Barbecue beans have been a staple at The Meatwave pretty much since its inception. Since then, I've relied on two recipes to serve me well throughout the years—Alton Brown's Once and Future Bean and Mike Mills' Tangy Pit Beans. The recipes are radically different, one begins with dried beans and requires almost a day from start to finish, while the other utilizes canned beans and can be completed in just over an hour. Both have their own unique qualities, and while either recipe stands up against almost every side of beans I've gotten in a barbecue joint, neither really represents my most ideal barbecue bean. So how to solve that? Make my own recipe!
Having made both bean recipes for years now, it was easy for me to pick out the best aspects of each and add my own stamp on it to get me closer to my desired end result. There's no doubt the from scratch beans have a depth of flavor and more tender bean than the recipe that starts with a series of cans. So I began my journey here with dried beans, opting for a variety because I really loved how different beans added additional flavor and texture in Mike Mills' recipe.
I used an equal amount of three bean varieties—great northern, pinto, and small red beans—to get a pound total, which I then soaked in salted water overnight. Common practice usually forbids salt at this step, but the truth is that soaking in salt water actually results in creamier beans and helps keep the skins from breaking apart during the long cook on top of adding additional seasoning.
It's hard not to love Alton Brown's recipe that begins with an entire pound of bacon, and while there's fun in saying there's that much salty, fatty pork in my beans, I think it's a bit overkill. So I kept the bacon, but cut it back to half a pound, which, by the time it was rendered and crisp, there was more than enough fat to sauté the veggies in.
Of which I used onions, jalapeños, green bell pepper, and garlic. I cooked these until softened, a process I also use to start off my own barbecue sauce recipes.
Next I strained the beans and added them in along with chicken stock and water for the liquid. I then let the beans simmer for one hour prior to adding the rest of the ingredients. The reason for this step is that acids can inhibit a bean's ability to cook, so I wanted to let the beans begin to cook before the introduction of items that could alter the process.
The final set of ingredients were mainly what I would use to create a simple, standard barbecue sauce—ketchup, vinegar, and mustard, along with brown sugar, honey, molasses, barbecue rub, and hot sauce. When added to the still very liquid-heavy beans, it formed a really, really thin barbecue sauce, but there was still hours of cooking ahead, ample time for the sauce to reduce and thicken.
After three hours in a 300°F oven, the beans emerged almost completely soft and creamy throughout and with a much thickened sauce, albeit not quite standard barbecue sauce consistancy yet. So to finish up the cooking and further reduce the sauce, I cooked the beans for their final hour without a lid, after which time they looked like this—intact, soft, and creamy, suspended in a medium-thick, concentrated barbecue sauce.
The flavor was pretty spot on too. While Alton Brown's recipe creates a molasses-heavy flavor and Mike Mills' strongly features sweetness, these beans struck a greater sweet and tangy barbecue balance with slight kick of heat to further enhance the overall complexity. Although pleased with the results, I see this as just a start to developing even better barbecue beans down the road. My head is already swarming with ideas like using burnt ends or pulled pork to impart the meaty smokiness that bacon served here, or taking the ingredients in a direction that more closely resembles my barbecue sauce recipe that has adorned awarding winning smoked meats in the past. Still, this current recipe is a step in the right direction and I'm sure it'll produce barbecue beans you're bound to love.
- Yield 6-8 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 8 Hours
- Cook 5 Hours 15 Minutes
- Total 13 Hours 30 Minutes
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 pound small dried beans, such as great northern, navy, or pinto beans, picked over and rinsed
- 8 ounces sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch strips
- 1 1/2 cups finely minced yellow onion (about 1 large onion)
- 2 tablespoons finely diced seeded jalapeño (about 1 medium pepper)
- 1/4 cup finely diced green bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
- 2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
- 1 1/2 cups ketchup
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon barbecue rub
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- In a large container, whisk together 2 quarts water and salt until salt has dissolved. Add beans, cover, and let stand overnight at room temperature. Drain and rinse beans.
- Place a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook until fat has rendered and bacon has crisped, 7-10 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving as much fat in dutch oven as possible.
- Add onion to dutch oven and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and begins to brown around the edges, about 7 minutes. Stir in green pepper, jalapeño, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in 3 cups of water, chicken stock, reserved bacon, and beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 300°F while beans are simmering.
- Stir in ketchup, brown sugar, honey, molasses, mustard, vinegar, barbecue rub, and hot sauce. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook beans for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove cover and cook until beans are tender throughout and sauce has thickened, about 1 hour longer. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Season with salt. Serve immediately; alternatively, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or freeze. Reheat before serving.
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Chilebrown I like your recipe and will have to give it a try. I am especially interested in the step of soaking the beans in salted water. There is the age old question of to soak or not soak. I lean towards the latter but am open to the salted water technique. Thanks.
Chris Spectacular, Josh. I have to try these.
George I've done your baked beans recipe a number of times, but I just tuck the pot in my smoker while I'm doing a pork shoulder and let it catch the drippings.
Marie Is there any way to get around using the bbq rub? I'm living in Italy right now and it's not readily available (nor are the individual ingredients)? Would subbing in bbq sauce be a possiblity?
Christopher Wheeler I love this recipe, basically from Serious Eats!
Josh @Christopher Thanks! This is the same recipe I developed for Serious Eats.
I’m pretty naive when it comes to cooking dry beans. I have a question, if you please?
I soaked 1 lb of dry butter beans overnight in cool tap water to cover by a couple inches. Glass bowl. Next day though they were still just as hard as straight out of the bag! Hmmm. Weird. So I refreshed the water and let sit another day - with exactly the same results!? I said well screw it! I guess they’ll soften as I cook them, using the recipe on the bag. Um. I’m telling you. I cooked and cooked - and COOKED simmering those beans for one two four six hours!! Adding stock/water!, but they just sat there glaring at me, hard as little rocks! Finally I dumped them and thought it had to be salt too early. Now I read here that’s not the case.
What did I do wrong? If anyone can tell me I’d sure appreciate it. I’ve cooked Lima beans and they’ve come out gorgeous with a nice hock. I wish I knew the issue here so I don’t repeat it.
Thanks so much for any advice, and my daughter (adult) steered me here to try these fantastic beans of yours. I can’t wait. :-)
Josh @Laurie Not sure what's going on, I've never had that issue. Maybe you got a bad batch of beans? Has this happening multiple times for you?