Welcome to my gluten-free cowboy beans recipe! This hearty, protein-packed dish is a staple in the American West, loaded with smoky, savory flavor. With my easy tweaks, it’s now safe for those with gluten intolerance to enjoy. Let’s get cooking!

Introduction to Cowboy Beans

Cowboy beans are a traditional campfire meal, often cooked in a cast iron pot over an open flame. They’re simmered low and slow until thick and creamy. The beans soak up the smoky flavor of salty pork and blend with tomatoes, onions, chilies, and spices.

This rib-sticking bean dish fuels up cowboys after a long day on the range. It’s also served at barbecues, potlucks, and family dinners across the west. With a few simple swaps, we can now make this regional favorite gluten-free without sacrificing any of the distinctive taste.

Choosing the Right Beans

The base of great cowboy beans is…well, the beans! Any hearty bean variety will work, like pinto, navy, kidney, or black beans. I prefer pinto beans for their smooth texture and mild flavor.

Canned beans are quick and convenient. Just rinse and add them right to the pot. For extra creamy beans with a from-scratch flavor, soak dry beans overnight then simmer until tender before assembling the full recipe.

Picking the Perfect Pork

Smoked ham hocks or pork shoulders lend smoky, savory flavor to the bean pot. They also contribute collagen, which helps thicken the cooking liquid into a luscious gravy.

For a gluten-free version, choose corn-fed pork and verify with the producer that no gluten was added. Double check label ingredients too.

Turkey ham or bacon work as well. Add a smoky flavor boost with a dash of gluten-free liquid smoke.

Building Deep Flavor

The flavor of this dish develops in layers. Sautéing the aromatics–onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano–blooms their essence to permeate the beans.

Tomatoes add tangy brightness, while brown sugar balances with subtle sweetness. The salty pork and spice of chili peppers contrast the earthy beans. Finally, time allows the flavors to meld–so the longer the simmer, the better.

Thickening the Gravy

The liquid that the beans simmer in transforms into a lush gravy–but getting the right texture takes a few tricks.

  • Simmering uncovered reduces the liquid slowly to concentrate flavor.
  • Natural starch from the beans themselves helps thicken as they cook.
  • For extra thick gravy, mix cornstarch with water and stir into the pot about 30 minutes before serving.

Putting It All Together

Now we’re ready to make cowboy beans, gluten-free style! I’ll walk through it step-by-step:


  • 1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked overnight, or 4 15oz cans pinto beans
  • 1 smoked ham hock or 1 lb smoked pork
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1-2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. If using dried beans: Drain the soaked beans and place in a large pot. Cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about 1 hour.
  2. Stud the ham hock all over with a knife. Place in the pot with the beans.
  3. Sauté the onions and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, and oregano and cook 1 minute more.
  4. Add the sautéed onions and spices to the pot along with the tomatoes, chipotles, brown sugar, and salt and pepper.
  5. Simmer the beans uncovered, stirring occasionally, for at least 1 hour until thickened.
  6. Remove the ham hock, take off the meat, and chop to return to the pot.
  7. For thicker gravy, mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water. Stir into the beans and simmer 30 minutes more.
  8. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot, topped with extras like shredded cheese, sour cream, green onion, and gluten-free cornbread!

With these simple steps, you’ll have the best ever homemade cowboy beans–gluten-free and full of smoky, spicy flavor. This hearty dish is perfect for potlucks, game day, or a downhome family dinner.

Now let’s look at some variations and extra tips for customizing your beans.

Variations and Tips

  • Switch up the protein with turkey, bacon, or vegetarian sausage.
  • For a Texas chili bean flavor, use chili powder, cumin, and mexican oregano. Ancho chile powder adds authentic richness.
  • Try adding extras like grated cheddar, cubed avocado, jalapenos, or cilantro.
  • Make it even more hearty with shredded chicken or beef.
  • For extra spice, use chipotles in adobo or a dash of cayenne pepper.
  • Bake the beans in a casserole dish topped with cornbread batter for a complete meal.
  • Beef up the nutrition with extra veggies like peppers, carrots, corn, or kale.
  • Garnish with sour cream or greek yogurt, green onion, and gluten-free tortilla chips.
  • For lighter beans, substitute chicken broth for some of the cooking liquid.

Troubleshooting Cowboy Beans

Q: My beans aren’t getting creamy. What should I do?

A: Try adding more liquid and simmering uncovered for a longer time. Mashing a cup or two of the beans against the side of the pot will release starch and thicken the gravy.

Q: My beans are tough and not softening. Did I do something wrong?

A: Older, dried out beans won’t soften properly. Make sure to use cooked beans, freshly soaked dried beans, or canned to ensure tender texture. Adding a teaspoon of baking soda to the soaking water can help too.

Q: My beans are too watery. How can I thicken them up?

A: Remove the lid and let them simmer longer to reduce the liquid. Adding a cornstarch slurry at the end will thicken as well. And mashing some of the beans releases starch to bind the liquid.

Q: My beans taste bland. What flavor is missing?

A: Check the seasoning and add more salt, pepper, spices, or brown sugar to adjust the flavor. Smoked pork adds a savory boost too. You can also increase flavor with extras like garlic, onions, cheese, or hot sauce.


With a few simple gluten-free swaps, you can enjoy all the hearty, soul-satisfying flavor of cowboy beans regardless of dietary needs. Browning the aromatics, simmering with smoked pork, and thickening the gravy are the keys to success. Personalize with different spices, add-ins, and garnishes for your signature version. Happy camping and chow time, partners! With beans this good, we’ll have you around the campfire every night.

Myra Henry created the Keto Taco Salad blog to share my favorite delicious low-carb recipes without sacrificing flavor. when i started the keto diet 2 years ago, I discovered a love for making healthy Mexican dishes like keto taco salads. My blog features easy keto taco salad recipes and tips for keto success.

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