My husband introduced me to calico beans and sometimes I’m sorry he did, just because it is so wickedly good! I was hooked from the first time I tried them. They’re so good, with the sweet and tangy sauce it’s hard to stop eating them. Calico beans are one of the best bean dishes you will ever have and it’s a super easy recipe to make for a crowd or as a summer-time BBQ side dish. This is my husband’s original sweet and savory recipe that we’ve made numerous times for parties and family gatherings and we’re always asked for the recipe; so here it is people, it’s officially shared now with the world. Besides this being a simple recipe, is can be cooked multiple ways to fit your needs; in the oven, slow cooker, Instant Pot or pellet smoker/grill. It’s a perfect potluck side dish or great meaty one-pot meal.
4 Ways to Cook Calico Beans
The beauty of a dish like Calico beans is that you can cook it multiple ways, using multiple cooking devices. Since Calico Beans are a great BBQ side dish, most likely you’d make it in the summer to accompany a BBQ protein. In this case, you can cook it in a pellet grill/smoker, which serves as an outdoor stove. If you don’t mind heating up the kitchen, you can of course bake it in the oven. You can also cook it in a crock pot/slow cooker, or Instant Pot if that’s your preference. Honestly, it’s whatever works best with your scenario. We all have different homes and kitchens with different preferences. That’s why I thought it would be best to give you these different cooking options for this calico bean recipe.
- Pellet Grill– 300 degrees/75-90 total mins.
- Oven- 350 degrees/60 total mins.
- Slow Cooker/Crockpot- 4 Hours on High or 8 Hours on Low
- Instant Pot– Cooking for a total of 25 mins. (15 mins on High Pressure and 10 mins natural release)
Cooking on the Pellet Smoker Grill
Over the last few years my favorite summer cooking method has been my husband’s pellet smoker/grill. You can bake the calico beans just like you would in the oven, but in the pellet grill. Of course, I can only cook it this way if my husband’s not using it already to cook something else. I love using the pellet grill, yes, shameless plug here because I hate cooking in a hot kitchen. The pellet smoker is truly a game-changer for summertime cooking! We love our Pit Boss smoker, the lower cost version of a Traeger pellet smoker with all the same great features.
Main Ingredients for Calico Beans
- Ground Beef– I like to use 80/20 organic beef, but you can switch to your preference.
- Bacon– I prefer thick cut apple wood smoked bacon. It’s up to you if you want to pre-cook your bacon in the oven or in the skillet before you brown your beef. That’s the way to usually do it. Sometimes, as you see in the about photo I will pre-cook the bacon ahead of time just in the oven.
- Variety of Beans
- Pork & Beans
- Red Kidney Beans
- Butter Beans- aka lima beans. Yes, I call for lima beans too, but the butter bean variety is cream in color.
- Lima Beans- the green ones.
- Onion– I prefer sweet onions for Calico Beans, but any onion you have on hand will work as well. We place the onions in raw.
- Celery– I love celery in Calico Beans, but some people are adversely against them, so think about the crowd you’re cooking for. I think they’re barely noticeable though, so most people don’t even notice them.
- Ketchup– I like to use limited ingredient, organic ketchup.
- Brown Sugar– Brown sugar is the best for this type of BBQ-style dish of beans.
- Mustard Powder– If you don’t have mustard seed powder, you can use about a tablespoon of yellow mustard instead.
- Vinegar– I prefer Apple Cider Vinegar for BBQ type dishes. It’s a perfectly balanced sweet and tart vinegar, but if you don’t have it you can substitute it with white wine vinegar.
Calico Beans AKA Cowboy Beans
Calico Beans, like a calico cat got it’s name from the different colors and kinds of beans, a hodge podge of beans that make up a calico beans recipe. These flavorful beans have also been referred to as “cowboy beans.” I’ve also heard them called “trucker beans.” They are meaty, beefy with bacon and loads of colorful, different beans. They’re like the best baked beans you’ve ever had doctored up. This is the perfect side dish for a large gathering and oh so satisfying. You might find yourself going in for seconds or thirds, so do beware. If you show up with a big pot of these beans at your next pot luck or family reunion, you will be quite popular. It’s a real crowd pleaser.
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Calico Beans (Oven, Pellet Smoker, Crock Pot & Instant Pot)
- About 3/4 lb. raw bacon chopped or cut up small (6 thick slices/8 thin slices) - should be the equivalent to about a 1/2 heaping cup crispy chopped up bacon
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 15 oz. can pork & beans Do not drain
- 1 15 oz. can kidney beans drained
- 1 15 oz. can butter beans drained
- 1 15 oz. can lima beans drained
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup sweet onion diced small
- 1 cup celery chopped small (About 3 celery sticks)
- 3 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar Can sub with white wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat up large skillet to cook bacon until crispy, then transfer bacon to paper towel lined plate. Reserve about 1 Tablespoon of bacon fat in the skillet.
- Heat the same skillet on Medium-high heat, brown and crumble ground beef.
- Add all ingredients to large mixing bowl, including the ground beef and bacon. Gently stir to combine.
- Transfer bean mixture to a 11 X 9 casserole dish and cover with foil.
- Once Oven fully pre-heated, bake for 45 mins.
- Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes uncovered.
Pellet Smoker Instructions
- Preheat Pellet Smoker to 300 degrees F.
- Follow Oven Instructions, #2-5.
- Once smoker up to temp, place the casserole dish in the smoker, covered with foil for 1 hour. (You are using your smoker like an oven here)
- After 1 hour, remove foil and bake uncovered another 30 mins.
Slow Cooker/Crockpot Instructions
- Follow Oven Instructions, #2-4.
- Transfer beans to Crockpot.
- In Crockpot cook 4 hrs on High or 8 Hrs on Low.
Instant Pot Instructions
- Follow Oven Instructions, #2-4.
- Transfer beans to Instant Pot
- Set pressure to High for 15 mins, natural release for 10 mins, then depressurize fully before opening pressure cooker.