Rancho Gordo is slowly overtaking “Beans Beans, The Magical Fruit” as people’s first thought when it comes to legumes. And for good reason: This company, with its incredible name (and even better newsletter), is run by Steve Sando and provides people with a great alternative to the variety of canned beans stocked in nearly every grocery store.
If you have a hard time getting excited about beans, the ones from Rancho Gordo are here to change that. Sando collaborates with farmers in California, Oregon, Washington, and Mexico to grow heirloom varieties that are not only gorgeous to look at, with specks of bright colors that come in all shapes and sizes, but are some of the most delicious beans you can find anywhere.
As someone who’s gotten the Rancho Gordo Bean Club two years in a row for Christmas, I’ve tried a lot of these legumes and they’re constantly in my dinner rotation. Here are the best ones I can’t stop thinking about, plus some equipment that will help you along your bean journey.
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Even though throughout my ranking I’ll talk about dishes that I love to make with these beans, Mr. Sando himself has a whole cookbook of around 90 recipes that include dips, spreads, salads, and stews (the greatest preparation). The photography is beautiful but that’s not surprising since these legumes are pure works of art.
The Best Pepper Grinder
I religiously put freshly ground black pepper on everything, including every bean dish I make. Sometimes, when I’m feeling really hungry and incredibly lazy, I’ll even think about eating a few cranks of the stuff as an appetizer. That being said, I’ve had a hard time finding a good grinder. These mini ones from Le Creuset do a great job of giving you full control over how coarse or fine of a grind you prefer. And unlike those massive ones you see at steakhouses, they don’t take up too much room in your kitchen.
The Only Salt To Season Your Beans (Or Anything) With
Much has been written about why you should use kosher salt over ionized or table salt, along with why Diamond Crystal is a greater choice than Morton’s. It comes down to the fact that kosher salt has a better feel in your hands and you’re less likely to oversalt a dish by using it. I buy at least a three-pound box of Diamond Crystal (since I salt everything liberally), and keep it next to my stove for easy-seasoning purposes.
The Ultimate Bean Pots
If you want to splurge on something that lasts forever
To cook a big pot of brothy beans, you’re gonna need...a big pot. I received this Le Creuset as a gift (yes, people do just gift me beans and equipment to cook them in) and there are two reasons as to why it’s always my go-to when I feel like cooking up a big batch of borlottis. First, it’s huge and that allows the beans to have ample room to cook and soak up all the aromatics, spices, and other flavorings you put in. And second, it’s made from cast iron so it’s going to stay incredibly warm and can double as a great serving dish.
If you still want to go cast iron but not spend as much
Lodge is my favorite cast-iron brand out there given their quality and affordable price point. Their seasoned skillets go for under $50, and this particular pot is a great alternative to the more expensive Le Creuset option. I recommend it for brothy beans or a batch of chili.
If you just want a solid Dutch oven
I’ve been through hell and back with this Dutch oven from Emile Henry. Unlike the Le Creuset pot, this one is way lighter and doesn’t feel like you’re doing a deadlift every time you grab it from your lower cabinet. I’ve cooked everything from pasta to braised meats to any number of bean dishes in this reliable hero of my kitchen.
The Definitive Rancho Gordo Bean Ranking
#1 - Cranberry Beans
Being an Italian-American, this is the bean I turn to when wanting to cook two of my favorite soups - minestrone and pasta e fagioli. This borlotti bean varietal works incredibly well when you stew it for a long time, and combines perfectly with a bunch of greens and lots of olive oil in whatever concoction you’re feeling - Italian or not.
#2 - Classic Cassoulet Beans
This is possibly the heartiest bean in the Rancho Gordo catalog. It takes longer than most to cook (even with a good soak), but you’ll be rewarded with a chunky and creamy option that works in so many different dishes. Obviously you have the choice to honor this bean’s namesake, but consider using them for chili or simply marinating them with herbs, olive oil, and lemon zest and serving on toast.
#3 - Alubia Blanca
These are one of the smaller options that Rancho Gordo carries, but that’s one of the main reasons we like the Alubia Blancas. They cook up super fast (after soaking them for only a couple hours), can hold up for a braise or bake if you don’t, and blend really nicely if you’re wanting to crank out a dip. We highly endorse these for baked beans, especially because if you’re like me, you’ve gone through too many cans of the Heinz variety already in 2021.
#4 - Chickpeas (out of stock)
Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, ceci beans. Whatever you call them, they’re an essential pantry item. Turn them into hummus or falafel, put them in salads, or substitute it for any protein in a dish like shakshuka. Rancho Gordo has a couple of different chickpea varieties (keep on reading to learn about another), but their OG garbanzos are the most delicious ones we’ve ever tried. Plus, they don’t need to be soaked overnight and cook up way faster than other dried kinds out there.
#5 - Ayocote Negro
Speaking of pantry staples, black beans are another one that’s a versatile option you should have on hand at all times. Rancho Gordo’s Ayocote Negro variety is their top black bean choice partially because they are so gorgeous to look at but also because it’s almost impossible to buy a better option suited for a pot of rice and beans.
#6 - Midnight Black Beans
This is another incredible black bean offering. The main difference between these and the Ayocote Negro is that the midnights are a bit smaller and not as aesthetically appealing (even though all beans are beautiful in our eyes). Cook up a batch to use as filling for tacos or add them to any version of a Southwestern salad with chicken, avocado, pepperjack cheese, and tangy lime dressing.
#7 - Super Lucky 2021 Black-Eyed Peas
This bean’s name pretty much sums up our hopes and desires for this year after the trainwreck of 2020. But the namesake of this legume refers to the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, usually with a ham hock. While that’s an incredible way to eat them, these also taste great in salads or even cooked in coconut milk with a bunch of vegetables and whatever spicy seasonings you have on hand like paprika and cayenne. I recently made a batch of the latter and they kept getting better as leftovers.
#8 - Desi Chana
This tougher chickpea needs ample soaking and cooking, but they’re unlike any other garbanzo you’ll find in stores right now. I usually soak them for a day or two and then cook them for a couple of hours. Even so, they usually come out a bit hard but that’s what I love about it. That, and also the fact that they do a great job of soaking up whatever flavors you cook them in - try it in chana masala or stew in tomato sauce and top with pecorino Romano and some high-quality olive oil.
#9 - Christmas Lima Bean (out of stock)
The Christmas Lima bean would normally be our first choice, since it most effectively combines aesthetic beauty, texture, and flavor, but at the moment it’s sold out. Which makes us sad, but also hyped for when it comes back and we get to revisit how much we love it.
Like other Lima beans, this one has substantial heft, creamy flavor, and comes in as one of the biggest beans Rancho Gordo offers. But unlike other Limas, this one is purple with white blotches and deserves it’s own exhibit at the completely made up Museum of Modern Legumes (MoML, for short). These should be your first choice when putting together a pot of brothy beans with olive oil, garlic, and lots of herbs.
#10 - Scarlet Runner Bean (out of stock)
I’d like to think of the scarlet runner bean as the Christmas Lima bean’s moody younger cousin - it has a similar color pattern with black and pinkish streaks, and is also quite delicious stewed for hours with vegetables and aromatics. The only reason why I don’t like the scarlet runners as much is that they’re slightly smaller.
#11 - Moro Bean (out of stock)
This bean is the specific collaboration between Rancho Gordo and a small farm in Mexico - you can learn more about the collab here. By buying them you’ll help support the initiative for farmers to grow the beans indigenous to their area. Besides that, they taste delicious, are one of the faster beans to cook, and work well if you’re tired of using pintos for refried beans.