Have you ever had traditional Red Beans and Rice? It’s a southern staple! I tried Popeye’s Red Beans and Rice for the first time a while back, but these beans are even better. They are so creamy and flavorful, with the perfect smoky Cajun spice!  Originally posted August 31, 2018.

red beans and rice

I took the kids off to school for their first day this morning! Valentine is at home with me still, and 2 seconds after we got home she managed to spill an entire cup of milk all over the kitchen. I walk in and start cleaning it up, and she keeps saying “S**t… s**t… s**t.” I’m dying laughing and trying to figure out where she learned that word (because no one in our house uses it) when I realize that she spilled milk on her SHIRT.

red beans and rice

No use crying over spilled milk, right? She’s so cute I can’t even be mad at her. Also, a baby cussing (even if unintentional) is so funny that it makes a spilled milk situation a lot more bearable.

Better Than Popeyes Red Beans and Rice Recipe

I ate at Popeye’s for the first time just a few months ago, and now I’m totally obsessed with their red beans and rice. I told my brother Nathan about it and he just rolled his eyes at me. He lived in Richmond, Virginia for a few years in residency, so he had access to legit southern food. Popeye’s might not be a real Southerner’s top choice for where to get red beans and rice, but for this California girl who had never even heard of it? I was in love. Also, today’s recipe is even better than Popeye’s Red Beans and Rice, thanks to the meaty ham bone we are using. It makes the beans so smoky and delicious!

red beans and rice recipe

(But really though, shout out to Popeye’s. Again, I’m not Southern, but that place has delicious food. Nathan told me that once in Richmond they had a fried chicken contest with a bunch of local restaurants, and Popeye’s chicken won. BOOM.)

If you aren’t from the south (more specifically, New Orleans), you might not have heard of this delightful red beans and rice combination. Rice and beans is nothing new of course, but it’s the special Cajun twist on the beans that makes it unique. Traditionally it was made on Mondays, because that was laundry day, and you could set the pot of beans on the stove to cook all day while you were working. Red beans and rice was Louis Armstrong’s favorite food, and he used to sign letters “Red Beans and Ricely Yours,” how cute is that?

how to make red beans and rice

Rice and Red Beans Recipe Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need. Quantities given in recipe below!

  • Dry red beans. You can substitute kidney beans.
  • Meaty ham bone or ham hock. Another option is andouille sausage.
  • 6-8 cups hot cooked rice
  • Large onion. I used yellow, but a red onion is fine.
  • Green bell pepper
  • Celery
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base. You can substitute another brand of bouillon cubes, but I highly recommend Better Than Bouillon.
  • Garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Bay leaves
  • Dried parsley. Fresh parsley would also be great.
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Olive oil
popeye's red beans and rice

How to Make Cajun Red Beans and Rice from Scratch

I’m letting you in on a few secrets about cooking beans from scratch, so here’s a basic overview and what to watch out for. (All instructions are given in the recipe below.)

  1. Chop the onions, celery, and bell peppers.
  2. Cook the veggies up in some oil and then add garlic.
  3. Reduce heat and add the spices.
  4. Add in the dry, un-soaked beans. (Keep reading below for more on why you don’t have to pre-soak your beans.)
  5. Add water and ham bone.*
  6. Cover with lid and simmer for 2 1/2 – 3 hours. Now it’s just a matter of waiting until your beans are tender, creamy, and have absorbed all that amazing Cajun flavor! Low and slow is really the best way to cook beans. It’s the perfect lazy-day-at-home meal.

*Pro Tip: Save your ham bone whenever you make a ham. It gives the beans such an amazing smoky flavor. They will keep for a long time in the freezer. I’m pretty sure the one I used for this recipe was from last Thanksgiving, almost a year ago. If you don’t happen to have one, use a ham hock, those work great too and you can just buy them in the meat department. Some recipes call for andouille sausage instead of ham. I haven’t tried that yet, but it sounds delicious. (Update! Check the comments, lots of people have tried this recipe with andouille sausage with great success!)

how to make red beans and rice

(Chop up some of those celery leaves to go in the beans. They have so much flavor!)

how to make red beans and rice with ham bone

(Aren’t those red beans beautiful? If you can’t find them, kidney beans work great too!)

Are red beans and kidney beans the same thing?

No, they are not the same. Red beans are smaller, and (ironically) more pinkish than kidney beans, which are a deep crimson. You can use kidney beans in this recipe if that’s all you can find, but I highly recommend red beans if available. They have a nuttier, “beanier” flavor, and a more creamy texture than kidney beans.

Is Red Beans and Rice supposed to be soupy?

To some extent, yes! In my family we lovingly refer to this as “bean gravy” as described in this Tejano Pinto Beans recipe.

The bean gravy should be nice and thick.

Hopefully you can tell from the photos that red beans do NOT have the texture of refried beans. They are not completely mashed. Most of the beans should retain their shape and be swimming in a delectable pool of bean gravy, the better to soak into your rice.

easy red beans and rice recipe

What do red beans taste like?

Red beans have a rich flavor that make them perfect for being the star of a main dish. They taste nutty and mild, similar to a pinto bean. When you add red beans to a recipe, you are adding red bean flavor to the dish, rather than a bean that is mostly useful for absorbing the flavors around it (like a white bean).

What happens if you don’t soak beans before cooking?

Nothing at all. You do NOT need to soak the dry beans overnight. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many recipes call for this unnecessary step. Now, it is true for some people that you can reduce some of the, ahem, intestinal effects of beans by soaking for a few hours and discarding the water (every stomach is different). But it is absolutely not necessary and in my opinion a huge waste of time.

What foods go with Red Beans and Rice?

Red beans and rice is considered a main dish all on it’s own. It really does fill you up and leave you satisfied! This is true especially if you use a ham bone that is nice and meaty.

popeyes red beans and rice recipe

But if you are craving a main dish that is not so beany, fried chicken is your best bet. It tastes amazing with these beans. I picked some up at the grocery store. I actually don’t have a recipe for fried chicken (have not mastered that technique yet! Anyone have a good recipe?) but these beans would taste great with this Simply Amazing Grilled Chicken Marinade.

You could also check out my post for How to Make Ultra Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits, because what’s better than buttery biscuits and beans?? It would also pair amazingly well with My Favorite Coleslaw. Put this all together and you will have an amazing Southern feast!

UPDATE! A reader named Patrick commented below and mentioned that Red Beans and Rice is served with French bread in New Orleans, not biscuits. So here’s my favorite recipe for One Hour French Bread! Thanks Patrick!

More bean recipes you are going to love!

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Red Beans on top of white rice with fried chicken
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Red Beans and Rice Recipe (Better Than Popeyes!)

This recipe is a southern staple! They are so creamy and flavorful, with the perfect smoky Cajun spice! 

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base
  • about 7 cups water
  • 1 pound dry red beans, rinsed*
  • meaty ham bone or ham hock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups hot cooked rice, or more

Instructions

  • Prep your veggies: chop the onion, bell pepper, and 2 stalks celery. I like to chop the ends of the celery (so that some of the leaves get chopped also) instead of pulling off the stalks. Whichever way you choose will work!
  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Once it is hot and shimmering, add the chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery. Saute for 6-8 minutes, until the onions start to become translucent.
  • Mince 2 tablespoons garlic. In a small bowl, combine 1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon thyme, 3/4 teaspoon sage, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, and 1 tablespoon sugar.
  • Add the garlic and spices to the pot and saute for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.
  • Add about 7 cups of water and 1 pound of rinsed red beans. Add the ham bone or ham hock. Add 2 bay leaves.
  • Stir it all together over high heat until it comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to a low simmer, so that it is just barely bubbling. 
  • Cover with a lid and keep it at a low simmer for 2 and 1/2 to 3 hours. About halfway through the cooktime, either remove the lid or tilt it so that the beans can vent. 
  • After 2-3 hours, taste the beans. They should be tender and flavorful. If they are at all dry or chalky, keep cooking. 
  • Add another half teaspoon or so of salt, or to taste. Add more Cajun seasoning to taste. 
  • Remove the ham bone and bay leaves. Chop any meat left on the bone and return the meat to the beans. Discard the bone. 
  • Serve with hot rice. See notes for a basic recipe!

Notes

*You can also use dry kidney beans if you can’t find red beans.
Basic rice recipe: For this amount of beans, I like to use about 3 cups of DRY rice:
  • 3 cups dry white rice
  • 4 and 1/2 cups water
  • scant tablespoon kosher salt (2 and 1/4 teaspoon if using table salt)
  • 2-3 teaspoons garlic ( I added the jarred kind)
Add 3 cups dry rice to a medium pot. (You’re supposed to rinse it and I never do…oops.) Add 4 and 1/2 cups water. Add the salt and garlic. Bring to a boil over high heat with the lid on. Once it boils, lower the heat to low. Do not remove the lid. Let cook for about 15 minutes. Remove lid and stir. Turn off the heat and put the lid back on and let steam in the pot for another 5-10 minutes.

Nutrition

Calories: 398 kcal, Carbohydrates: 73 g, Protein: 17 g, Fat: 5 g, Saturated Fat: 1 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3 g, Cholesterol: 1 mg, Sodium: 508 mg, Potassium: 893 mg, Fiber: 10 g, Sugar: 4 g, Vitamin A: 247 IU, Vitamin C: 17 mg, Calcium: 76 mg, Iron: 4 mg