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Baked beans, the ones usually served alongside our backyard grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, are typically a hit-and-miss experience. At their best, the beans are tender and deeply flavorful, with a discernible smokiness and a hint of brown sugar. At their worst, they're mushy and so overwhelmingly sweet that no other flavors are allowed to shine.

In my experience, baked beans often fall into the latter category, usually because they start with canned beans, which typically are already quite soft and contain an impressive amount of sugar. Then they're often augmented with more sugar, along with ketchup and/or barbecue sauce and baked until the beans have given up all their texture and become almost indistinguishable from the sauce.

When you start with dried beans, though, and add ingredients that bring more to the party than a harsh hit of fructose, the dish can be a delicious revelation, with beans that maintain their shape and have a toothsome bite and just the right amount of sweetness and spice.

Most of us associate baked beans with New England, but the Southwest has its own history with the dish in the form of cowboy beans.

Like the classic New England variety, there are a million versions of cowboy baked beans. Some are more like a main dish, studded with barbecued or ground meat. Others include fresh or dried chiles. More often than not, a splash of barbecue sauce is stirred in, along with a surprising ingredient — coffee.

Coffee brings a slightly bitter note that offsets the sweetness and offers a necessary depth of flavor.

In this week's recipe, Slow-Baked Cowboy Beans, I also include a hit of smokiness in the form of bacon, chipotle chiles and smoked paprika, which, for me, ties the dish back to its campfire origin and brings yet one more layer of complexity.

All of these ingredients are brought together in a Dutch oven and baked slowly, giving everything the time and heat necessary to transform into one memorably delicious side dish for any summertime occasion.

Slow-Baked Cowboy Beans

Serves 8 to 10.

Perfect for a backyard barbecue, picnic or weekend at the cabin, these smoky, slightly sweet beans get their kick from a combination of chiles, spices, barbecue sauce and a dose of strong coffee. This recipe needs to be made in advance. From Meredith Deeds.

• 1 lb. dried pinto or navy beans, washed and picked clean of any debris

• 4 slices bacon, chopped

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped

• 1 tbsp. chili powder

• 1 tsp. smoked paprika

• 5 c. water

• 1 1/2 c. strong black coffee

• 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped

• 1/3 c. packed brown sugar

• 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

• 1/3 c. barbecue sauce

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Place beans in a large bowl and pour in enough water to cover beans by 2 inches. Let soak overnight. Alternatively, place beans and 8 cups of water in large saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow beans to sit for 1 hour. Drain beans.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add in the onion and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until lightly brown, about 6 to 8 minutes more. Add garlic, chili powder and smoked paprika and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute (be careful not to burn the spices). Add drained beans, water and coffee. Bring to a boil. Add brown sugar, mustard, barbecue sauce and 2 teaspoons salt. Return to boil, cover pot and transfer to oven.

Cook, covered, until beans are just tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has thickened to the desired consistency, 1 to 1 1/2 hours more. Remove from oven and season to taste with salt and pepper. (Beans can be made and kept refrigerated up to 4 days in advance.)

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.