Karl’s Santa Maria-Style Beans

Not being able to get heirloom Santa Maria pinquito beans for this Sunday I have had to substitute little pink beans. What make beans “Santa Maria beans” (besides the unique beans) is in using two kinds of pork and chili sauce in the mix. Some recipes call for using a bottled chili sauce and others make it themselves and then add it to the pot.

Karl’s Santa Maria-Style Beans

Karl’s Santa Maria-Style Beans

The usual mix of meat in this dish is bacon and diced smoked ham. I plan to use smoked ham hocks as the second meat in my dish. I also plan to make the meats into a pork broth to use in cooking the beans instead of plain water.

Note: When I have the time, I like to boil a ham bone or ham hocks for hours to render the cartilage into a gelatin rich broth for the beans. I usually do this the day before, so that I can congeal and skim off most of the fat. If you cooked the bone and the beans at the same time the beans would be way over cooked by the time the gelatin was rendered. The chefs at Cooks Illustrated speed up this process by simply adding a teaspoon of gelatin powder in at the end.

I do not plan to make a separate chili sauce. I intend to just add the sauce ingredients directly into the pot. Doing it as a separate step does not make any sense to me. Making the sauce in the bean pot and then adding the broth and beans saves dirtying one more pan.

My usual mantra is “fresh is better.” One exception to that rule is tomatoes. If we are in tomato season then, yes, fresh is better. However, if your choice is a supermarket tomato, that has been picked green and sprayed with chemicals to turn it red, or canned tomatoes, that were processed in the field at the peak of freshness, then canned is better. Today the farmer’s market only had tiny grape tomatoes, so today I use canned.

I am inconsistent on whether to soak, salt, and rinse the beans or to do a quick soak that retains the soaking water. It depends on the recipe and the texture I am seeking for a particular recipe. For refried beans I do not want to lose the color that gets washed out of the beans when you pour off the soak water. For other dishes I want a tough bean skin to keep the beans firm. For this dish, most of the color will come from the chili sauce. When you soak beans with salt overnight, the salt replaces some of the calcium in the bean skin and produces a more tender bean.

Karl’s Santa Maria-Style Beans


1 lb. Little Pink Beans
1 tsp. Kosher salt

1 strip smoked bacon
2 smoked ham hocks

1 medium yellow onion, diced finely
1 stalk celery, diced finely
¼ cup carrot, grated
6 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. ancho chili powder
½ tsp. Mexican oregano
½ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. Indian chili powder

1 (14.5-oz) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar


1. Put the ham hocks, bacon and 8-10 cups of water into a medium pot and bring it to a boil.

2. Cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Simmer for three to four hours. Add water if necessary, you want about 4 cups of broth left when you are done. Reserve any bits of meat.

Tip: Skim the most of the fat from the broth, but reserve at least one tablespoon if you can for sautéing the vegetables.

Note: Ham hocks have very little actual lean meat on them, but they do have a little.

3. Sort and rinse the beans.

Why you always sort your beans

Why you always sort your beans

4. Put the beans and 1 teaspoon of salt in a pot. Add enough water so that they are covered by two inches of water.

Tip: You can do these steps on the same day you plan to cook your beans, but I prefer to do them the day before.

5. Prep all of the vegetables.

6. Put the reserved pork fat in the bean pot and sauté the onions until they are starting to pick up some color.

Tip: If you do not have reserve pork fat, you may use olive oil or butter.

7. Add the celery and carrots and cook for three minutes more.

8. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more.

9. Add the dry spices and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute to bloom the flavors.

Tip: Pre-measure all of the dry spices into a cup that you can add all at once. I also give these a quick pulse in a spice grinder to blend them and break up the cumin just a bit.

10. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar to the pot. Simmer on low for seven to ten minutes (until it starts to thicken).

Note: Many of the Santa Maria style bean recipes called for you to boil the beans separately and then add this sauce in at the end. If you wish, you may remove this sauce to a bowl and do that. I see some logic to that way of doing it, but I personally prefer the greater melding of flavors you get by cooking them together for a long slow cook.

11. Add the beans and 4 cups of broth to the pot and bring it to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 1- 1½ hours, until the beans are to your preferred tenderness.

Tip: If the beans are a bit thin you can crush a few beans to thicken the broth. If they seem too thick add a bit more pork broth, if you have it, or water.

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Filed under Side Dishes, Starches

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