From cowboys to kiddos, everyone goes crazy for Slow Cooker Calico Beans. Loaded with beef and bacon, they're great for a cookouts, parties, and easy meals!
Oh, this recipe! Sort of a chili, kind of baked beans, maybe a sloppy Joe, but always completely delicious. It’s just the kind of thing to make when the weather takes a chilly turn and you’re hungry for something that really sticks to the ribs.
Calico Beans can also go by the name Cowboy Beans, probably because this meaty one-pot meal was a campfire favorite under the starry skies for generations. And if you haven’t tried it before, you’re in for quite a treat.
Making Calico Beans for 100? Calico Bean casserole for 50? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
What are Calico Beans?
Just like a calico cat with so many colors, “calico” just refers to the hodge-podge of beans used in the recipe: pork and beans, kidney beans, and butter beans. The beans are all cooked with bacon and ground beef in a tangy, sweet sauce.
By the way, you don’t have to use those exact beans, strictly speaking. Some people swear by lima beans, while others simply must have pintos. And black beans are always good too.
In other words, pick an assortment of beans that you like and put them together in the crockpot. They’ll be great, no matter what you use.
What’s in Calico Beans?
- Ground beef. You can buy lean ground beef or keep it rich—it’s up to you.
- Bacon. The more, the merrier.
- Pork and beans. Yep, the canned variety.
- Kidney beans.
- Butter beans.
- Brown sugar.
- Ketchup. Or barbecue sauce, for a little extra smoky flavor.
- Mustard. Yellow mustard, it is!
- Salt. Depending on how much sodium is in your canned beans, you might not need to salt them very much.
Other optional ingredients in Calico Beans:
- Molasses. Some people love the richness that the molasses provides, but this recipe already includes molasses in the form of brown sugar.
- Liquid smoke. A tiny bit of liquid smoke gives a nice smokiness to the beans. Try it!
- Pork sausage. Some cooks love using pork sausage in Calico Beans in place of ground beef.
- Lima beans. Canned lima beans are super tasty, too. Any bean is a good bean.
- BBQ sauce. Switch out the ketchup (or part of the ketchup) for your best barbecue sauce.
How to make Calico Beans in the Slow Cooker:
These pictures for crockpot Calico Beans are especially for the visual learners out there—for exact amounts and details, mosey down to the recipe card below.
- This recipe starts on the stovetop. Grab a large skillet and cook the bacon and the ground beef over medium-high heat. Drain off the fat and transfer the meat to the slow cooker.
- Add onion, all the beans, brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar, mustard, and salt. Make sure to mix everything well. Then cover the crockpot and cook on HIGH for about 4 hours.
- However, because the beans are already cooked, and because every slow cooker is a little different, you should check the beans after a couple hours. They’re ready to eat when everything is hot throughout.
Some of the newer crock pots run on the hotter side, and some folks complain that the beans get too soft from long cooking times.
How to make oven-baked Calico Beans:
- Turn the oven on to 350 degrees. Cook the bacon and beef together in the bottom of a large Dutch oven, cast iron casserole, or other stove-to-oven safe cookware, as long as it has a lid.
- Drain off the fat and add the remaining ingredients and cover, Bake in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until piping hot.
Calico Beans with dried beans:
It’s always super economical to use dried beans in recipes, especially when you’re cooking for large groups. It’s a little extra work to cook the beans, but your whole recipe ends up costing just a few dollars.
- Cook the beans separately, according to size (larger beans may take longer) in a large pot of unsalted water, simmering until tender. Then drain them and they’re ready to go.
- Or, cook the dried beans cook in mere minutes in an Instant Pot (Even though it’s a fabulous appliance, it’s not recommended to make Calico Beans in the Instant Pot using cooked, canned beans. You run the risk of overcooking the canned beans in the electric pressure cooker).
How many dried beans do you need for Calico Beans? Here’s some tips:
- A rounded 1/2 cup of dried beans = 1 (15-ounce) can of beans
- 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans, drained = 1 (15-ounce) can of beans
- 1 1/2 pounds dried beans = 1 (#10) can of cooked beans (109 ounces)
How to serve Calico Beans:
These beans are divine all on their own in a bowl, as a main course. You can treat them like chili and load them up with all your favorite chili toppings:
- Diced jalapeno
- Chopped raw onions
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- A dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt
- Crunchy corn chips
Slow Cooker Calico Beans
- 1 pound ground beef
- ½ pound bacon diced
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 (16 ounce) cans pork and beans drained
- 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans drained and rinsed
- 1 (15 ounce) can butter beans drained and rinsed
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
To make Calico Beans in a slow cooker:
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook ground beef and bacon; drain well and transfer to the slow cooker.
- Add onion, all beans, brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar, and mustard. Mix well, cover, and cook on HIGH for 4 hours or LOW for 8 hours. Season to taste with salt (I like 1 teaspoon).
To make Calico Beans in the oven:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook ground beef and bacon; drain well and transfer to a 2-quart casserole dish.
- Add onion, all beans, brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar, and mustard. Mix well, cover, and bake until heated through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season to taste with salt (I like 1 teaspoon).
To make Calico Beans on the stove:
- In a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat, cook ground beef and bacon; drain well.
- Add onion, all beans, brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar, and mustard. Bring to a simmer and cook until heated through, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt (I like 1 teaspoon).