Wonderbag Santa Maria-Style Baked Beans

Have you ever tasted something so delicious that you remember the exact spot, time and day where you ate it? These baked beans stand out in my memory from a day of running around and boogie boarding at the beach here in Northern California  with friends, kids, dogs, and a jumble of food, pot-luck style arrayed on a picnic blanket. They were the most tasty, warm pot of smokey, tomatoey, slightly spicy baked beans I had ever had and they immediately became one of the staples that I make on a regular basis, adapted from a recipe from Rancho Llano Seco.

For a quick meal, heat a corn tortilla, dollop on a big spoonful of these beans, then top it off with a fried egg over-easy. My kids could eat this every day for breakfast. These beans make for a tasty and nutritious dip next to bowls of tortilla chips and guacamole. I also like to combine them with shredded roast chicken and cut corn to be rolled into corn tortillas, topped with a quick homemade enchilada sauce and cheese, and baked into bubbling deliciousness. Mmmmmmmm.

To make the cooking process quick and easy, I’ve got two tricks up my sleeve:

  1. I soak the beans overnight. Place your dried beans in a large pot and cover them with 4” of water. They will absorb most of this water, allowing them to cook quickly the next day.
  2. I cook my beans in a Wonderbag, which is a non-electric slow cooking device that continues the cooking process using only heat retention (and is a economic game changer for the 3 billion people in the world who cook over open fires). Rather than simmering the beans for an hour or two on the stove top, I simply bring them to a boil, simmer them for 10 minutes, place the lidded pot in the Wonderbag and walk away. They will continue to slow-cook in the Wonderbag for the next few hours, saving up to 80% of the energy required to cook these beans. I often do this in the morning, then in the late-afternoon, I pull together the tomato sauce, combine them, and voila! The most delicious baked beans you have ever tasted AND they’re cooked in an eco-friendly way!

Prep time: 30 min

Cook time: 1-2 hours

Adapted from Llano Seco, Santa Maria-Style Pinquinto Beans


  • 1 lb. navy, black, cranberry, piquinto or flageolet beans
  • ½ lb. bacon, chopped into small pieces
  • 2  medium onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups tomato purée
  • 4 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds removed, sliced fine
  • 1 tbsp firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp dijon or stone-ground mustard
  • 1 tsp salt


  • Rinse beans, and place in a 6-qt. Pot. Cover with 4” of water and let sit overnight. Alternately, bring beans to a boil, remove them from the heat, cover and let sit for one hour.
  • Drain beans and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil.
    • For Wonderbag cooking, simmer for 10 minutes and place lidded pot into Wonderbag. Let sit for for 1-2 hours and up to 6 hours.
    • To cook without a Wonderbag, simply simmer the beans for 60 minutes or up until the beans are tender.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium pot, cook bacon until crisp then transfer to a paper towel to drain. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of fat.
  • Add onions and cook, stirring until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
  • Add tomato puree, tomato paste, jalapenos, brown sugar, mustard and salt, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Drain beans, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Add tomato sauce to beans and stir. Add reserved cooking liquid until you reach a good consistency.
  • Bring to a simmer, then simmer for 5 minutes. Place inside Wonderbag until you are ready to serve.

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