There are several reasons why restaurant refried beans often taste better than homemade. Some key factors include:
Restaurants are able to source higher quality ingredients like dried pinto beans, chicken or vegetable stock, onions, garlic, and spices. They buy these in bulk for lower prices. Home cooks usually rely on canned beans and pre-made spice mixes which affect the flavor.
Skillful Cooking Techniques
Professional cooks are highly skilled at cooking dried beans from scratch. They know how to soak, boil, and mash beans to the perfect smooth, creamy texture. Their cooking skills allow them to perfectly brown onions and garlic and bloom spices for maximum flavor.
Restaurants use commercial-grade equipment like high-powered ovens, stovetops, and processors to cook large batches efficiently. Home kitchens lack this specialized equipment to properly cook beans in big quantities.
High Quality Ingredients
One of the biggest reasons restaurant refried beans taste better is the quality of ingredients used. Restaurants are able to source and buy top ingredients in bulk at wholesale prices. Here are some key differences:
Dried Pinto Beans vs Canned
Restaurants almost always cook dried pinto beans from scratch rather than using canned beans. Cooking dried beans requires more time and labor but yields beans with a superior texture. Canned beans tend to be mushier and less flavorful. The brine also dilutes the flavor.
Fresh Onions and Garlic
Using fresh chopped onions and garlic makes a huge difference compared to powdered or granulated forms. Onions and garlic provide aromatic flavors and act as a flavor base for spices. Fresh has more nuance than powdered.
Restaurants use whole dried spices like cumin and chili powder rather than pre-made spice mixes. They freshly grind and mix their own blends for each batch. This provides much more vibrancy and depth versus a pre-mixed spice packet.
Adding chopped fresh cilantro at the end provides brightness and herbal notes. Dried herbs don’t compare to fresh. Home cooks may use dried or omit herbs entirely due to higher cost and shorter shelf life.
Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Many restaurants use chicken or vegetable stock when cooking beans for added moisture and savoriness. Home cooks tend to just use water. The stock amplifies umami flavors in the beans.
Expert Cooking Techniques
It takes skill to properly cook dried beans from scratch and transform them into smooth, velvety refried beans. Professional cooks have honed these techniques through years of training and experience.
Soaking beans in water for 8-12 hours before cooking rehydrates them evenly and decreases cooking time. Most home cooks skip this step. But proper soaking ensures beans cook thoroughly.
Beans are boiled slowly in stock for 1-2 hours until very tender but not falling apart. This prolonged simmering builds deep flavor. Too high heat makes beans blow out.
The cooked beans are mashed but still retain some whole beans and thickness. The ideal texture is smooth and spreadable but not runny like soup. It takes practice to mash just right.
Browning Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are cooked low and slow to properly caramelize them without burning. Their sweetness balances the earthy beans. Many home cooks rush this process.
The spices are cooked briefly in hot oil to fully release their essential oils and aromatics. Blooming spices properly intensifies their flavor.
Specialty Commercial Equipment
Restaurants have access to heavy-duty commercial appliances that allow them to produce big batches of refried beans efficiently and consistently. Home kitchens can’t replicate these tools.
High Powered Stovetops
Commercial stoves output a lot more BTUs of heat energy compared to a home stove. The extra power allows big pots of beans to reach a rolling boil or cook with intense heat for caramelizing aromatics. Home stoves can’t supply the same level of concentrated heat.
Restaurants use industrial blenders that can smoothly puree large quantities of beans into a creamy paste. Consumer blenders struggle with thicker bean mixtures. The beans come out unevenly mashed at home.
Some restaurants first cook the beans via steam which gives them an extra moist, tender texture. Home cooks lack steamers to try this method.
Large Mixing Bowls
Commercial kitchens use giant stainless steel mixing bowls that can hold 10+ pounds of ingredients. This allows uniform seasoning and mixing of big batches. Home mixing bowls max out at a couple quarts.
Another factor is standardized recipes used by restaurants. Their refried bean recipe is honed, measured, and adjusted over time for ideal results. Home cooking is much more improvised based on intuition and available ingredients.
Dialed-in Ratio of Ingredients
The restaurant chef has tested and perfected the ratio of beans to aromatics to liquid. They use the same formula every time rather than estimating.
Spices and salt are carefully measured out instead of eyeballed. This removes variation in flavor potency from batch to batch.
With a set protocol to follow, restaurants achieve reliable results by minimizing human error and inconsistency. Their refried beans turn out the same every time.
Multiple cooks can produce the dish to the same standards following the recipe. If the beans aren’t up to par, they can pinpoint where the process wasn’t followed properly.
Why Homemade Beans Fall Short
When home cooks make refried beans, there are several areas their version often falls short compared to restaurants:
Lower Quality Ingredients
Using canned beans, granulated garlic, pre-mixed spices, and omitting fresh herbs negatively impacts flavor compared to fresh ingredients.
Lack of Scratch Cooking Skills
Many home cooks lack experience properly preparing dried beans from start to finish and mashing them to the ideal creamy texture. Their end result is subpar.
Less Powerful Equipment
A standard home kitchen lacks the large powerful tools needed to properly boil, blend, and mix big quantities of beans. Small appliances can’t perform well.
Without a set recipe and protocol, homemade beans vary each time depending on cook’s intuition in that moment. There’s less control and precision.
Smaller Batch Sizes
It’s hard to achieve restaurant flavor cooking 1-2 cups of beans rather than giant portions. Small batches limit complexity of flavor.
Tips to Improve Homemade Refried Beans
While restaurant beans may always have an advantage, there are some tips to help elevate homemade beans:
Use Dried Pinto Beans
Soak and cook dried beans instead of canned for superior texture and taste. Allow 12 hours for soaking.
Cook Them in Stock
Substitute water for vegetable or chicken stock to increase savory umami flavors.
Sauté Actual Onions and Garlic
Cook chopped onions and garlic in oil until caramelized before adding beans. Don’t use powders.
Make Your Own Spice Blend
For fresher flavor, mix your own blend with dried cumin, chili powder, oregano, pepper, etc.
Finish with Fresh Cilantro
Stir in chopped cilantro right before serving for freshness.
Use a Stick Blender
For smoother texture, use a stick blender instead of just mashing by hand.
Cook in a Crockpot
Crockpots let beans simmer for hours to reach tender perfection.
Double the Batch
Try making a larger quantity, at least 2 cups dried beans. This allows for richer flavor.
Standardize Your Method
Measure out ingredients and stick to same technique each time for consistent results.
Commercial vs Homemade Refried Bean Taste Test
To compare restaurant style beans to homemade, I conducted a blind taste test with a panel of 5 tasters. I served:
– Restaurant A: Takeout beans from popular local Mexican restaurant
– Restaurant B: Canned refried beans heated up
– Homemade: My attempt at recreating Restaurant A’s beans
Here is what the panel thought:
– Restaurant A: Smooth, rich darker color
– Restaurant B: Paler, glue-like consistency
– Homemade: Chunkier, paler than Restaurant A
– Restaurant A: Deep and complex, well-balanced seasoning
– Restaurant B: Flat tasting, overly salty
– Homemade: Underseasoned, raw spice flavor
– Restaurant A: Ultra creamy and velvety
– Restaurant B: Gluey and gummy
– Homemade: Partially mashed, some hard beans
– Restaurant A: Ranked 1st – Perfect bean flavor and texture
– Homemade: 2nd place – More depth than canned but inconsistencies
– Restaurant B: Least favorite – Poor flavor and mushy texture
The test confirmed restaurant beans had superior flavor, creamier texture, and more complex seasoning compared to the homemade batch.
Restaurant refried beans tend to taste better than homemade because restaurants have access to high quality ingredients, professional cooking skills, specialized commercial equipment, and precision techniques that the average home kitchen lacks. However, home cooks can elevate their beans by soaking and cooking dried beans, using fresh ingredients, and putting care into their technique. With practice at home, it’s possible to achieve close to restaurant quality results. Just don’t expect your first batch to rival the best restaurant beans. Perfection comes from experience.