You’re going to love these Slow Cooker Cowboy Beans! This dish is a combo of ground beef, smoky bacon, and three types of beans, all slow-cooked to perfection in a delicious sweet and tangy sauce. It’s the perfect side that’s hearty enough to be a main course, too!
Isn’t it great when recipes pull double-duty? Not only are these cowboy beans yummy as a side; you can enjoy them as a main course, too. The dish is thick, packed with meat, and almost like a stew or chili. It is hearty, filling, and will stick to your ribs for hours. Plus it is budget friendly and made with simple, readily available ingredients. A perfect meal for cowboys out on the trail.
I have heard this hearty bean dish called: calico beans, cowboy baked beans, chuckwagon beans, and campfire beans, to name a few. No matter what you call them, the easy recipe is sure to become a family favorite that you’ll be asked to bring to every potluck and barbecue.
Let’s rustle up the ingredients you need to make these easy crock pot cowboy beans!
This section includes ingredient notes and substitution options. Get all measurements, ingredients, and instructions in the printable recipe card at the end of this post.
- Ground Beef — I use lean ground beef, but if yours isn’t lean, just make sure you drain the excess grease.
- Bacon — Bacon makes everything taste better! It gives this dish a smoky, savory flavor.
- Onion — either white or yellow.
- Green Bell Pepper — Adds fresh flavor that complements the meat and beans. Red, orange, or yellow bell peppers are fine, too, but they’re sweeter than green bell peppers.
- Northern Beans (Canned) — Any kind of white bean works here, such as the northern beans, cannellini beans (white kidney beans), or butter beans (lima beans). Drain them well and rinse them, if desired.
- Red Kidney Beans (Canned) — I like the beautiful red color of dark red kidney beans but you can use light red kidney beans of even black beans if you prefer. You will need to drain these beans, too.
- Pork and Beans (Canned) — Do not drain these. The liquid is needed to combine with ketchup, brown sugar, and other ingredients to make the delicious sauce.
- Brown Sugar — Helps create the sticky, sweet sauce and balances out all the savory meaty, bean flavors in the dish.
- Ketchup — Enhances the sweetness while adding a tangy undertone and helps thicken the sauce. For more of a BBQ flavor, you can use barbecue sauce instead.
- White Vinegar — The acidity brightens up the dish to keep it from being too heavy on the palate. It helps offset the sweetness and adds complexity of flavor. Apple cider vinegar works, too.
- Yellow Mustard — Adds a tangy element to round out the flavor profile. You can use Dijon instead of yellow mustard if you’d like.
Equipment You’ll Need to Make Crockpot Cowboy Beans
Gather these tools before you start cooking this hearty side dish:
How to Make Calico Cowboy Beans in the Slow Cooker
This section shows you how to make the recipe with step-by-step photos and instructions. For the full printable recipe, see the recipe card below.
Step 1: Grab a large skillet and crank up the heat to medium-high. Toss in your diced bacon, chopped onion, and green bell pepper. Sauté them together until the bacon is crispy and the onions and peppers have softened. Drain the excess bacon grease and then place the bacon and veggies into the slow cooker.
Step 2: Next, brown the ground beef in the skillet, drain (if necessary), and add to slow cooker.
Step 3: Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker. Give everything a good stir until well combined.
Note: Make sure the ground beef, bacon, northern beans, and kidney beans are drained. DO NOT drain the pork and beans.
Step 4: Cook the cowboy beans on low for 4-6 hours.
Step 5: Serve warm, garnished with parsley, if desired.
Serve this slow cooker cowboy bean recipe as a hearty, comforting side alongside classic BBQ dishes like pulled pork sandwiches, hot honey chicken sandwiches, grilled chicken, BBQ brisket, or BBQ ribs. They’ll complement the smoky flavors perfectly. For your cookouts, they go great with burgers and hot dogs (don’t forget the hot dog chili)!
These delicious crock-pot cowboy beans are filling enough to be a main dish, too. Serve with a big hunk of cornbread on the side to soak up all that yummy sauce and a broccoli salad on the side to get those green veggies in.
Storage and Freezing
Refrigerator: Store leftover cowboy beans in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Freezer: Place the cooled beans in freezer-safe containers or freezer bags, squeezing out as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. They’ll stay good in the freezer for 2-3 months.
Tips and Tricks for Crockpot Cowboy Beans
- Cans of beans come in a variety of sizes. Don’t stress it if your canned beans aren’t exactly 15 ounces each. The recipe is very forgiving and as long as you end up with around 40-45 ounces of each of the varieties of beans you are good to go.
- This great recipe makes a large batch that’s great for parties and get-togethers. Half it if you’re making it for a smaller family or freeze the leftovers if making the full batch.
- Don’t overcook. Stick to the 4-6 hours, checking at 4 hours. Overcooking will result in mushy beans and a sauce that’s much too thick.
- You’ll need a large slow cooker for this recipe — a 6-7 quart crockpot will do the trick. Half the recipe if your slow cooker is smaller.
- If you’d rather bake beans in the oven, try my delicious Boston baked beans with a similar flavor profile.
Additions and Variations
Add liquid smoke. Want to go for that smoky flavor? Add a teaspoon or so of liquid smoke to the ingredients. Don’t over do it though – liquid smoke is very potent, so a little goes a long way.
Make it spicy. Add some heat to the dish by adding some red chili flakes, chili powder, or diced jalapenos to the beans during the cooking process. Start with a small amount and work up from there to your family’s liking. You could also add a couple splashes of hot sauce to the beans.
Try different beans. You can play around with different types of beans in this recipe. Try black beans, pinto beans, or cannellini beans for a change of pace — just remember to drain them first.
Swap the meat. Instead of ground beef and bacon, this dish would be equally delicious with diced ham, chorizo, or smoked sausage. You could also swap out the beef for a leaner protein like ground turkey or chicken.
Add corn. Some people love adding corn to this dish! It adds a little more sweetness and corn maintains a bit of crunch, which improves the texture as well.
Swap ketchup for barbecue sauce. Instead of ketchup, try this recipe with your favorite BBQ sauce instead. If it’s sweet, omit some or all of the brown sugar to compensate.
Cook in the oven: Combine cooked and drained bacon & beef with the other ingredients in a greased casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until bubbly and heated through.
Crock Pot Cowboy Beans FAQ
Cowboy beans, also known as chuckwagon beans or calico beans, are a hearty and flavorful dish traditionally made out of a variety of beans, meats, onions, bell peppers, and a blend of sweet and tangy ingredients like sugar, ketchup, mustard, and vinegar. Several types of beans are included for variety in texture and flavor. Overall, it’s a real stick-to-your-ribs kind of dish.
Definitely. You can substitute the ground beef with different types of meat like ground turkey, chicken, or ground sausage, though all of these will alter the flavor.
Yes, you can use different beans except for the pork and beans. Feel free to replace the northern and kidney beans with your favorite types, like black beans or butter beans. Just make sure to drain them before adding.
If you don’t like sweet beans, reduce the brown sugar. You may want to combine the ketchup, vinegar, mustard, and the amount of sugar you want to use in a bowl first to taste before adding it to the crockpot.
Absolutely; the flavors are even better after they’ve had a chance to mingle together for a while.
More Side Dish Recipes for a Cookout
Looking for another great side dish for a backyard barbecue or summer cookout? Try these crowd-pleasers!
Slow Cooker Cowboy Beans
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- 1 pound bacon, diced
- 1 small yellow or white onion, diced
- 1 small green bell pepper, diced
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 3 15-ounce cans northern beans, drained
- 3 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, drained
- 3 15-ounce cans pork and beans, NOT DRAINED
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup ketchup
- 3 teaspoons white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
- In a large skillet, cook the bacon, onion, and green pepper over medium-high heat. Cook until the bacon is crispy, then drain the grease off and add the mixture to your slow cooker.
- Using the same skillet, brown the gound beef, using your spoon to break it up as it cooks. Drain grease (if necessary), and add to slow cooker.
- Add the remaining ingredients to your slow cooker and stir to combine.
- Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours.
- Garnish with parsley if desired.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- You can spice this up by adding red chili flakes, chili powder or jalapenos while cooking.
- You can substitute the kidney and northern beans for your favorite beans, just drain them.
- Cans of beans come in a variety of sizes. Don’t stress it if your cans aren’t exactly 15 ounces each. The recipe is very forgiving and as long as you end up with around 40-45 ounces of each type of bean you are fine.
- If using the 11-ounce size cans of pork and beans, use 4 cans. Don’t substitute the pork and beans.
- You can easily halve this recipe.
- Cut down or omit the sugar if you prefer less sweet beans.
- To cook in oven: add cooked and drained bacon & beef along with all the other ingredients to a greased casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350℉ for 45 minutes or until bubbly and heated through.
The nutritional information provided is automatically calculated by a third party and intended to serve as an estimate only. The accuracy of nutritional information is not guaranteed.