Easy baked beans with ground beef are the best Southern-style BBQ side dish. Spice up canned baked beans with ground beef, onion, and spices and simmer in the slow cooker for a hands-free potluck recipe. No one will ever know these aren’t homemade!
You don’t need to make baked beans from scratch to enjoy a good BBQ. Instead of soaking baked beans and all of that prep work, this semi-homemade version is an excellent shortcut to America’s favorite summer BBQ side dish! It’s the best way to dress up canned baked beans and keep your menu simple.
Cowboy Baked Beans with Ground Beef
This easy recipe is also known as Cowboy Baked Beans. There are so many different ways to add flavor to baked beans to include adding bacon, ground beef, BBQ sauce, seasonings, and more.
Homemade baked beans are absolutely delicious, but if you’re in a crunch for time, soaking the beans and the other prep work can make this hearty side dish impossible to prepare without plenty of notice.
Enter: canned baked beans. You might think I’m totally nuts (or cheap) but using canned beans is the real secret to making this semi-homemade version. After you doctor the precooked beans with a few spices, you’ll never know the difference.
Here’s why I love this recipe:
- It’s hands-free: There is minimal prep work for this recipe. All you need to do is brown the hamburger meat and onion, then combine all of the ingredients in a slow cooker.
- It’s cheap: The total cost of this recipe is about $10, including the seasonings and other tools.
- It’s stretchable: With the addition of ground beef, this recipe can feed much more than the can’s serving size. Plus, you can easily add more if you are running low.
What kind of beans are baked beans?
Most baked bean dishes are typically made from Navy Beans or Great Northern Beans. From the can, these are white beans that are mixed together with seasonings and sometimes BBQ sauce.
Baked beans are very different from black beans, kidney beans, butter beans, or pinto beans.
What are Cowboy Beans made of?
Sometimes called “cowboy beans”, these hearty baked beans are made with canned baked beans, ground beef, onion, and spices.
There are so many other ways to dress up baked beans. Other recipes may include bell pepper, bacon, BBQ sauce, brown sugar, and other ingredients that add additional flavor.
Ingredients for Baked Beans in a Slow Cooker
- Baked Beans: I use Bush’s Original Baked Beans, but you can use any brand or flavor combination you prefer.
- Onion: You can use yellow onion or white onion. Alternatively, you can add the onion quartered instead of diced to save prep time.
- Spices: Chili powder, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper.
- Ground beef: One pound of lean ground beef is best. I prefer 80/20 or 90/10 (lean to fat ratio)
How to Make Southern BBQ Baked Beans
Since baked beans are already cooked, this process is more about warming all of the ingredients and allowing the flavors to marry. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can also do this on the stovetop with a dutch oven.
- To make baked beans in the crock-pot, start by browning the ground beef and chopped onion. I recommend starting with the ground beef in your dutch oven or large skillet. Then, add the onion with the beef and sauté until the onions are translucent and the hamburger is browned.
- Drain the ground beef if needed. Then, add the ground beef and onion mixture, baked beans, and remaining ingredients to the pot of a slow cooker. If you are using a liner, add that to the pot, too.
- Stir to combine all ingredients and cook on low for 2-3 hours or until bubbling and warmed through.
If you are using a multi-cooker, turn the unit to the “sauté” function to brown the beef and sauté the onion. Then, switch the unit to “slow cook” before adding the remaining ingredients.
Here are a few kitchen tools I recommend to make this recipe easier:
- Slow Cooker: Any classic slow cooker will work for this recipe. I recommend using a regular-sized unit. Alternatively, a multi-cooker with the sauté and slow cooker function will keep this recipe all in one pot.
- Dutch Oven: A heavy-bottomed pot for browning the ground beef and onion or cooking the beans on the stove as an alternative to the slow cooker. I love my Tramontina dutch oven set. It’s a budget-friendly option that really stands up to the test of time. We’ve used ours for years!
- Slow Cooker Liners: Make cleaning up a breeze with these slow cooker liners! Simply toss out the bag after cooking. No scrubbing required.
How do you thicken baked beans?
If you prefer thicker baked beans, add in a spoonful of tomato paste or a cornstarch slurry (1 tablespoon of cornstarch to one tablespoon of water).
Here are some other ways to thicken beans:
- Remove the excess liquid with a ladle.
- Mash the beans with a potato masher or ricer.
- Remove the lid of the slow cooker (or dutch oven for stove top method) to allow steam to escape. Stir frequently.
- Consider adding barbecue sauce or ketchup in small amounts (no more than ⅓ cup at a time) until desired thickness is reached.
The thing to remember about adding in additional flavors is to do this slowly and in small amounts. If you add too much of anything, the flavors and textures could change past repair.
If you thicken the dish too much, simply add a little water and stir.
Can you prep baked beans the night before?
Another thing I love about this great recipe is that you can make it completely ahead of time – even the night before. If you are preparing the night before, make sure the ground beef is browned completely before adding the rest of the ingredients to avoid any bacterial growth.
- Whether you use the stovetop method or the slow cooker method, just prepare the beans according to the recipe card below.
- Then, place the pot in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the slow cooker pot from the fridge, and place it in the base of the unit. Turn on and allow to simmer for 2-3 hours or until warmed through.
If you are preparing the beans on the same day, just simmer until warmed through. Then, keep them warm on the lowest stove setting.
Tips for the Best Baked Beans from a Can
Can you reheat baked beans after cooking?
Yes, it is safe to reheat baked beans. The easiest way to warm up leftover baked beans is in the microwave. Alternatively, you can warm them on the stovetop in a saucepan.
How do you make canned beans taste better?
To add flavor to canned baked beans, add salt, fat, herbs and spices, and sauce. You can do this with canned or beans cooked from scratch.
To add a smokier flavor, add dried chili powder, paprika, or a BBQ sauce. For a spicier version, a pinch of cayenne pepper should do the trick.
Do you have to cook baked beans from a can?
It’s safe to eat canned beans without warming, but they won’t have nearly as much flavor. Plus, the texture will likely be way off.
How can I thicken beans without cornstarch?
To thicken beans without cornstarch, try mashing the beans with a potato masher or ricer. Alternatively, remove the lid of the pot or slow cooker and continue cooking to allow the steam to escape. You could also remove excess liquid from the pot with a ladle.
What to add to canned baked beans for more flavor
- BBQ Sauce or brown sugar for a sweet flavor.
- Green Pepper or Red Bell Peppers for an extra kick.
- Hot Sauce to add spiciness.
- Spices like garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, cumin, thyme, etc.
What goes well with baked beans?
For a hearty dinner, try this easy side dish with these main dish recommendations:
Meaty baked beans are the perfect side dish! This is a great dish to take to a family reunion, family gatherings, or to serve at BBQ dinners to complement the main meal.
Southern Baked Beans with Ground Beef
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion (diced, about 1 cup)
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 3 15-ounce cans of Bush’s Original Baked Beans
- 3 teaspoons of chili powder
- 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large skillet or dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and onion and saute.
- Continue to cook until the beef is no longer pink and the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes).
- In the pot of a slow cooker, add the cans of beans, chili powder, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine.
- Cook on low for about 2-3 hours or until warmed through.
- Serve hot.
- Using a multi-cooker: turn the unit to the “sauté” function to brown the beef and sauté the onion. Then, switch the unit to “slow cook” before adding the remaining ingredients.
- Using a dutch oven: brown the ground beef and chopped onion, then add in remaining ingredients. Simmer for 2-3 hours.