Cowboy Beans and Cowboys

When I moved to Montana 2 years ago, I had never ever been to a Rodeo.  I watched it on TV and even road a mechanical bull.   After watching the movie 8 Seconds I knew I wanted to see a real live rodeo.  When you move out west and into cattle country, a little desire like seeing a rodeo is anything to do.  My first rodeo (everyone has to have a first or you can’t say “this ain’t my first rodeo”), was at the Great Falls Fairgrounds for the Montana PRCA finals.  I had a blast, after all what could be better than gorgeous cowboys in their wranglers and chaps and a nice cold beer in hand?

What got me thinking about the rodeo and those cute cowboys, were beans.  Pinto, kidney, navy, pork and beans.  More specifically all those beans mixed up together slow cooked with bacon, sausage and onion in a barbecue-ish sauce.  I had my first taste of this traditional southern dish in Germany.  My best friend Jen had a made a big pot of them and they were so good.  Typically they are served as a side but this hearty bean dish could easily be a main course, just whip up some cornbread on the side and dig in.

You may have already guessed what they are called, certainly if you read the title, this bean delight is called–Cowboy Beans.  The old chuck wagons were well known for fixin’ a heck of a lot beans.  They were cheap, light weight, lasted forever, provided protein and were filling.  A big pot of plain ol’ beans isn’t really that tasty, the chuck wagon cooks remedied that by adding a variety of ingredients, leftovers and whatever they could get their hands on.  Anything to make the beans palatable.  I imagine that the Cowboy Beans may have been the result of having a little bit of every kind of bean leftover but not enough of one type to feed all the hungry cowboys.  Like all imaginative cooks, they threw them all together, crossed their fingers and hoped one of the cowboys wouldn’t be upset and whip out his six shooter.

Of course I don’t know if any of that is true, but if it didn’t happen that way, it should have!  One thing I do know is true, a chuck wagon cook often used left over coffee in place of water for cooking.  Waste not want not, besides water sources were often scarce and not reliable, which meant boiling the water before using it.  If it was already boiled in the coffee, hey, two for one deal.  I tell you, those cowboys were pretty smart.  Even if they didn’t realize that the coffee added a richness and deep flavor, I’m sure they knew it just tasted good.


First let me warn you, there is a long list of ingredients, but don’t worry, this is an easy dish to prepare.  I used canned beans, their easy and with all the other flavors going on they taste just as good.

  • 2 pound lean ground beef, venison sausage (because that’s what I had)
  • 1lb. bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1/2 c ketchup
  • 1/2 c barbecue sauce
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c Buck Wheat Honey, sorghum or other molasses
  • 2 tbs chili powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 c mustard
  • 2 heaping tbs instant espresso
  • 2 can (approx. 16 ounces) pork ‘n beans
  • 2 can (approx. 16 ounces) butter beans, navy beans, drained (I had to substitute since my store didn’t have any)
  • 2 can (approx. 16 ounces) kidney beans, drained
  • 2 can (approx. 16 ounces) pinto beans, drained


Preheat oven to 350° F.

Brown ground meat in a large dutch oven or other heavy pot over med high heat, breaking it up and stirring as it cooks.  Drain and set aside.

While the meat is cooking, chop your onion, green peppers and bacon.

Cook the bacon and drain all but 2 tbs of fat.  Add the onion and green pepper until tender.

Open all the cans of beans, drain and rinse.  Add the beans to the bacon, onion, green pepper mixture.

Next add all the remaining ingredients.  Stir well.  Pop it in the oven for 1 hour.

Ring the dinner bell and tell your cowboys to saddle up to the table because there are some good eats!

(The printable recipe is at the end of the post)

Speaking of Cowboys and Rodeos, in August I had the opportunity to go to the Augusta Montana Rodeo.

I’ve just been waiting to for the right time to post it.

All the locals said it’s a good one, if not the best.  Being one to listen to the locals I made sure it was a must see.

Let me tell you I wasn’t disappointed.

Along with all the cowboys out there bustin broncs and roping calves, there has to be a Miss Rodeo.

It just like Miss America, except she wears jeans and rides a horse.  Maybe it’s not quite the same but I guarentee she’s just a pretty.

Miss Rodeo Montana starts the procedings, she rides the American flag around the arena during the National Anthem.

It just warms my heart and makes me proud!

Then the riding begins.

Hats fly off, and hey, is he lying down on the job?

It just amazes me what these guys do!

If you are lucky/talented enough to stay on for the full 8 seconds, a couple of these nice guys come around and give you a lift.

I spotted this future cowboy across the way.

I hope his mama put lots of sunblock on him.

Burnt baby cowboys are bad.

There was more bronc riding, this time with a saddle.

Look at the muscles in that horse…his hooves aren’t even touching the ground!

There was some, actually a lot of this.  Ohhhh, I know that’s gonna hurt.

I did a little photo experimenting.

Watched some calf tackling or what ever they call it.

Then somewhere between calf tackling and a couple of beers I needed to use the little cowgirls room.

That’s right girls, just a little plywood and a pot…no privacy.

Maybe I didn’t have to go so bad after all.  But they were clean.

Back to the rodeo….

and some calf roping.

What is a rodeo without a rodeo clown or two?

There was a flag team that performed.

And some gals did barrel racing.

Then what every one is dying to see.  Riding the Bull!

Run, run away, for gosh sakes get out of there man!

I think the bull heard me, and boy is he maaad!

You see this too.  I think this look is called the agony of defeat.  Or he could be praying.  Or both.

Of course this is the Rodeo Clown’s real job.  Barrel or not, no way, no how would you ever get me out there.

There’s my cowboy, tending his live stock.

After we watched the rodeo, we went into the town of Augusta and listened to Elvis sing Karoke.

Then on this 90° hot August day…guess what it did.

It snowed.

Can’t believe it?  I couldn’t either, I just didn’t know how it could snow when it was 90° out.

Then McGyver told me it was cottonwood. Well I’ll be….


Cowboy Beans
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  1. 2 pounds lean ground beef
  2. 1lb. bacon, cut into small pieces
  3. 1 onion, diced
  4. 1 green pepper, diced
  5. 1/2 c ketchup
  6. 1/2 c barbecue sauce
  7. 1/2 c granulated sugar
  8. 1/2 c brown sugar
  9. 1/2 c Buck Wheat Honey, sorghum or other molasses
  10. 2 tbs chili powder
  11. 2 tsp salt
  12. 2 tsp pepper
  13. 1/4 c mustard
  14. 2 heaping tbs instant espresso
  15. 2 cans pork ‘n beans
  16. 2 cans navy beans, drained
  17. 2 cans kidney beans, drained
  18. 2 cans pinto beans, drained
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Brown ground meat in a large dutch oven or other heavy pot over med high heat, breaking it up and stirring as it cooks. Drain and set aside. While the meat is cooking, chop your onion, green peppers and bacon. Cook the bacon and drain all but 2 tbs of fat. Add the onion and green pepper until tender. Open all the cans of beans, drain and rinse. Add the beans to the bacon, onion, green pepper mixture. Next add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well. Bake for 1 hour.
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3 Responses to Cowboy Beans and Cowboys

  1. Sues September 27, 2010 at 2:24 am #

    First of all, I love the name of your blog!! Also, I love this post. The rodeo looks like so much fun, but the beans look even better!! 🙂

  2. Karen May 8, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Love this post! The beans look so good – the boys will have fun making that. Great pics of the rodeo. The ‘calf-tackling’ is team roping. When the cottonwoods shed here, it really does look like snow on the ground. I don’t think I could pee if I had to use that bathroom!!

    • Giggles May 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

      I think the boys will have fun making cleaning it up, maybe not so much. I never knew I’d like rodeo’s so much and I’ve learned a lot about them.