Perfect Frijoles Refritos (Mexican Refried Beans) Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • By offering choices, including bean type, fat type, and mashing techniques, this recipe makes it possible to get exactly the style of refried beans you want.
  • Starting with dried beans and cooking them with flavorful aromatics like herbs, onion, and garlic results in a much more delicious final dish.

What do you do when life gives you more than 16 pounds of cooked beans? That was the question I was left asking myself after my tests to figure out the ratio between dry and cooked beans. Some I ended up freezing, the chickpeas I turned into a simple, tasty soup, and others made for a quick bean salad.

But I still had more left! With Cinco de Mayo approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to turn some of the beans into refried beans, or frijoles refritos, as they're known in Spanish. While refried beans are a relatively simple dish, I've never cooked them much at home, so I flipped through some books and looked online to get ideas on how I might go about making my own. As you can imagine, that opened up a can—filled with worms, though, not beans. I found myself confronted with questions of bean types, aromatics in the bean pot, fats used for sautéing, mashing techniques, and more.

With so many beans at my disposal, this seemed like a great opportunity to try multiple methods, with the hope of determining which one is best. What I found, though, is that there's no one right way to make refried beans. It's more of a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing. The key is to understand how each element affects the end result; once you know that, you can make whichever style of refried beans you want.

What Are the Best Beans for Refried Beans?

Pinto beans are the most common choice for refried beans. This is definitely true in Tex-Mex cooking, and from what I've read, they're a popular choice in Mexico too, though other bean varieties are also used there. If not pintos, black beans are the second most common choice—they're the bean of choice in Oaxaca, for example. I made batches with both to see how they compared.

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Pinto Beans

When most of us think of refried beans, it's the pinto bean version that comes to mind, and for good reason: pinto beans make absolutely stunning refried beans. Cooked pinto beans have a slightly sweet, earthy flavor, and are plump, tender, and creamy, which means they mash easily and beautifully.

Black Beans

Black beans are smaller than pintos, and, even when thoroughly cooked, have a firmer consistency. Depending on the tool you use to mash them, they can be a little harder to crush, partly because of their firmness, and partly because they're small. With the potato masher that I used, for instance, they tended to slip through its grooves, which meant I had to spend a bit more time working them into a paste. Black beans don't have the same sweet note that pintos do, but they still make delicious refried beans.

Other Beans

At its essence, refried beans are just a really flavorful bean purée, and while pintos and black beans are the most common choices, there's no reason this basic method couldn't work with any bean. Other beans, like chickpeas and cannellini, may not make a particularly authentic-tasting plate of refried beans, but they'd still be totally delicious.

Add Aromatics for Flavor

While the variety of bean has a major impact on how the dish will taste, what you cook the dried beans with is also important. Onion and garlic, at the very least, will add remarkable flavor to the pot. In Mexico, it's common to throw a couple large sprigs of epazote in as well.

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It's difficult to describe its flavor, but when fresh it has a scent somewhere between oregano and menthol. As my batch of pintos with epazote cooked, its smell changed, becoming more subtle and shifting to a green smell, almost like cooked broccoli, along with a hint of dill. In the finished dish of refried beans, I found that the epazote enhanced the sweetness of the pintos. (It also supposedly lessens the gassy effects of beans, but I didn't really have a methodical way of testing that, which is probably for the better.)

I happen to live in a neighborhood where it's easy to find epazote, but if you can't, other herbs will work as well, adding their own distinct flavors. A test batch that I tried with oregano resulted in beans with a deeper, woodsier flavor. The one thing you don't want to do is cook the beans in plain water with no aromatics: mine came out tasting flat and dull, and the refried beans I made with them were noticeably less delicious as well.

Choosing a Fat for Refried Beans

Once the beans are cooked, the next step is to heat some type of fat in the pan, then cook onion and/or garlic in it, and finally add in the beans with some of their cooking water. Next to the beans themselves, the choice of fat has a profound impact on the dish.


Lard is the fat called for most in the recipes I looked at, and oh, is it good. I managed to get some really beautiful lard from a Mexican grocer near my apartment. It had a darker color than the pearly-white lard you tend to find in the supermarket, and it smelled and tasted like fried pork rinds, giving the beans a rich, porky flavor. I imagine the whiter lards out there might have a less pronounced flavor, which some folks might prefer.

Bacon Drippings

Lots of recipes also call for bacon drippings, especially from the Tex-Mex tradition. The exact flavor they add will depend on the specific type of bacon you use. I just got some basic, thick-cut Oscar Mayer stuff from the supermarket, and rendered the fat from a few slices. For me, the bacon added a little too much smoky flavor, overwhelming the taste of the beans, though I think bacon fanatics may like it anyway. If you do want to use bacon drippings, I'd suggest diluting it with some vegetable oil to cut the strength.

Vegetable Oil

As I sautéed my onions in the vegetable oil, I was convinced this was going to be my least favorite fat. It just didn't smell particularly flavorful at all. But once I had mashed the beans into it, I was pleasantly surprised by the result: all the other fats added a distinct character to the refried beans, but the vegetable oil stayed out of the way, making it possible to taste the pure, delicious flavor of the beans. So if you want to really taste the beans, a flavorless oil is the way to go.


I wouldn't have even thought of trying butter had I not seen it in the cookbook Zarela's Veracruz by Zarela Martinez. She apparently had been impressed enough by a version she tasted in Mexico to include it in the book. There's no denying that refried beans made with butter taste...different. At first I was really thrown by the flavor, a dairy richness that immediately says French food when you take a bite. But after a few more bites it started to grow on me. It's tasty and worth trying, though I wouldn't make it my default choice.

The Mash and Its Consistency

Once the beans and some of their cooking liquid are in the pan, the next step is to mash them up. You can mash them by hand, or use an appliance like a stick blender or food processor, and each will give a distinctly different texture. If you're lucky enough to own a dedicated Mexican bean masher, more power to you. I don't, so I used a potato masher instead, mashing the beans directly in the pan. It can take a little while to get the beans mashed enough, but I loved the final, chunky texture. A stick blender made a smoother purée, which I can see being appealing for certain things.

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The food processor was my least favorite. Not only did it leave more dishes to clean up, since it requires dirtying all the processor parts, it also chopped the beans to a texture I found less pleasant. Unlike hand-hand mashing, which left larger pieces of their skin intact, the food processor chopped up the skins, creating a rougher, grittier texture.

The final consistency is also a matter of taste. Some people like their refried beans soupier, while others like them as a thick paste. I like them both ways and select a consistency based on how I wanted to use them (smeared on a tortilla, for example, I'd prefer a paste so that it doesn't leak out, but served with rice I'd like it more wet so it could soak into the grains a little). Controlling the consistency is a matter of either adding more bean-cooking water if the beans are too thick and pasty, or cooking them longer if it's too wet.

Additional Flavors

Outside of the basic elements outlined above, some people choose to add other ingredients to their refried beans, though it isn't required. Cumin is a popular spice and can be ground and added to the fat while sautéing the onions. Some people like to add either fresh or dried chiles to the mix, sautéing the fresh ones in the fat or toasting the dried ones in a cast iron skillet until fragrant, then blending them into the purée. In Mexico, avocado leaves are another popular choice—you may be able to find them dried at a Mexican grocer. I've seen some recipes that call for adding them to the bean-cooking pot, and others that purée them into the mash at the end.

What About Canned Beans?

Since time-saving methods are always nice, I tried a batch using canned pintos. Because canned beans don't come with much bean-cooking liquid (and what's there isn't very flavorful), I supplemented it with low-sodium chicken broth. The short answer is, yes, you can use canned beans. The truth, though, is that they didn't compare to the batches made with beans that had been cooked from dried—the flavor wasn't as earthy or layered. With such a huge quantity of great refried beans to eat, I scraped the canned batch into the garbage.

April 2014

Recipe Details

Perfect Frijoles Refritos (Mexican Refried Beans) Recipe

Cook90 mins

Active20 mins

Total90 mins

Makes4 cups


  • 1/2 pound (227g) dried pinto or black beans

  • Water

  • 2 sprigs fresh epazote or oregano (see notes)

  • 1 medium white onion, 1/2 minced (about 1/2 cup; 26g), 1/2 left whole

  • 2 medium cloves garlic

  • Kosher salt

  • 6 tablespoons (77g) lard, bacon drippings, vegetable oil, or butter (see notes)


  1. In a large pot, cover the beans with cold water by at least 2 inches. Add herb sprigs, the whole onion half, and garlic cloves and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until beans are very tender, about 1 to 2 hours. Season with salt. Drain beans, reserving bean-cooking liquid. You should have about 3 cups of cooked beans; if you have more, measure out 3 cups of beans and reserve the rest for another use. Discard herb sprigs, onion, and garlic.

    Perfect Frijoles Refritos (Mexican Refried Beans) Recipe (4)

  2. In a large skillet, heat lard, bacon drippings, or oil until shimmering, or butter until foaming, over medium-high heat. Add minced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and lightly golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in beans and cook for 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of reserved bean-cooking liquid. Using bean masher, potato masher, or back of a wooden spoon, smash the beans to form a chunky purée; alternatively, use a stick blender to make a smoother purée. Thin with more bean cooking water until desired consistency is reached. If refried beans become too wet, simmer, stirring, until thickened; if they become too dry, add more bean-cooking liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed. Season with salt and serve.

    Perfect Frijoles Refritos (Mexican Refried Beans) Recipe (5)

Special Equipment

Bean masher, potato masher, or stick blender


Epazote, a Mexican herb, can be found at Mexican grocers. To add other flavors to the refried beans, try sautéing a pinch of ground cumin or fresh chiles with the minced onion, or puréeing toasted dried chiles into the mixture. Different cooking fats give different flavors to the beans: lard is one of the most traditional, and it adds a porky, funky depth to the beans that's hard to beat; bacon ups the ante even more by layering in a smoky flavor; vegetable oil keeps things neutral so you can really enjoy the flavor of the beans and the aromatics; and butter is decadent and rich without being overpowering.

  • Mexican
  • Dairy-free Sides
  • Gluten-free Sides
  • Stovetop Beans
Perfect Frijoles Refritos (Mexican Refried Beans) Recipe (2024)


What is the secret of refried beans? ›

If you want a thicker refried bean, then use less water. If you want thinner beans, then you will use more broth. Save the leftover bean broth and use it to stir into your leftover beans. As they sit in the refrigerator and chill, they will thicken.

How do restaurants make refried beans taste so good? ›

If you're wondering what is the secret ingredient for restaurant-quality refried beans, the answer is fat. Restaurant-made refried beans honor traditional Mexican culinary practices by adding a hearty helping of lard or bacon fat drippings to their recipe.

What to add to a can of refried beans to make it taste better? ›

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.

What is the difference between frijoles and refried beans? ›

The English term 'refried beans' is a colloquial adaptation of the Spanish frijoles refritos. Frijoles means beans, and refritos means well-fried. A contributing factor may have been the Mexican habit of adding the prefix 're' to emphasize a word's special meaning.

What makes refried beans taste good? ›

Fat and seasoning: Refried beans typically start with cooking beans in fat, such as lard, bacon fat, or vegetable oil. This fat adds richness and flavor to the beans.

What to add to refried beans? ›

Salt and pepper: I usually add a generous pinch of each, but add as much as you would like, to taste. Lime juice: Freshly-squeezed, to help brighten up the flavor of these beans. Butter or oil: If you are making vegan refried beans, skip the butter and use avocado oil or olive oil to sauté the veggies.

How to make frijoles taste better? ›

How do I make canned refried beans taste like restaurant style? Try adding some seasoning such as a little cumin and/or chili powder. Also try adding some monteray jack cheese and letting it melt into the beans.

What thickens refried beans? ›

Cream cheese is the not-so-secret weapon for making refried beans a yummy side dish to accompany rice, or a versatile taco or nacho topping. The dairy in cream cheese not only thickens refried beans to a creamier consistency — cream is in the name — but it also incorporates the rich, silky flavor of dairy.

Why are Mexican restaurant beans so good? ›

Fat and Oil: Refried beans are traditionally cooked with fat or oil to create a creamy and flavorful texture. Restaurants may use ingredients like lard, bacon fat, or vegetable oil to a.

How to season up refried beans? ›

14 Ways To Add Flavor To Canned Refried Beans
  1. Include a dollop or two of sour cream. Alena_Kos/Shutterstock. ...
  2. Squeeze in some lime juice. ...
  3. Sautee onion and garlic. ...
  4. Experiment with warming spices. ...
  5. Start with flavored refried beans. ...
  6. Pack on the heat with fresh chiles. ...
  7. Mix in canned adobo sauce. ...
  8. Cook with broth for deeper flavor.
Oct 29, 2023

What kind of cheese goes on refried beans? ›

Ingredients for a creamy refried bean dip typically include refried beans, sour cream, cheese (such as cheddar or Monterey jack), and seasonings (such as garlic powder, cumin, and chili powder). Optional ingredients may include diced tomatoes, green onions, and cilantro.

Why do people add milk to refried beans? ›

Milk makes refried beans creamy

This liquid can help make your beans smoother and taste richer. Once the beans are tender, it's time to fry them. Garlic is cooked in the oil and then the beans are added. The beans are mashed, and this is where the milk comes in.

What do Mexicans eat with refried beans? ›

Frijoles are eaten with almost every main course alongside arroz. In many Mexican restaurants in America, refried beans are served with a layer of melty, gooey, shredded cheese on top.

Are frijoles refritos healthy for you? ›

Refried beans are a good source of nutrients like fiber, iron, magnesium, and zinc. They're also relatively high in sodium.

How do you doctor up refried beans? ›

You can amp up the spice by adding more hot sauce, or tone it down by adding less — whatever your family prefers! Dice onion and add to the refried beans for more flavor. Add a dash of cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt. Garnish with cilantro to improve refried beans taste.

Why is refried beans unhealthy? ›

Yet, since refried beans often contain added fat and salt, they may be higher in calories, saturated fat, and sodium than other beans. These factors may impair your weight loss goals, raise your risk of heart disease, and increase your blood pressure levels.

What is the point of refried beans? ›

Refried beans make the perfect side dish for Mexican food. Serve the beans warm and you could sprinkle some cheese on top. Other uses include, as a filling for burritos, spread over tostadas, dolloped on top of nachos, or simply as a dip on their own.

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