Easy homemade baked beans recipe that goes well with your favorite barbecued foods or as an everyday side dish. The secret to making them tender and creamy in less than half the normal time is a quick simmer using baking soda then cooking them in the oven.
Making baked beans from scratch is easier than you might think. This recipe has big pieces of chopped bacon that simmer in a sweet and tangy sauce. The results will make you think twice before grabbing a can of mushy store-bought pork and beans. I like to make this side dish ahead of time so that putting together weeknight meals is a breeze.
Most people hesitate to cook dried beans because it takes too long. Typically, an overnight soak is required to ensure proper hydration and creamy texture even before cooking begins.
How to make baked beans
- Preheat oven to 350ºF.
- Simmer dried beans with water and baking soda in a dutch oven for 20 minutes.
- Rinse beans with cool water and drain.
- Add chopped bacon pieces to the pot and cook until crispy.
- Add onions and green bell pepper, saute until tender.
- Add garlic and sauté until fragrant.
- Add beans, water, molasses, brown sugar, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, vinegar, and pepper, stir to combine.
- Bring beans to a boil on the stovetop, turn off the heat, and cover.
- Place beans in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove the cover and bake until beans are creamy, about 30 minutes.
Baked beans are most often made with navy, white, or pinto beans. They are all smaller sized legumes that have have a thin skin and delightful creamy interior, yet hold their structure.
I recommend avoiding large beans like kidney because they take much longer to cook. Make sure to discard any broken pieces. Give them a good rinse to wash away any dirt during processing and storage.
Faster cooking with baking soda
An easy trick to softening beans for quicker cooking is to do a baking soda pre-soak. I usually do an overnight soak in salted water when making beans, however, using this common chemical leavening agent for baked goods is an effective and fast alternative.
The dried beans simmer in an alkaline mixture of baking soda and water for just 20 minutes. This environment weakens the pectin in the outer skin, so that water can absorb quicker and cook the beans in significantly less time.
- Small dried beans like Navy, Pinto, or white.
- Thick-cut bacon to infuse smokey and savory notes.
- Chopped onion, green bell pepper, garlic add aromatics when sautéed in pork grease.
- Sweet molasses and brown sugar, maple syrup can be substituted.
- Tangy Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce.
- Tomato paste for thickness.
- The combination of smokey, savory, sweet and tangy flavors delivers the characteristic taste for classic baked beans.
Adding acidic ingredients
Often times it’s not a good idea to add acids early on when cooking beans because it hardens the skin. This makes it difficult for water to move in through the hilum, resulting in tough bean texture.
Since there is a brief pre-cooking and softening of the beans’ skins with baking soda, it’s safe to add acidic ingredients like vinegar, molasses and Worcestershire sauce for maximum flavor infusion.
Benefits of using the oven
The consistent oven temperature allows for even cooking. The mild yet gentle heat at 350 degrees (177ºC) ensures that water absorbs into the beans gelatinizing the starches, for smooth and creamy spoonfuls. The beans cook for a majority of the time covered to ensure proper cooking, then uncovered to reduce the sauce so that it glazes the beans.
I use a large dutch oven, but any type of pot will work as long as it’s oven-safe. Water evaporates faster in a heavy-bottomed pot, so if using a thinner cookware material you may need to slightly extend the cooking time. Add more water as needed if the water evaporates too quickly.
What to serve this with
Why baking soda cooks beans faster
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is an alkaline ingredient. When it’s in a water solution with the beans, it can break down the tough pectin walls in the skin allowing more water in from the outside environment. The water quickly hydrates the starches inside. This “pre-cook” technique creates tender legumes in just 2 hours in the oven, compared to usually four or more hours.
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- 1 pound dried navy beans
- 15 cups water, divided
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 8 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch thick pieces
- 1 cup diced yellow onion, ¼-inch dice
- ¾ cup diced green bell pepper, ¼-inch dice
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ⅓ cup molasses
- ⅓ cup dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning
- kosher salt, for seasoning
- Place oven rack in the center position and preheat to 350ºF (177ºC).
- Pick over any broken or old beans and discard. Rinse and then add to a large dutch oven.
- Add 3 quarts of water and baking soda to the dutch oven.
- Bring water to a boil, and then reduce to medium-high and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Drain the beans in a colander and rinse with cool water.
- Rinse and dry the dutch oven then add bacon and turn to heat to medium. Saute until browned, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.
- Add onion and bell pepper, saute until vegetables are tender, for 5 minutes.
- Add garlic, cook for 30 seconds.
- In a small bowl whisk together molasses, brown sugar, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, and pepper.
- Add beans, molasses mixture, and 3 cups of water to the dutch oven, stir to combine. Bring liquid to a boil, turn off heat and cover.
- Transfer to the oven and bake until the beans are nearly tender, about 1 ½ hours.
- Remove the cover and bake until beans are tender and creamy, about 30 minutes.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.
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