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 with fried chicken.
Table of Contents
  1. The BEST Red Beans and Rice Recipe (Better Than Popeye’s!)
  2. Homemade Red Beans and Rice Ingredients
  3. How to make Cajun Red Beans and Rice from scratch
  4. What foods go with Red Beans and Rice?
  5. Cajun Red Beans and Rice Recipe FAQs
  6. More bean recipes you are going to love!
  7. Red Beans and Rice Recipe (Better Than Popeyes!) Recipe

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.

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cute little girl at a table with spilled milk.

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.

The BEST Red Beans and Rice Recipe (Better Than Popeye’s!)

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!

a big serving spoon of red beans.

(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?

a big pot of red beans.

Homemade Red Beans and Rice 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 (yellow or red)
  • 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
  • Sugar
  • Olive oil
red beans and rice with fried chicken.

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.)

Chop the onions, celery, and bell peppers. Make sure to chop up some of those celery leaves to go in the beans. They have so much flavor!

chopped onion and celery on a wooden cutting board.

Cook the veggies up in some oil and then add garlic.

Reduce heat and add the spices.

Add in the dry, un-soaked beans. (Keep reading below for more on why you don’t have to pre-soak your beans.)

uncooked red beans in a bowl, red beans in a pot with a ham hock and vegetables.
(Aren’t those red beans beautiful? If you can’t find them, kidney beans work great too!)

Add water and ham bone. 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. Also, lots of people have tried this recipe with andouille sausage with great success!

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.

red beans and rice with fried chicken.

What foods go with Red Beans and Rice?

Red beans and rice is considered a main dish all on its 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.

red beans and rice with fried chicken.

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!

Cajun Red Beans and Rice Recipe FAQs

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.

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.

More bean recipes you are going to love!

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Red Beans and Rice Recipe (Better Than Popeyes!)

4.77 from 46 votes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 3 hours
Total: 3 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 8
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

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 398kcal | Carbohydrates: 73g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 508mg | Potassium: 893mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 247IU | Vitamin C: 17mg | Calcium: 76mg | Iron: 4mg
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Southern
Calories: 398
Keyword: basmati rice, red beans
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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Comments

  1. I’m from deep Louisiana Cajun country. There’s other shortcuts you can use. Liquid Smoke really adds to the flavor, just don’t overdo it. Believe it or not, canned (yes canned) red or kidney beans works fine, I suggest mixing the New Orleans style creamed and regular Blue Runner brand or Trappey’s. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, sausage thick cut bacon or Tasso instead of ham. I guarantee this is just as good as Popeye’s without the trouble.

    1. Thanks for all the tips Don! Sounds like you know your way around a pot of beans! Love the liquid smoke idea.

    2. Yes! Blue Runner’s is actually very awesome! You don’t even have to add anything besides sausage to that one if you don’t want to! (From the same south lol)

  2. I made these beans about 2 months ago. Man they were Dalicious (misspelled purposely)! I didn’t change a thing. It’s just me and my hubby so we had more beans than we knew what to do with. So I found myself making other things to go with the beans. It was kinda funny. We ate them all and paid the price in the end but in separate rooms, LOL.

    So I have to make lunch for a few folks tomorrow and I’m making these Dalicious beans again!

    Thank you for sharing your recipes.

    1. Dalicious! I like it Bridget! Who’s to say we can’t make up our own spellings on the classics?? ;) and I’m kind of dying over here about you and your husband in separate rooms. Haha!! Worth it though. Red beans and rice forever! Thanks for reviewing!

  3. After cooking the ingredients in the pot, can they be put in a slow cooker and the recipe finished in the slow cooker?

  4. Soaking beans is  not an old wives tale. I learned the hard way unfortunately by someone telling me it was so unnecessary. Then I spent about three days with severe abdominal discomfort. .  If you know your body has sensitivities, trust me, soak them. Fantastic recipe! 

  5. I was reading through the responses and came across “Nina” where she was stating her beans had “a little more juice” than yours did and I have had this same issue. If you would much rather use that tasty liquid, than throwing it out, instead of using rice the needs to be cooked for several minutes, I have substituted it for “Minute Rice”. I put my minute rice, uncooked, into the bottom of my bowl, then ladle my red beans, WITH the juice, then put a paper towel over it for about five minutes. The minute rice soaks up that bean juice and it also adds a great flavor to the rice.

    Just so you know, I am Southern by birth, and by choice. I absolutely love to cook traditional southern-inspired dishes like shrimp n’ grits, chicken n’ dumplings, venison-based chili, and lots more that could take all day to type. Having said that, your recipe for Red Beans and Rice looks great and can’t wait to alter my own recipe with yours to see how it stand up to mine.

    1. I love the Minute rice idea John, that’s a great way to get really flavorful rice! I wish I could taste all your amazing Southern dishes! Sounds amazing. Thanks for chiming in!

  6. Yes, the secret to good fried chicken is buttermilk! So take whatever amount of chicken you are frying, and 2 hours (or more) ahead of time, place cut up chicken in a bath (gallon plastic bag) of buttermilk (about 4 cups for a whole chicken). Best is marinated overnight.

    Combine 2 Cups AP Flour with 2 T Lawry’s. Drain chicken and roll by piece in the the flour, coating thoroughly.

    Follow any standard chicken frying instructions after that…best chicken you’ll ever have. (This is the old Morrison’s Cafeteria recipe…)

    1. Okay I’m super excited to try out your recipe Eleanor! Thank you so much for sharing! Lawry’s is the best.

  7. The best red beans I’ve had in a very long time.
    I did a hot soak on the beans and used 2 cups less water for cooking. I omitted the sugar and the cayenne pepper, used Cajun sausages instead of ham bone.
    My husband was impressed.

    1. Woohoo, so glad your husband was impressed! Love the cajun sausages idea! I’ll have to try that next time. Thanks so much for reviewing!

    2. I made mine the same you you did yours. Added powdered chicken bullion. Added a packet of Italian seasoning as well. 

  8. I’d really like to try this recipe it sounds amazing! Only I don’t eat meat. Is there a way to make this vegetarian? Is the pork bone a must?

    1. Hey Raya! I would be nervous trying this without the pork. It is a pretty huge flavor component in this recipe. My other favorite beans recipe is found here: https://thefoodcharlatan.com/traditional-tejano-pinto-beans-slow-cooker-recipe/
      It has a few comments from people who have made it vegetarian style. Maybe check them out to get some ideas! My only other suggestion would be to try adding a bit of liquid smoke or maybe chipotle peppers to get that smokey flavor that the pork provides. Good luck!

  9. Karen
    I am now a devoted follower of yours….and I’m a Popeyes fanatic!!
    So I plan on making these Red beans and by the way, I am a southerner and Popeyes’s is one of the best!!!

      1. Anyone who tells you that Popeyes isn’t legit is misinformed. And Southern is not the same thing as Creole. Popeyes was started by the man who owned Copeland’s New Orleans restaurants, and the recipes were developed by top New Orleans chefs. Paul Prudhomme loved Popeyes.

        Pro tip: peel the skin off a fried chicken breast, and use it as a taco shells to fill with red beans and rice.

        1. Mitch – You nailed it. Whenever we wanted some quick Red Beans and Rice, we ran to Popeyes. They do it right. As a Cajun/Creole who lives far from home, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ll take a chance and order some dish and want to send it back as it’s unrecognizable as an authentic Cajun/Creole dish.

  10. Good recipe! Growing up, We always ate our red beans and rice with hot water cornbread. Look up the recipe, two-three ingredients and the Deliciousness shall be upon you! 

  11. I made this last night and it was delicious!

    I did cut back on the thyme as it isn’t one of my favorite herbs. My husband happily over-indulged on the carbs!

    I did soak my beans (I couldn’t vouch for how long they sat on market shelf) for 6 hours in liberally salted water. Salt doesn’t negatively effect beans while cooking. The recipes calls for cooking them in salty better than bouillon and with a salty ham bone anyways.

    We’ll definitely make this recipe again and again when carbs allow!

    1. Hi Rose! Round up the usual suspects, I suppose. It’s because sugar makes things taste magical! Beans are no exception. Sometimes it’s very surprising what a touch of sugar can do for savory dishes. You can totally leave it out though, and it will still taste good!

  12. Corn bread goes great with red beans and rice. Whats another carb ;) I’ve got to try the ham bone. Andouille sausage is great though.

  13. This is the worse recipe for red beans. All you taste is thyme. I will throw the beans out. They are terrible. 

    1. I’m sorry this recipe wasn’t for you Adrianne! You can always omit or reduce the thyme.

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