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Simple, hearty, and flavorful, Crock Pot beans and cornbread is a traditional meal that’s been enjoyed throughout the south, southwest, and Appalachia for generations. The cozy pinto beans are delicious alongside a simple skillet of cornbread, and paired with greens or a crisp salad. It’s an affordable, satisfying, and easy dinner!

Bowl of pinto beans and cornbread on a dinner table with a side salad

Pinto Beans and Cornbread

Hearty and humble, beans and cornbread has been a staple dish in Appalachia and throughout the south and southwest for generations. Pinto beans seasoned with a ham hock, celery, onion, garlic, and herbs simmer in a pot of broth until tender and thick. Serve the beans spooned over a slice of cast iron skillet cornbread, or offer the cornbread on the side to soak up any extra pot likker. It’s a simple, flavorful, and affordable meal to add to your supper table during the cold weather months. Classic comfort food!

Origin

Beans and cornbread (also called soup beans in the Southern United States and Appalachia) describes a pot of beans that slowly simmers on the stovetop or in the Crock Pot with pork, which is served on top of or alongside cornbread. The end result is a creamy soup-like dish (without any actual cream), which has a smoky flavor from the ham.

The early Appalachian settlers of the 18th century, who were often new Scotch-Irish, German, and Swedish immigrants, were pushed westward into the mountains to find land and resources. The original homesteaders lived a fairly isolated, rugged lifestyle, becoming self-sufficient and growing almost all of their own food. These settlers learned mountain survival skills and farming techniques for crops like squash, corn, and beans from the Cherokee Native Americans. When food was scarce in the winter, dried beans became a staple in the Appalachian diet.

Since many parts of the Southern Appalachian Mountains are rocky and difficult terrain for raising cows and sheep, hogs are the primary source of meat. An entire hog is put to use for flavoring foods, such as a traditional beans and cornbread recipe.

Square side shot of a plate of crock pot beans and cornbread

Southern Cornbread

Cornbread originated with the Native Americans, who had been using ground corn (maize) for thousands of years. European settlers in the Southern colonies learned the original recipes and processes for corn dishes from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek, and soon created their own recipes for using cornmeal in breads similar to those that were familiar in Europe (source). Cornbread has been called a “cornerstone” of Southern cuisine, and nothing is more classic than Southern skillet cornbread.

There’s a bit of a debate out there about the proper way to make cornbread. If you’re north of the Mason-Dixon line, you probably like your cornbread sweet and cake-like, baked in a pan until it’s light and fluffy.

So what makes cornbread southern? Southern cornbread is typically baked in a preheated cast iron skillet, which gives it a really crispy crust (the best part!). The cornbread has a more coarse and crumbly texture than its northern counterparts, and the unsweetened cornbread has a tangy, savory taste (thanks to buttermilk).

What size skillet for cornbread?

10-inch cast iron skillet is the best size for this recipe. You can also use a 9-inch cast iron skillet for extra-thick slices. I don’t recommend using a skillet that’s larger than 10 inches, or your cornbread will be too thin.

Is beans and cornbread healthy?

Yes! Loaded with protein, carbohydrates, and fiber, this inexpensive and healthy dish nourishes our bodies with simple, wholesome ingredients.

Skillet of southern cornbread

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for slow cooker beans and cornbread. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Dried pinto beans: don’t forget to soak them overnight before using in this recipe, or see my notes below regarding quick soaking.
  • Cold water: for soaking the beans and for a cooking liquid.
  • Chicken broth: use homemade broth if you have it, or choose a low-sodium variety from the store.
  • Smoked ham hock: provides a rich, salty, smoky flavor. Each ham hock is typically about 10-12 ounces, but there’s leeway here — it doesn’t have to be exact.
  • Onion, celery, and garlic: aromatics that add flavor to the dish. Green pepper would also be great!
  • Dried bay leaf: gives the pot an earthy, slow-cooked flavor.
  • Fresh thyme: I prefer fresh herbs, but you can substitute with about ½ teaspoon of dried thyme in a pinch.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: to enhance the other flavors in the dish. Don’t add the salt until later in the cooking process, since salting the beans too early will cause them to take longer to soften.
  • Self-rising cornmeal mix: use either white or yellow self-rising cornmeal mix for the cornbread. I prefer White Lily brand. This is not plain yellow cornmeal! Instead, self-rising cornmeal mix is a convenient blend of cornmeal, all purpose flour, leavening agents (like baking soda), and salt.
  • Eggs: give the cornbread structure and lift. Use two regular eggs or 1 extra-large egg.
  • Buttermilk: use whole buttermilk for the best flavor and texture. The buttermilk adds moisture to the bread, yields a softer crumb, and provides a slightly tangy flavor and richness. The acid in the buttermilk also activates the leavening agents to help the cornbread rise.
  • Butter: for flavor, richness, and a touch of moisture. I like salted butter, but you can substitute with unsalted butter or vegetable oil for a less-salty bread. Remember, the cornmeal mix already includes salt.
  • Vegetable oil or bacon grease: for coating the hot skillet.
Draining soaked pinto beans in a colander

Why soak the beans?

Soaking dried beans overnight reduces the required cooking time significantly. The texture of the cooked beans is also best after soaking, with fewer that split open and burst.

How to Quick Soak

If you don’t have time to soak the beans in advance, you can rinse them, place them in a large pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil the beans, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, and then let the beans soak in the hot water for 1 hour. Drain the beans in a colander, rinse them under cold water, and proceed with the recipe.

Alternatively, you can just cook the un-soaked beans for longer in the Crock Pot. If starting with unsoaked beans, you’ll need to cook them in the slow cooker for 8-10 hours on HIGH.

How to Make Self-Rising Cornmeal

Just like self-rising flour, self-rising cornmeal mix is a staple in most Southern kitchens. If you don’t have any on hand, you can make your own batch of self-rising cornmeal mix to use in this recipe by following these directions.

Why add buttermilk to cornbread?

Buttermilk is another classic Southern pantry staple that we always keep in the fridge! From fluffy pancakes to salad dressinghoe cakes and biscuits to fried chicken, it’s an important ingredient in so many of our favorite recipes — including this Southern cornbread. The buttermilk serves a couple of purposes in this recipe that you can’t achieve with regular milk:

  • Flavor: the buttermilk gives the cornbread a nice, subtle tanginess.
  • Acidity: the acid in buttermilk helps the cornbread rise, because the acid from the buttermilk reacts with the alkaline baking soda, causing it to give off carbon dioxide. Baking powder will also react with buttermilk’s acidity to a small degree.
  • Texture: the fat and acid in the buttermilk also yields a lighter, more tender crumb.

Buttermilk Substitutes

Don’t have buttermilk? No problem! In a pinch, you can make your own buttermilk at home to use in this recipe. To do so, pour either 1 ½ tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice or 1 ½ tablespoons of white vinegar into a large measuring cup. Add enough whole milk to equal 1 ½ cups of liquid. Give it a stir, let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then use it in the recipe as directed!

Pouring broth into a slow cooker

How to Make Beans and Cornbread in a Crock Pot

You can prepare old fashioned beans and cornbread in a slow cooker, and let them slowly cook all day while you go about your business!

  1. Soak the beans in water overnight, then drain and rinse.
  2. Place the drained beans in a slow cooker, along with the broth, ham hock, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and ground black pepper. Pour in enough cold water to cover the beans, and give everything a good stir.
  3. Cover the Crock Pot and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours, until the beans are tender. Season with salt during the final 1-2 hours of cooking time.
  4. Discard the ham hock, bay leaf, and thyme sprig. Mash some of the beans with the back of a spoon or with a potato masher.
  5. Stir together the cornbread batter by combining the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients. Bake the cornbread, and slice into about 8 or 9 pieces.
  6. Ladle the beans into bowls and serve with cornbread on the side for dipping, or place a piece of cornbread on a plate and spoon beans over top.
Close overhead image of a bowl of beans and cornbread on a table

How to Thicken

There are a few of ways to thicken the beans. First, cook with the lid off for the final hour or two. This will allow more of the liquid to evaporate, thickening the broth. You can also mash some of the beans with the back of a spoon or puree a portion of the soup with an immersion blender. The mashed beans and veggies thicken the broth nicely!

Finally, if you have time, prepare the beans in advance. They just get better as they sit and the flavors come together. They will also thicken as they cool. Serve them with a slotted spoon if you don’t want all of the broth in your bowl.

What do you eat with beans and cornbread?

Appalachian beans and cornbread are traditionally served with pickled chow chow, ramps, or chopped raw onion as a garnish. You might also like a dollop of sour cream, grated cheese, sliced jalapenos, or chopped fresh herbs for that southwestern touch.

They’re typically a main dish, but can also be offered as a side. Pair the beans and corn bread with side dishes like potatoes (such as boiled, mashed, or fried, or even sweet potatoes) and greens (such as turnip greens, cabbage, collards, spinach or kale).

Chair in front of a table with a bowl of slow cooker beans and cornbread

Southern Beans and Cornbread Storage

Store the beans in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. It’s a great make-ahead option for busy weeks, and even tastes better the next day!

Cornbread is best when freshly baked and warm from the oven, but you can bake it up to 8 hours in advance and leave it on your countertop until ready to serve. To extend the life of your homemade cornbread, store in an airtight container or cover with plastic wrap at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the fridge for up to 1 week.

How to Freeze

This is a great freezer meal, so prepare a big pot and stick any leftovers in the freezer for a quick-prep lunch or dinner option. Allow the beans and cornbread to cool to room temperature. Stored in separate airtight containers, the beans and cornbread will both last in the freezer for up to 3 months.

How to Reheat

Place the beans in a pot and warm over a low flame, just until heated through. You can also microwave individual bowls for about 1-2 minutes. Add extra broth, as necessary, to thin to the desired consistency.

To reheat leftover cornbread, wrap in foil and warm in a 325°F oven for about 10 minutes. You can also microwave individual slices of cornbread just until warmed through — about 20-30 seconds.

Square overhead shot of Crock Pot beans and cornbread with a side salad

Recipe Variations

  • Don’t want to make your own cornbread? Use a box of cornbread mix or purchase cornbread from the bakery section at your grocery store.
  • If you prefer sweet cornbread, try this Jiffy Cornbread with Creamed Corn, this Cake Mix Cornbread, or this sweet cornbread recipe. For a fall twist, we love pumpkin cornbread!
  • Don’t have a cast iron skillet? Bake the cornbread in a greased 8-inch or 9-inch square baking dish.
  • Make your own self-rising cornmeal mix with these directions, or stir together your own buttermilk substitute by following the instructions above.
  • Instead of a ham hock, add flavor to the beans with a different smoked meat, such as a smoked ham bone, bacon, smoked sausage, smoked turkey wings, or smoked pork neck bones.
  • Vegetarian Beans: omit the ham hock. Add smoky flavor to the pot with liquid smoke, smoked paprika, or some cumin. Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.
  • Instead of pickled chow-chow, add an acidic note to the finished dish with a splash of apple cider vinegar or a dollop of sour cream.
  • Make the beans spicy with some crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning, or hot sauce.
  • Herbs: add more fresh (or dried) herbs to the pot in addition to the thyme, such as parsley, oregano, cilantro, or rosemary.
  • Add more vegetables such as green bell pepper, diced carrots, or tomatoes.
Close up side shot of a plate of crock pot beans and cornbread

Tips for the Best Beans and Cornbread Recipe

  • Stir the pot occasionally while the beans cook. This will help to break down them down a bit, distribute the starches, and prevent sticking.
  • Smoked ham hocks can be quite salty, so wait to season the pot towards the end when you can give it a taste. Also, salting the beans too early in the cooking process can make them take longer to soften.
  • The total amount of water necessary will vary. As a result, check the beans periodically as you stir them and add extra water to cover, if necessary.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs (such as chopped parsley or thyme), a dash of hot sauce, pickled chow chow, a dash of vinegar, or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for a bright finishing touch.
  • Make sure that you’re using self-rising cornmeal mixnot plain cornmeal. The self-rising mix includes some flour, salt, and leavening agents in addition to the cornmeal.
  • Use full-fat buttermilk rather than a lower-fat alternative. The fat in the liquid adds richness to the batter and helps to keep the cornbread moist.
  • Let the batter rest for 5-10 minutes before baking, if you have the time. This allows the leavening agents to activate and incorporate more air.
  • Don’t over-mix the batter or it will become too dense, and you’ll end up with dry cornbread.
Overhead shot of beans and cornbread on a dinner table

More Bean Recipes to Try

Square overhead shot of Crock Pot beans and cornbread with a side salad

Crock Pot Beans and Cornbread

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 8 hours
Resting Time 12 hours
Total: 20 hours 20 minutes
Servings 8 people
Calories 496 kcal
Simple, hearty, and flavorful, beans and cornbread is a traditional meal that's been enjoyed throughout the south, southwest, and Appalachia for generations!

Ingredients
  

FOR THE BEANS:

  • 1 lb. dried pinto beans
  • Cold water
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 smoked ham hock (about 10-12 ounces)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig (or about ½ teaspoon dried thyme)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional, for serving: chopped fresh herbs (such as thyme or cilantro), chopped raw onion, chow-chow, sour cream, or grated cheese

FOR THE CORNBREAD:

  • 2 cups white or yellow self-rising cornmeal mix (not plain cornmeal)
  • 2 eggs (or 1 extra-large egg)
  • 1 ½ cups whole buttermilk, well shaken
  • ¼ cup (½ of a stick) salted butter, melted (use unsalted butter if you prefer a less-salty cornbread)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon grease, for coating the skillet

Instructions

MAKE THE BEANS:

  • Place beans in a large bowl or pot. Cover with cold water by 2 inches. Cover and let stand overnight. Drain and rinse the beans.
  • Place the drained beans, broth, ham hock, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and ground black pepper to taste in a 6-quart (or larger) slow cooker. Do not add salt at this time. Pour in enough cold water to cover the beans. Give everything a good stir.
  • Cover the slow cooker with a lid. Cook the beans on HIGH for 4-5 hours, or on LOW for 8-10 hours, until tender. Season with about 1 teaspoon of salt during the final 1-2 hours of cooking time. Discard ham hock, bay leaf, and thyme sprig. Use the back of a spoon or a potato masher to mash some of the beans, thickening the broth. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.

MAKE THE CORNBREAD:

  • Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven while you preheat the oven to 450°F.
  • In a large bowl, whisk or stir together the cornmeal, eggs, buttermilk, and melted butter. Stir just until combined; do not over-mix.
  • Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Add the oil to the hot skillet; spread to coat on the bottom and sides (I use a pastry brush for this).
  • Pour the batter into the greased skillet.
  • Bake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cornbread comes out clean, about 15 minutes.

SERVE THE BEANS AND CORNBREAD:

  • Slice the cornbread into about 8-9 pieces. Ladle the beans into bowls and serve with cornbread for dipping, or place the cornbread on a plate and spoon the beans over top. Garnish with chow chow, herbs, and/or chopped onion.

Notes

  • Stir the pot occasionally while the beans cook. This will help to break down them down a bit, distribute the starches, and prevent sticking.
  • Smoked ham hocks can be quite salty, so wait to season the pot towards the end when you can give it a taste. Also, salting the beans too early in the cooking process can make them take longer to soften.
  • The total amount of water necessary will vary. As a result, check the beans periodically as you stir them and add extra water to cover, if necessary.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs (such as chopped parsley or thyme), a dash of hot sauce, pickled chow chow, a dash of vinegar, or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for a bright finishing touch.
  • Make sure that you’re using self-rising cornmeal mixnot plain cornmeal. The self-rising mix includes some flour, salt, and leavening agents in addition to the cornmeal.
  • Use full-fat buttermilk rather than a lower-fat alternative. The fat in the liquid adds richness to the batter and helps to keep the cornbread moist.
  • Let the batter rest for 5-10 minutes before baking, if you have the time. This allows the leavening agents to activate and incorporate more air.
  • Don’t over-mix the batter or it will become too dense, and you’ll end up with dry cornbread.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/8 of the beans and cornbreadCalories: 496kcalCarbohydrates: 72gProtein: 21gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0.3gCholesterol: 61mgSodium: 1003mgPotassium: 1085mgFiber: 12gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 441IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 262mgIron: 6mg
Keyword: beans and cornbread, beans and cornbread recipe, pinto beans and cornbread, southern beans and cornbread
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American, Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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