Appalachia Appalachian Food

Hamburger and Beans

hamburger and beans

Using ground meat in some way usually comes to mind when one thinks of creating a cheap make-do kind of meal. There’s untold ways to use it, from patting it out into hamburgers to slathering it with spaghetti sauce.

A few years back Blind Pig reader Ethel shared her make-do recipe for using ground beef with me.

Grandma’s Cooking by Ethel Mertz

I was taught to make this dish when I was a bride thirty years ago. My husband lost his job and we moved in with his grandparents shortly after our wedding.

Grandpa was a kind, quiet man. Grandma kicked butt and took names! They were in their late sixties when I met them. Grandpa was retired but still active, Grandma worked nights as a school janitor. They were both raised in the coal fields of West Virginia and knew all about making do. I don’t remember what year they were married, but it seems like Grandma always worked outside the home to help support the family. During the Depression she worked in a little diner in West Virginia where this recipe was on the menu. I don’t remember her calling the dish by any particular name, so it will be interesting to see if other folks had a name for it.
Grandma, like most women of her generation, was an amazing cook. She didn’t need to follow a recipe or measure anything. As a result of Grandma’s cooking style, the following are approximations. Feel free to adjust the ingredients to suit your taste:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 c. diced onion
1 can baked beans
1 T. granulated sugar (I like it sweeter)

Brown the ground beef and onions, drain fat. Add beans and sugar, stir to combine. Heat through. Serve on buns.

Quick, inexpensive and surprisingly tasty, it’s easy to see why this was a hit at the diner. Grandma said she made this at home a lot too, and served it with green beans – to which she always added a dab of bacon fat from the little crock she kept on the back of the stove. It was a fast, economical meal when she was so busy working and raising five children.


A lady I used to work for made the dish Ethel described, with the only difference being she used a can of pork-n-beans instead of baked beans. Sometimes when I pulled out my packed lunch to eat she would insist I eat some of her hamburger hash, that’s what she called the dish.

If you’re familiar with the recipe or a variation of it, please tell us what it’s called around your place.



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Linda barkley
    February 24, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    We just called them baked bean! Throw it all into a casserole dish and put slices of bacon on top. Bake till hot and bacon is crisp.

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    February 20, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Cowboy Beans but my children didn’t like beans so I didn’t make it. I made casserole with ground beef, macaroni and tomato sauce and flavorings.. casserole w/ no name.
    The English eat baked beans (or pork & beans?) with everything; on toast for a meal,!? with breakfast w/ eggs.?
    I guess it was WWII thing. ?

  • Reply
    April 7, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    I will have to go back and read everyone’s comments. My great grandmother ( from Kingsport TN) made this and added a touch of dry mustard. We call them Mama G’s baked beans. Love your writing. My heart often swells at your truths and memories.

  • Reply
    Leslie Haynie
    February 27, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    We call it pork n bean mess. Tasty stuff.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    Lazy Chili! no brown sugar – just ground beef browned with onions and garlic and a can of Ranch-Style beans. (and for those with a cast iron stomach and an asbestos tongue – jalapenos and chili pequenos)

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    February 27, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    Though my culinary skills are negligible, I do have childhood memories of Ethel Mertz—a different one. Ethel Mertz was a TV character played by Vivian Vance as Lucy’s sidekick on the I Love Lucy show back in the 1950’s.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 27, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Thanks for the recipe! I love hearing about and seeing the ingredients of these old home-style recipes. Everyone has a “twist or twink” to a recipe! That mere change can make a difference and taste makes it their own. I want to keep the recipe heritage alive and well and have taught our sons a lot of those quick and economical recipes. I figure they might as well learn and teach the grandchildren how regular folks used to eat and still do in most households. They can get enough of those “fru-fru dinners” in restaurants today! I want them to know what real green beans taste like, seasoned and left simmering near all day on the stove. Back when you could walk in anybody’s mountain home and a pone of cornbread was in the warmer and a good pot of pinto, white or green beans was offered to a hungry soul. Also, if they appeared real hungry, a cold piece of chicken, slice of breakfast ham was offered as well! Don’t even count the homemade from scratch yeller, chocolate or pound cake waiting under that cake tin, along with a hot cup of coffee.
    I am beginning to crave my grannies cooking! ha
    Back in the days of school and working, Beans n’ Wieners, a big salad/slaw and mashed taters and supper was ready in a heartbeat. Another favorite was Hamburger n’ Beans served with mashed taters or baked wedges, and slaw or salad. I always tried to have something green with a meat. We also liked Sloppy Joes! Not the canned stuff! Made from scratch, no beans in it, just your spices and sauced up spreadable for white bread or if we happened to have buns. Served up on buns and homemade French Fries n’ slaw! Taters always fried in an iron skillet! Only way to fry any tater in my and carb side. opinion! I always used Pork n’ beans in my hamburger and beans…this was not served on a bun, but was the main course, with potatoes and salad!
    Great Post Tipper,
    PS…It is getting on toward the time for bubble n’ squeak…and/or corned beef n’ cabbage!
    I love Spring…Daffodils are in full bloom…Apple tree is blooming early…The old Bradford pear is white as snow…No yellow bells so far, but the single button bushes are two weeks early in bloom!
    PS…Loved Jims article about you, family and Blind Pig n’ Acorn. He is a wonderful writer. The better half remembered that I needed the magazine and brought it in from the Knoxville Bookstore for me…Yes, he did play an extra round of golf that day and was thinking about me he said! HA
    PS …That Don is a good’n too, and wished I could hear his presentation.
    Those two men, as you can tell by the love of their heritage was cut from the same cloth!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 27, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Cowboy beans! Ground beef browned with onions and sweet peppers (some hot, too if you like)
    . Add catsup, some chili powder, and whatever kind of beans or a mixture. Makes a big pot to have with corn bread. Also good made with sliced weenies instead of ground beef.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    Your smiley face on the toasted hamburger bun and ground beef looks good. There are many ways to fix hamburger to taste good. I just got to tell this: For about 15 years or so my little friend, Jesse
    Allen ate with me about 3 times a week. For supper I usually had fried trout, green beans and cornbread. I had to have fresh milk for him but I’m a coffee nut. One day I was at his house and his wife, Myrtle just had a big pot of green beans with potatoes in them. Little Jesse took one look and saw them taters in there and said “I don’t like taters cooked in my green beans.” Myrtle turned around and said “well, you never said anything about it for the last 50 years.” ha (he had done got use to my fried cooking.) …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 27, 2017 at 11:54 am

    We fix something similar. We use pork-n-beans instead of baked beans. We add some diced bell peppers and a glug of catsup (or ketchup). My wife likes to mix in some elbow macaroni but you wouldn’t want to put that on a bun. Or maybe you would! Why not? O Why Not? O Why Not Tonight?

  • Reply
    February 27, 2017 at 11:47 am

    I make something where I brown chopped beef, I also include some cut up green peppers, and use Jar of beef gravy. I let it simmer for a bit. Adding chopped onion will also enhance the taste. Then I make some rice. I use Jasmine rice, but I don’t think the type of rice is important. I serve the meat dish over the rice. It seems to be one of my husband’s favorite meals. I have never tried to mix baked beans with it. Looks interesting!

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    February 27, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Tipper: I am skipping over the ‘economical’ meal, as I have had lots of those kinds of meals in my life -among FIVE SISTERS and FIVE BROTHERS on a big farm in The Matheson Cove!
    But the history of the cemetery in Waynesville, NC, is very interesting – especially when you have a LOCAL FELLOW walking through with you! AND EAGERLY sharing so many details and fascinating stories from way back! Jim’s brilliant cousin is my favorite guide!
    THANKS! Eva Nell

  • Reply
    February 27, 2017 at 8:54 am

    Sounds like a good, quick go to supper. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 27, 2017 at 8:42 am

    We do a variation. We call it Western Beef and Beans. We found the recipe somewhere. It is one of those recipes that is very easy to customize by, for example, adding Worchestshire sauce, pepper (sweet and/or jalapeno). One easy way to do it is to use Bush’s Grillin Beans, such as Southern BBQ.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    February 27, 2017 at 8:21 am

    That looks good. When my wife and I were spending a lot of time on the Navajo Reservation, the family we stayed with would make burritos out of ground beef, pinto beans, and potatoes all wrapped up in a home made tortilla. We still make it here…store bought tortillas though. I add a dash or two of steak sauce to spice it up.
    Mountain food is mountain food no matter where you are!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    February 27, 2017 at 8:16 am

    This sounds a lot like Hillbilly Sloppy Joes. You just substitute the Baked Beans since that’s what you have. The taste would be very similar.

    • Reply
      Margaret Roberts
      July 5, 2018 at 1:32 pm

      Yes, Sloppy Joes is what we called it.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    February 27, 2017 at 8:15 am

    I think this is what my mother mixed up and put on hotdogs. It was sort of like a chili. I am sure she added more seasonings.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 27, 2017 at 8:12 am

    Oh wow, that brings back memories. My husband told me about this dish and how to make it. I always served it with sliced tomatoes on top. It was a fall back when groceries ran out before pay day. We had 3 children, but my husband had 4 brothers. Can you inagibe feeding 4 teenage boys?

  • Reply
    February 27, 2017 at 8:08 am

    My wife has a recipe…pork n beans, hamburger, rotel, brown sugar, and ketchup. Put it in the crock pot for a couple hours. Good Stuff

  • Reply
    February 27, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Just wanted to say that picture made me smile right back!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 27, 2017 at 7:11 am

    I’ve seem the ground beef with pork and beans but not the baked beans. Ground beef used to be an economical meal but that’s not the way it is now days. Seems like the ground beef is almost as much as steak. Of course that’s true of everything now.
    That’s a cute little ketchup happy face!

  • Leave a Reply