Anatomy of a Classic

Super Texas-Style Soup Beans

A kicked-up take on a one-pot mainstay

Photo: Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry

Pandemic cooking has made stars out of forgotten kitchen staples, especially the humble bean.

Ryan Hacker was only a few months into his new job as executive chef at the beloved French Quarter fixture Brennan’s Restaurant when New Orleans closed its dining rooms. “I never had this much time at home before,” he says. While he helped plan for reopening, he spent time teaching his two young daughters to cook family recipes. One of them was soup beans, a simple one-pot meal that over the years he has transformed into something he has nicknamed Southern cassoulet, after the French meat-and-bean stew. 

Often associated with Appalachia, soup beans—traditionally long-simmered pinto beans sometimes bulked up with a little meat—have been an economical go-to of many Southern kitchens. Hacker ate his first bowl while growing up just outside Tyler, Texas. Pinto beans would go into the slow cooker with some sausage and onions. One batch could feed the whole family for a couple of days. When he got to college, soup beans provided an inexpensive way to stay fed on a student’s budget. Even after landing an internship at Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston, he relied on them. “I was making cassoulet every day at the restaurant, but I barely had enough money to make it to work and back,” he says. The French stew inspired him to add a little inexpensive white wine to his own beans and to top them with crunchy bread crumbs.

photo: Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry

His recipe evolved again after he married his wife, Malorie, who had Southwest Texas roots. She grew up eating frijoles charros, which had more pork and were brightened with tomatoes and jalapeños. After the young family landed in New Orleans, he took to adding a dice of bell pepper and celery with the onion (the holy trinity) and andouille sausage. “Now you look at it, and it’s nowhere near a traditional soup bean recipe,” he says. “But it’s the story of me.” 

While the beans cook, it’s essential to keep adding enough water so they stay soupy. Hacker likes to serve them over a hunk of cornbread to soak up the liquid and finishes the dish with a buttery, crunchy layer of seasoned cornbread crumbs. By the second day, he says, the beans will have turned creamy and the meat even more luscious. “Once the meat is gone, we like to turn whatever’s left into refried beans. That’s what’s so great about beans. They just keep on giving.”  

This article appears in the October/November 2020 issue of  Garden & Gun. Start your subscription here or give a gift subscription here.


  • For the Soup Beans

    • 2 tbsp. bacon fat

    • 2 smoked ham hocks or 2 lb. pork shoulder cut into large cubes

    • ½ lb. sliced bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces

    • 1 large white onion, diced

    • 1 rib celery, diced

    • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

    • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced

    • 6 cloves garlic, sliced

    • 1 lb. dried pinto beans (Hacker prefers Camellia brand)

    • 2 bay leaves

    • 2 sprigs thyme, or ½ tsp. dried thyme

    • ½ cup white wine

    • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

    • About 5 cups water, plus more if needed

    • 4 links andouille or other smoky, spicy sausage, cut into 2-inch sections

    • Salt and pepper

    • Cornbread crumble (recipe follows)

    • Thinly sliced white onion and sliced jalapeños, for serving

  • For the Cornbread Crumble

    • 1 cup cornbread, crumbled

    • 3 tbsp. butter, softened

    • ½ tsp. kosher salt

    • 1 tsp. black pepper

    • 1 tbsp. parsley, finely chopped


  1. For the Soup Beans: In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat bacon fat over medium heat. If using pork shoulder, brown it lightly on all sides and then remove and set aside.

  2. Add bacon, onion, celery, bell pepper, diced jalapeño, and garlic to the bacon fat and cook until the onions are soft and translucent and the bacon has rendered some of its fat but has not started to brown.

  3. Add beans, ham hocks (or pork shoulder), bay leaves, thyme, wine, tomato, and 5 cups of water. Increase heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Lower to a simmer and let beans cook for about 2 hours. Stir periodically to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pot, and add a bit more water if the soup beans seem too thick. Check beans for doneness about an hour into cooking. If you can bite through one easily but the bean still has bite, you’re almost done. If not, keep cooking.

  4. Once the beans are almost done, remove ham hocks, pull the meat from the bones, and return it to the pot (skip this step if using pork shoulder). Add sausage and cook 15 minutes more, or until sausage is hot in the center. Season with salt and pepper.

  5. To serve, place a slice of cornbread in each bowl and ladle beans on top, including a bit of sausage and pork in each bowl. Sprinkle some cornbread crumble over top, and finish with sliced onion and jalapeños.

  6. For the Cornbread Crumble:

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Thoroughly combine all ingredients except parsley. Spread out on a baking tray and bake until golden brown, about 12–14 minutes. Let cool and then mix with the parsley.

Meet the Chef: Ryan Hacker

Hometown: Tyler, Texas

Pandemic hobby: “I started smoking meats again.” (He’s particularly proud of his pastrami.)

Item he’d grab if the kitchen was burning down: A ten-inch cast-iron skillet that belonged to his great-grandmother.

Advice to aspiring chefs: “Find a mentor, and get a business degree if you really want to understand what you are doing in the restaurant.”