The quintessential American side dish, baked beans pop up often at picnics, barbecues, and potlucks -- wherever friends and family get together. But there's no need to gather a crowd to enjoy this satisfying treat because they pair well with grilled meats or sandwiches for a casual lunch or supper at home, too. The recipe is also versatile. You can start from scratch with dried beans or opt for the quicker version that uses canned beans. Bake them in the oven or simmer for hours in your slow cooker.
While dishes made from dried beans find their way onto the tables of many cultures, baked beans -- traditionally made from navy beans or pea beans flavored with pork and sweetened with molasses and brown sugar -- have distinctly American roots. Most recipes are descendants of Boston Baked Beans, a dish made by the Puritan women of Boston. Because their religion prohibited cooking on Sundays, cooks would make the beans for a Saturday night dinner and serve the leftovers the following day.
This recipe, which makes 10 to 12 side-dish servings, is the one to choose when you want to start with dried beans and you have a little extra time. You'll need to soak the dry beans for 1 hour and cook them on the stove top about 1 hour until tender before assembling and baking.
1. Soak the Beans
Dry beans are very hard, so soaking allows them to rehydrate and soften.
? In a colander rinse 1 pound (about 2-1/3 cups) dried navy beans or Great Northern beans under cool running water. Be sure to sort through the beans to remove any small pebbles or other debris. In a large Dutch oven combine the beans and 8 cups water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.
- Drain and rinse the beans, discarding the soaking liquid.
Tip: If you have a little extra time, rather than boiling the beans, you can simply place them in the 8 cups water in the Dutch oven. Cover and let them soak in a cool place overnight. Drain and rinse the beans; discard the soaking liquid.
2. Cook the Beans
Even though the beans are soaked, they still need to be cooked until tender before adding the other ingredients and baking.
- Return the rinsed beans to the Dutch oven. Stir in 8 cups fresh water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally. Drain beans, reserving the liquid.
Tip: You can get a head start on baked beans by soaking them (Step 1) and cooking them (Step 2) in advance. Cover and store the soaked, cooked beans in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, then continue as directed below.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
3. Add the Flavorings
In a 2-1/2-quart casserole combine the beans with 1/4 pound bacon or salt pork, cut up; 1 cup chopped onion; 1/2 cup molasses or maple syrup; 1/4 cup packed brown sugar; 1 teaspoon dry mustard; 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper.
4. Bake the Beans
Cover the casserole and bake for 2-1/2 hours or to desired consistency.
Tip: Some cooks like their beans saucy while some prefer them more dry. If you like them saucy, add additional reserved bean liquid during cooking. If, at the end of cooking time, the beans are not as dry as you like, continue to bake them, uncovered, until some of the liquid has evaporated. Keep in mind, however, that beans will continue to soak up the liquid after cooking.
Once canned pork and beans and other bean varieties became available in cans, cooks soon learned that these held a shortcut to making great baked beans -- no soaking or precooking needed. With a prep time of just 20 minutes, and only 45 minutes in the oven, this Classic Baked Beans recipe is one of our all-time favorite ways to "doctor up" a few cans of beans. And as you'll see, the variations on the theme are endless.
1. Prep the Bacon & Onions
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a very large skillet cook 6 slices bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels, reserving 2 tablespoons drippings in the pan. Crumble the bacon; set aside. Add 1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1 small) to the reserved drippings. Cook and stir over medium heat about 4 minutes or until the onion is tender.
2. Choose & Prep the Beans
Drain and rinse one 15- to 16-ounce can butter beans and one 15- to 16-ounce can kidney or pinto beans.
TIP: Draining and rinsing beans helps reduce the sodium in the recipe. To drain and rinse beans, pour each can, individually, in a colander held over the sink. Let the salty liquid drain from the beans. Rinse the beans under cool running water and allow the water to drain. Repeat with each can.
TIP: Almost any kind of canned beans may be substituted for the butter beans or kidney beans. Substitute an equal amount of black beans, garbanzo beans, Great Northern beans, cannellini beans, pinto beans, or lima beans.
3. Bake the Beans
- Combine the drained butter beans and drained kidney or pinto beans in a 2-quart casserole with a lid. Stir in one 15- to 16-ounce can undrained pork and beans in tomato sauce, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 1/3 cup ketchup, and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce. Stir in the cooked crumbled bacon and the onion.
- Bake, covered, about 45 minutes or until bubbly around the edges. If desired, garnish with additional strips of crisp-cooked bacon.
Baked Beans in the Slow Cooker
Starting with the Classic Baked Beans from Canned Beans recipe, double all of the ingredients. Prepare bacon and onion as directed. In a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker combine the beans, brown sugar, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in bacon and onion mixture. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 5 to 6 hours or on high-heat setting for 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
Baked Beans Variations
Once you get the Classic Baked Beans from Canned Beans recipe down, you can add flavorings and extra ingredients to create your signature style of baked beans. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Apple-Cheddar Baked Beans: Core and cut up 1 tart apple (such as Granny Smith or Rome Beauty) and stir it into the bean mixture before baking. Sprinkle the beans with 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded smoked cheddar cheese after baking.
- Barbecue Baked Beans: Substitute bottled barbecue sauce for the ketchup.
- Hawaiian Baked Beans: Stir in one undrained 8-ounce can pineapple tidbits into the bean mixture before baking. Bake the beans, uncovered, for the last 10 minutes.
- Apricot Baked Beans: Substitute apricot preserves for the brown sugar and stir 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots into bean mixture before baking.
- Maple-Pecan Baked Beans: Substitute maple syrup for the brown sugar. Sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans over the bean mixture before serving.
- Salsa Baked Beans: Substitute black beans for the kidney beans and substitute salsa for the ketchup. Top with 1 cup coarsely crushed tortilla or corn chips before serving.
- Molasses Baked Beans: Substitute molasses for the brown sugar.
Turn Baked Beans into a Main Dish
A pot of the Classic Baked Beans from Canned Beans can become a satisfying main dish by adding meat:
- Beefy Baked Beans: Stir 1 pound cooked, drained ground beef into the beans before baking.
- Smoked Sausage & Beans: Stir 1 pound sliced cooked kielbasa and 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard into the beans before baking.
- Beanie-Weenies: Stir one 16-ounce package beef frankfurters, sliced, into the beans before baking
Baked Beans on the Stove Top
Have even less time? Try these 20-minute Saucepan Baked Beans. Though they're not technically baked beans, they're a quick and satisfying next-best thing.