my dad's beans

slow cooker beans with smoked pork

One of the most exciting parts of having a family is creating traditions together. My late step-mom was tradition crazy. She never missed a beat. Every holiday was a huge to do and our birthdays were no exception. For every birthday we shared with her, she stayed up late the night before and quietly decorated the house so we would wake up to streamers and huge "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" signs while we stumbled through the house to the shower. Most likely by her suggestion, on the morning of our birthday, my dad would take each of us out to breakfast, just him and the birthday girl, for the $1.99 Denny's Grand Slam. It was really special. 

slow cooker beans with smoked pork

My dad's birthday was last week and to celebrate him, I made a pot of his famous beans. It felt appropriate, on his birthday, to offer a little homage to a time that seemed a lot less complicated for him than life is now. When we were kids, coming home to the smell of his beans in the crockpot was the absolute best. Nothing could beat a big bowl of smoky, savory beans with gobs of cheese and cornbread. Plus, that meant dad was making dinner instead of our step-mom. She was beautiful but a terrible cook.

I'd like to make it a tradition to make a batch of beans on my dad's birthday every year, to honor him and to re-live those meals we had together so long ago, with our TV trays, watching Andy Griffith, slurping up every last bean. I will enjoy telling Oliver about his grandpa over a warm bowl, laughing at all the crazy things my dad has told me over the years. Like the time he convinced a friend of mine who had come over for dinner, that our goat was going to be the main course. She about died, and so did I. He's a funny guy, that dad of mine. Those stories make it feel as though we aren't so far apart after all, especially when paired with a piping hot bowl of his beans. 

slow cooker beans with smoked pork

My beans are slightly different than my dad's version, but the essence is still there. I add herbs and lots of pepper, his are a bit more subtle. They're simple, really, but taste complex thanks to the long cooking time. I will often add rosemary and occasionally double the meat.

Feel free to garnish these the way you'd like. I took pictures of three different ways to eat them. I prefer cheese and sliced onion on top while dunking my cornbread into the salty broth. My dad always does cheese, diced onion and crumbles the cornbread over the top. Feel free to go whichever way you'd like. There isn't a bad way to do it really, it's all a matter of taste. 

For left over beans, I love to puree them and use them as "refried" beans. They're amazing in burritos. 

slow cooker beans with smoked pork

serves 10


  • 1 pound dried pinto beans
  • chicken stock (about 6-9 cups)
  • 1 large yellow onion, quartered
  • 4 large garlic cloves, quartered
  • 1 rounded tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup butter (half of a stick)
  • 1-2 pounds smoked ham hock (bone in)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper


  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced or sliced, however you like it
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar
  • cornbread, cut into individual servings, or cubed, or crumbled


  1. In a large bowl, add the dried beans and cover with cool water to at least three inches over the beans. Let them soak over night. If you forgot, or you don't have time to do an overnight soak, add the dried beans to a large pot and cover with cool water to at least three inches over the top of the beans. Bring to a boil and then take the pot off the heat and cover with a lid. Let the beans sit in the hot water, off heat for an hour. Continue with the recipe. 
  2. Drain the beans and rinse thoroughly. Add them to a 6 quart slow cooker and add enough chicken broth to cover the beans by at least an inch. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, butter and pork. Season with a generously with salt and pepper (at least a few large pinches). 
  3. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours, until the beans are tender and creamy, but not falling apart. 
  4. With a fork, break up the pork and remove the bone. Divide among 10 bowls and garnish with onion, cheese and cornbread, if making. 

Note: these beans freeze wonderfully. This recipe makes a lot, so feel free to pack them up into an airtight container and freezer for up to one month. You can do that with the cornbread, too. Instant meal!