This calico beans recipe is the perfect dish for any occasion. Your oven takes care of cooking a hearty, flavor-packed meal or side dish while you tackle that neglected pile of laundry.
If you’ve ever seen a calico cat or wrapped up in a calico quilt, you know exactly what’s coming when I say “Calico Beans.”
This is my grandma’s recipe, one she used to make when she needed a hearty, easy supper that’s straight-up good, old-fashioned comfort food. A little Southern cornbread on the side, and we’d all go to bed in a happy, food-induced coma.
These beans are loaded with onions, beef, and bacon, and a thick flavorful sauce that will warm you up just like that cozy quilt!
Baked beans are an inexpensive and versatile side dish you’ll find on the menu of your favorite barbecue restaurant or on the table at your next backyard cookout. But forget the memories you have of mediocre, monochromatic beans with little afterthoughts of pork chunks or green peppers floating in thin, overly sweet sauce.
Let’s bake some meaty beans!
What Are Calico Beans
The dish gets its name from the variety of colorful beans used in it, mottled a bit from marrying in the oven, with a perfectly dialed in a sweet and savory sauce. It’s definitely more visually appealing than a traditional pot of baked beans and has a substantial meaty component to make it a perfect, one-dish meal.
Unlike most recipes that only have three varieties, my recipe uses four different kinds of beans, each with a different color and slightly different texture combining to make the perfect bean dish!
Calico Beans Ingredients
- Bacon: adds a great smoky flavor.
- Ground Beef: I use 80/20. I think it adds the most flavor.
- Onion: use a yellow onion.
- Canned Pork and Beans: these are just navy beans, but they’re canned with tomato sauce and either small chunks of salted pork or pork fat for extra smoky flavor.
- Kidney Beans: dense and smooth texture.
- Butter Beans: sweet and creamy.
- Brown Sugar: adds a great molasses undertone and the perfect sweetness.
- Ketchup: adds tomato flavor and sweetness.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: balances all the sweet ingredients with a little acid. The sweet/savory combination in this recipe is perfectly balanced to enhance all the hearty qualities of this dish without overpowering the beans and all the meaty goodness.
- Dried Mustard: when added to liquid, dry mustard releases its flavor.
- Liquid Smoke: this is an amazing ingredient! It’s a natural product made from condensing the smoke from burning wood. I really play up the subtly sweet smokiness in this Calico Beans recipe by using both pork and beans, bacon, as well as a little liquid smoke.
- Baking: Baking in the oven helps to marry the flavors, of course, but it also helps thicken the sauce. I usually bake mine close to an hour. You can adjust that based on your own oven and preference for having extra sauce for dipping that cornbread in or a thicker, stick-to-your-ribs stew-like quality.
Storing + Freezing + Make-Ahead
- How Long Will These Last In The Fridge? These will last in the fridge for 3-4 days.
- Can Calico Beans Be Frozen? Leftovers also freeze well, though you may find you need to add a teeny bit of water when you reheat them to compensate for the drying that happens naturally in the freezer.
- Make-Ahead Tips: I like to bake a batch of these beans a day ahead of serving. They’re even better the next day. Adjust liquid as necessary by adding water when you reheat the beans. This recipe can easily be doubled to make Calico Baked Beans for a crowd.
- Food Safety: If you’d like more info on food safety check out this link.
How To Serve Calico Beans
Like I said above, my Grandma used to serve these as a light supper, like she did with hamburger hash. They’re also great served as a hearty side along side grilled beef shish kabob, easy-peasy grilled flank steak, chicken grilled with my everyday chicken marinade (the only chicken marinade you’ll ever want to use!!!), or my grilled Greek chicken!
Here are a few more sides that round out any BBQ or grilled dinner! KFC coleslaw, classic macaroni salad, dill pickle pasta salad, carrot salad, and/or my favorite broccoli salad! Either Bisquick biscuits or Southern cornbread are always on our table along with some of the other sides.
How To Make Slow Cooker Calico Beans
Are these calico beans crockpot friendly? Definitely! Avoid heating up your oven by putting all the prepared ingredients in your slow cooker and letting it go on high for about four hours. Here’s how:
- Follow the instructions below through step # 3.
- Instead of spooning beans into a baking dish, pour them into a crockpot. Cover the crockpot and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.
How To Make Vegetarian Calico Beans?
Leave out the beef and bacon and experiment with different beans – garbanzos, for example. Black beans are great too; just make sure you drain and rinse them first so the color doesn’t take over your whole dish.
You can “beef” up vegetarian Calico Beans with some extra veggies, too. Try bell peppers, and add in a 14 oz. can of fire-roasted tomatoes, and even use tofu crumbles or other plant-based meat substitutes.
Want More Bean Recipes?
Calico Beans Recipe
- 4 ounces bacon diced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 cup onion chopped
- 2 (15-ounce) cans undrained pork and beans
- 1 (15-ounce) can drained and rinsed kidney beans
- 1 (15-ounce) can drained and rinsed butter beans
- 1 (15-ounce) can drained and rinsed lima beans
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
- Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C). Spray a 3-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Cook the bacon (4 ounces), in a large skillet, until crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Discard bacon grease (I freeze mine to use in other recipes, like THIS one.)
- Using the same skillet, cook ground beef (1 pound) and onion (1 cup), over medium heat until the beef is done and there is no longer any pink. Drain off excess fat. Combine the cooked beef and bacon with beans, brown sugar (1/2 cup), ketchup (1/2 cup), water (1/4 cup), apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon), dry mustard (1 teaspoon), salt (1 teaspoon), and liquid smoke (1/2 teaspoon). Spoon into the prepared baking dish.
- Bake, uncovered, 45-60 minutes or until beans have desired thickness.
Fans Also Made:
- Baking: Baking in the oven helps to marry the flavors, of course, but it also helps thicken the sauce. I usually bake mine in close to an hour, but you can adjust that based on your own oven and preference for having extra sauce for dipping that cornbread in or a thicker, stick-to-your-ribs stew-like quality.