How to Make Refried Beans

by Mar 19, 2018

Back when I worked a lot and hired a nanny to help around the house, Via’s cooking sustained me and the kids. My cooking journal from those years has many pages covered with little post-its, each a valuable piece to the puzzle that was Via’s food…because there were no recipes, she just cooked. Birria and posole, with their salsas and sides, beans like these, and how to deal with dried chiles—if I wanted to do any of it on my own, I’d have to Q&A and scrawl on post-its.


While watching her make these beans, I wondered why we call them “refried beans”.  Mash-mash-mashing the beans with only a tablespoon of oil to start, it seemed to me she was just cooking, not frying…cooking the cooked beans.  But there’s no poetry in “re-cooked beans” so “refried” it is.  And in Spanish, frijoles refritos, means “well-fried”.


I always thought refried beans came from a can.  But as with most things, homemade is better.  And with good beans, meal time is easy:  add a tortilla, rice, and cheese and you’ve got yourself a main dish.  A side of arugula, mango, avocado, jicama, jalapeño slices, cilantro leaves, sour cream, your favorite chile sauce + a spritz of lime, and it’s a meal.  Get yourself some heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo and make these refries, or at the bare minimum trade your cans for the little tubs from Better Bean Company (in the grocery’s refrigerator section).

Refried Beans

Servings 4 people


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 corn tortilla 100% corn for best flavor
  • 3 cups cooked pinto-type beans
  • 1 cup, approx. bean broth from cooking the beans


  1. Heat the oil in a large, deep sauté pan (with lid handy) over medium heat.  Add the corn tortilla and fry until golden brown, turning once to get both sides. Remove tortilla, and set aside—you’re using it to flavor the oil, then it's a snack or for the chickens. 

  2. Be careful here, as the oil is hot and you're adding liquid—I like to use the lid to shield the initial splattering.  Get your bean masher in hand (a ladle, large wooden spoon, or an actual bean masher—see Rancho Gordo's website for an authentic Mexican masher) and add the beans and their cooking liquid all at once to the hot oil.  Using your masher of choice, mash the beans while they simmer until they are the consistency you like, it takes me about 10 - 15 minutes. Adjust heat to keep the beans bubbling but prevent molten-lava splatters all over you and your stove.  Cook longer to evaporate excess liquid, or add additional bean broth or water if they become too dry. 

Recipe Notes / Tips

  • You can double this recipe, just make sure you use a large pot
  • See my How to Cook Beans post for getting your beans cooked in the first place.  I always cook a pound of beans at a time which yields about 4 - 6 cups cooked beans, depending on the variety.
  • Bean math: 1 pound dry beans = 2 cups dry beans = 4 - 6 cups cooked beans
  • For more great bean recipes, check out Rancho Gordo's new book, The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen

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