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! 


  • 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


  • 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!


*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.


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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  1. Thanks for this recipe Karen.

    I have made your pizza dough recipe several times and I love it!!

    So, a couple tweaks I am going to do…

    First, I use a smoked ham SHANK. Meatier and more flavorful than the hock which tends to be fattier and less substantial.

    Second, definitely add the Abdoulie sausage. The spicy flavor is a must in this dish.

    Tasso is traditional but VERY hard to find, as is the traditional pickled pork steaks. You could pickle your own, but I can’t see adding an extra 3 or 4 days to this when a shot of red wine vinegar does the job well.

    Remember, red beans and rice is supposed to be meaty!!

    Boil the ham shank until the meat falls off the bone. Chop the cooked meat into spoon sized pieces and discard the bones. Use the water from cooking the ham to cook the beans, with enough fresh water to make up the difference.

    Also, I do soak my beans overnight in a brine solution of 4 quarts water and 3 Tbs kosher salt. I find this prevents the skins from bursting when cooking.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to share your tips Steve! Red beans and rice forever.

  2. 5 stars
    I am not real big on smoke flavor so I just chopped up ham and used it instead of a ham hock. I didn’t think I was going to care for this dish but to my surprise I liked it! I will make this again. Thank you.

  3. It’s not very hard to make red beans and rice better than Popeyes. Their chicken is pretty good. Their sides are pretty bad.

  4. Regardless of what your brother’s 🙄 eyes might have told you, remember, Popeye’s Red Beans and Rice do a booming business in the Deep South. 

    For a fried chicken recipe, you might check again with Popeye’s. 😂 So good!

  5. Girl! There is nothing better than corn bread, butter and honey with Red Beans and Rice. OH My Gees and you are R I G H T Cole Slaw is awesome here too!

  6. 3 stars
    I love red beans and rice and I am a native New Oreanian. This recipe look real good, but the red beans and rice BLUE RUNNER brand makes is the best. Creamy and very tasty. And it
    comes in a 16 oz. can!!!!! I use to fuss over red beans because I love them so, but no one can beat Blure Runner Red Beans (and their white beans are just as good).

      1. How I miss being able to get Blue Runner! They make the best beans! Moving to Indiana from the bayous of Louisiana was a culture and culinary shock for sure!!

      2. 5 stars
        I love this! The first time I made it, I only had kidney beans. It turned out great! I loved it. It’s hard to find red beans up north. I finally found them at GFS! 5 lb bag but who cares! Weigh out 1 pound and off you go! So I’m making it now with red beans! I do use smoked ham hocks, shanks or picnics! They all go great! I boil the crap out of them first for about an hour and a half so the meat falls off the bone. Then put it in with the beans, bone and all. I use the water I boiled them in for them too. I measure it out then add fresh water to make up the difference. You can omit the last salt add that way. Do yummy!

        However, I do soak my beans first. I’ve noticed that if I don’t, if I just rinse and boil, the outer shell breaks. Something about soaking them allows them to swell up evenly. If you’re doing a recipe that’s pretty thick like this one, that’s ok. But if your doing bean soup, it doesn’t look very appealing, a bunch of beans with broken skin.

        Just my two cents…

    1. I would just get a smoked ham hock. They’re dirt cheap. Even now with inflation. I buy them all the time. They’re less than $2/lb. So 1 good size hock will cost you about $1.00. So much more flavor using bones and smoked hocks. But if you insist on using andouille sausage, I’d say about 8-12 ounces.

  7. Just here to say, I find the fact that you think Richmond Virginia is southern and therefore the vanguard of southern cooking completely adorable 😂😂😂. Take I-10 East from Houston, stop off in Louisiana and see what real Southern cooking is about. Every gas station along the road does a better job than Popeyes or anything that’s ever been cooked in Richmond. 

    1. Ted, BRING ON THE SOUTHERN BATTLES!!! I’m sitting over here in California with my popcorn. Where my richmond folks at, come on defend yourselves!! 😂😂😉😉

  8. I truly enjoy the recipes, plus the red beans look amazing, making it right away. THE TRUE BEAUTY IS THE CHICKEN NEXT TO IT HELLLLLLLOOOOO. IS THE RECIPE ANYWHERE. DANG YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY ARE LUCKY.

    1. Ha! As I mentioned, the chicken is actually from the deli at the grocery store. It was really good ;) Someday I will master fried chicken! Enjoy the red beans in the meantime!

  9. Louisiaba checking in. Almost like mine except I use ham base, not chicken base and also use 2 sausages. DD and Jacob’s Aundoulle. I also add a stick of butter in the end for creaminess.

  10. 5 stars
    Your recipe sounds very similar to the way I learned to cook it from childhood. Here in the Deep South we frequently serve it with smoked sausage.  But since the combination of beans and rice make a complete protein it can very well be the complete meal 

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