Reader Jeffrey Lehane of Lone Jack, Missouri, likes his beans blazingly hot: He adds as much as 1/4 cup chipotle chile powder and 4 fresh jalapeño chiles to a batch. We've toned it down a little (and it's still quite spicy), but feel free to follow Lehane's path of fire if you like. Serve with warm cornbread--and a cold bottle of Fat Tire.
3 cups dried pinto beans (1 1/4 lbs.)
1 ham hock (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
1 bottle (12 oz.) Fat Tire Amber Ale or other Belgian-style ale
Sort and rinse beans, put in a large bowl, and add enough water to cover by at least 3 in. Soak overnight.
Drain beans and put in a 5- to 6-qt. slow-cooker along with ham hock. Add ale and chicken broth. Beans should be just covered with liquid; add water if needed. Set cooker to low.
Toast chile powder and cumin in a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Scrape spices into slow-cooker and cover.
Cook bacon in same pan until crisp, then drain on paper towels. Drain all but 1 tbsp. drippings from pan. Add onion and jalapeño and cook until onion is lightly browned. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, a few seconds. Crumble bacon and oregano into onion mixture, stir, and add to slow-cooker along with tomatoes. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 6 to 8 hours.
Transfer ham hock to a plate and shred meat off the bone with two forks. Meanwhile, turn slow-cooker to high and let beans cook, uncovered, to reduce broth until it's as thick as you like. Season with salt to taste.
Serve beans in large, deep bowls topped with shredded ham, green onions, and cilantro.