How to Make Refried Beans

We’re not sure where the term refritos (or “Refried Beans,” for you white people) came from, since these beans aren’t really RE-fried…they’re just, well, fried. Refried beans can be made from any type of bean, though are usually made from either pinto beans or black beans. Indeed, some say that there is an invisible “bean line” that crosses midway through Mexico, with Northern Mexicans preferring pinto-based refritos, and Southern Mexicans leaning more toward the traditional black bean that has been a staple in that part of the country for hundreds of years.

It doesn’t matter what kind of bean you prefer; refried beans couldn’t be simpler. Water, salt, some kind of lard, and, since we cut our teeth on Connecticut’s uniquely sterilized brand of Mexican food growing up, we chose to go with the red pinto bean. The results were far, far tastier than anything that comes out of a can, and almost as simple to prepare.

Refried Beans


  • 2 1/2 cups of dry pinto beans (about 1LB, or 450 grams)
  • 3 quarts of water
  • 2 tablespoons of pork lard, bacon fat, or (sigh) olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Cumin, to taste (we used about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • Handful of Jack or Cheddar cheese (optional)


Combine beans and water in large saucepan. Water should cover dried beans by about an inch and a half. (A quick note about pre-soaking beans: Bittman doesn’t do it, so neither do we.) Simmer, covered, about 2-2 1/2 hours. Beans are done when skin starts to split and beans are soft. Drain over bowl, so you catch the leftover bean water.

In the same pan you boiled the beans in, melt two tablespoons of lard, or leftover bacon fat, or, if you insist, olive oil. But really, we have to side with Mexico on this one: If you are eating refried beans, you are eating lard, and you had better get used to it. Cook onions until translucent. Season with salt and cumin. Add cooked beans, and a bit of the bean water (about 1/4 cup). Mash beans with a potato masher, until beans reach desired consistency, adding more bean water if needed to keep them from drying out. Top with cheese, if desired, and serve. Buen provecho!


Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road." He currently owns and operates the Ancho Honey restaurant in Maine.


  1. I actually learned why they’re called refried when I was watching some uninteresting food network show this weekend. just the amurricanization of refrito. refried = refrito.

    I need to go on jeopardy.


  2. I read recently that someone had a shitfit about Chipotle not mentioning on their menu that their refried beans weren’t vegetarian. I was baffled that anyone would think otherwise.

    1. the comment about white people is very offensive!! But what’s really ” dumb” , you continue to call the fried beans refried beans after you assign the mislableing of them to dumb white people.
      The reason they are called refried beans,historically , because of the amount of time invested into preparing the fried beans , large batches were prepared and leftovers were refried to serve with meals on subsequent days

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