in the yard.
Something about beef slow-cooking in the barbecue pit and a savory pot of beans bubbling away off to the side makes me happy. It’s just relaxing.
The cast iron dutch oven being the Official Texas State Cooking Implement somehow makes the beans taste even better.
For this recipe, we’ll be using a cast iron “camp” oven. This type of dutch oven has a flat bottom, flat sides, and a flat, flanged lid. The flanges on the lid are designed to prevent coals dumped on top from sliding off. A camp dutch oven also includes three legs, which hold the oven off the ground, so that it’ll stay level over coals placed underneath.
It’s the perfect tool for cooking outdoors and has been used for hundreds of years for just that. Some credit Paul Revere with adding the legs to the bottom of the pot and the flange to the lid, and Lewis and Clark were known to have carried dutch ovens with them on their expeditions throughout the West.
You don’t need a lot of equipment to cook beans in a cast iron dutch oven in your backyard. Just the basics. You’ll need a camp dutch oven, of course, a lid lifter, and maybe some barbecue tongs for picking up charcoal. It’s helpful to have a chimney charcoal starter and a lid stand, but you might be able to make do without them by improvising a bit.
Since you won’t be doing any baking, you won’t have to worry about putting charcoal on top of the lid to heat from the top. You’ll just need to put some underneath to get everything simmering.
To get your dutch oven up to a boil (if you’re using a 12-inch dutch oven), about 18 charcoal briquettes underneath should do it.
A lot of variables go into the number of charcoal briquettes you use, though. A windy day can reduce the heat output of the charcoal a bit, for example. Another thing to watch for is wet ground. Moisture can sap the heat from the charcoal. Sandy or loose soil can do the same. I generally put my dutch oven on a galvanized drum lid to help prevent that. The lip on it also helps prevent embers from igniting any nearby grass.
Putting it in a firepit also works just fine.
Once you’ve got your beans up to boiling, you’ll want to remove enough coals to bring things back down to a simmer. Leave about 8-10 for a 12-inch dutch oven.
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Keep in mind, beans take about an hour and a half to cook. The briquettes will only burn for about half an hour, maybe a little longer before they burn out. You’ll need to replace the coals a couple of times before the beans are done.
Using a chimney starter, it takes about 5-10 minutes for the charcoal to fully light. Be sure you’ve got fresh coals burning before the previous batch burns out. I keep a small whisk broom handy (straw bristles only) to sweep away the ash before laying down a new bed of coals.
Yard Beans – Pinto Beans in a Cast Iron Dutch Oven
- 1 lb. dried pinto beans
- 2 tbsp. oil
- 1 large yellow onion - diced
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 1 lb. smoked pork hocks
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic - minced
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup green chiles - 1-2 green chiles. Roasted, peeled, de-seeded, and diced
- kosher salt - to taste
The Night Before
- Pick through the dried beans to remove any rocks or debris that might have found their way in there. Put the beans in a large bowl and fill with water so that the beans are submerged with at least 2-inches of water over them.
- Roast the green chiles – Roast your green chiles over charcoal, a gas burner, or under the broiler, on the top rack in your oven, until the skins are completely blackened. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool. Remove, then gently wipe off the skins with your fingers. Remove the stems and seeds, then dice.
The Next Day
- Drain and rinse your beans.
- Light 18 charcoal briquettes in a chimney starter or barbecue pit. Once they've fully lit (the coals are white) place them, evenly spaced, underneath your cast iron dutch oven. Pour the cooking oil into the dutch oven and heat until shimmering. Add the diced onions and saute until translucent and starting to brown.
- Add the chicken stock, beans, pork hocks, black pepper, garlic, bay leaves, and cayenne pepper to the pot and stir thoroughly. Cover and bring to a boil.
- Once the pot has come to a boil, remove enough charcoal to leave about 8-10 underneath the dutch oven to bring it down to a simmer (depending on weather conditions – see above). Simmer covered, for 1 hour, replacing the coals as necessary to maintain the simmer (about every 30 minutes, or so).
- Remove the pork hocks from the beans to a cutting board. Cut the meat and skin off the bones. Discard the bones and skin (if desired – I dice the skin and put it back in). Dice up the meat and stir it back into the pot.
- Add the diced green chiles to the pot, then smash about 1/2 a cup of the beans up against the side of the pot and stir them back in (this will make the broth creamy). Cover and simmer for at least another 30 minutes, or until the beans are tender. If the broth appears too thick, add more stock. If it's too thin, add enough hot coals underneath to bring back to a boil, uncover and let reduce to the desired consistency.
- Add salt to taste and serve.
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