When I’m invited to a potluck or backyard barbecue, I always offer to make the beans. It doesn’t really matter what else is on the menu because homemade baked beans seem to go well with everything. Creamy beans swimming in a sweet and savory sauce with a smoky bacon flavor—who can resist? Baked beans are rich enough to hold their own against meaty main dishes like crispy fried chicken or slow-cooker pulled pork sandwiches. Yet they’re also simple and humble enough to serve with roasted vegetables, salads or eggs and toast.
Over the years, I’ve made a lot of bean dishes and learned that the best baked beans start with dried beans. Canned beans are convenient, but dried beans are 100% worth the effort. They taste better and offer more bang for your buck.
Of course, there’s no denying that dried beans take longer to prepare. Most of the cook time is hands-off, but not everyone has time for dried beans (especially on a busy weeknight). Don’t worry; we’ll offer some suggestions for how to use a pressure cooker as a shortcut and how to adapt this recipe for canned beans. Once you learn how to make baked beans from scratch, you’ll never look back!
Ingredients for Homemade Baked Beans
- Dried navy beans: Navy beans are the traditional choice for homemade baked beans. These beans have a nutty, buttery flavor and a creamy texture. They hold their shape and won’t break down over long cook times, which is why they’re typically used in canned baked beans and canned pork-and-beans.
- Salt: This is the secret ingredient for making the most flavorful baked beans from scratch. When beans soak in salted water, the calcium and magnesium in their cell walls breaks apart, softening the once-tough skins and ensuring the beans will cook more evenly.
- Bacon: Everything is better with bacon! Bacon adds smoky, salty, savory vibes to homemade baked beans. Just make sure to start with cooked bacon. If you use uncooked bacon, the fat will render out into the sauce, and the beans can turn out a little greasy. (Psst: Here are our Test Kitchen’s suggestions for how to cook bacon.)
- Molasses: This thick syrup has a deep, rich flavor. It’s a little sweet, but not nearly as sweet as maple syrup or sugar. There are several types of molasses, each with a slightly different flavor profile. Light molasses is the sweetest, and blackstrap molasses has a strong, bitter character.
- Brown sugar and ground mustard: Brown sugar adds a caramelized sweetness to the baked beans, while ground mustard adds an earthy, slightly spicy balance.
Step 1: Soak the dried beans
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, bring the dried beans, salt and 2 quarts of the water to a boil. Boil for two minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand for one hour. Drain the beans, and discard the liquid.
Editor’s Tip: Soaking beans in salted water takes time, but it’s worth it. The beans will cook faster and more evenly. We use the quick-soak method here, but you could soak the beans overnight if you prefer.
Step 2: Simmer the beans
Return the drained beans to the saucepan. Cover the beans with the remaining 2 quarts water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat. Cover and simmer for 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours or until beans are tender. Drain, reserving the liquid.
Editor’s Tip: You might be tempted to throw everything in the pot together, but hold fast. Dried beans won’t become soft and tender if they’re cooked with acidic ingredients like molasses.
Step 3: Prepare the baked beans
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Return the drained beans to the saucepan. Stir in 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, onion, molasses, bacon, brown sugar, mustard and pepper. Pour the mixture into a greased 2-1/2 quart baking dish.
Step 4: Bake the beans
Cover the dish, and bake for 3 hours to 3 hours and 30 minutes or until the beans reach the desired consistency, stirring occasionally and adding more reserved cooking liquid if needed.
Editor’s Tip: Baked beans will get thicker the longer they cook. If you accidentally tossed the reserved cooking liquid, use water or broth to thin the baked beans.
- Use a slow cooker: Want to keep the heat out of the kitchen? Transfer the cooked beans and sauce ingredients to a 6-quart slow cooker. Cook on low heat for four to six hours, stirring occasionally.
- Make them vegetarian: Skip the bacon to make vegetarian baked beans. You can mimic the bacon’s smoky flavor with a little liquid smoke or smoked paprika.
- Switch up the sweetener: You can use maple syrup if you don’t have light or dark molasses on hand. Just make sure it’s pure maple syrup vs. pancake syrup. You can also add a can of crushed pineapple for sweetness (like we do when we make sweet and spicy baked beans).
- Create depth: There are many versions of homemade baked beans, so add your favorite ingredients. Add ketchup, Worcestershire or diced tomatoes to balance the sweet flavors, or use coffee and vinegar for tangy baked beans. You can also include other meats like ground beef to make a hearty bowl of western-style beef and beans.
How to Store Homemade Baked Beans
Cooked beans last for three to five days in the refrigerator. Let them cool after baking, then store in an airtight container. Reheat them in the microwave or on the stovetop over medium heat until they reach an internal temperature of 165°.
Can you freeze homemade baked beans?
To freeze homemade baked beans, let them cool fully in the refrigerator. Then, freeze the beans in an airtight container for up to six months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
Homemade Baked Beans Tips
What kind of beans are baked beans?
Traditionally, baked beans are made with navy beans (also known as haricot beans). These small, white beans maintain their shape well over long cook times, and their creamy flavor pairs well with bacon and molasses. Other types of beans can be used making baked beans from scratch, like Great Northern beans, pinto beans and cannellini beans.
How long do you cook baked beans?
The best baked beans take time, and we cook our homemade baked beans in a 325° oven for three hours. Most of the cooking time is hands-off, but patience is certainly the secret ingredient here! Make sure you plan ahead, as the dried beans also need time to soak and cook through before they hit the oven. If you need a shortcut, you can cook the beans in a pressure cooker. (There’s even an Instant Pot button specifically for cooking beans!)
Can you use canned beans to make homemade baked beans?
If you don’t have time to make baked beans from scratch, feel free to substitute canned beans. You’ll need about three cans of beans for every pound of dry beans. To make homemade baked beans with canned beans, skip the first two recipe steps. Drain and rinse the canned beans, and combine them with the rest of the ingredients. Bake as directed.
What do you serve with homemade baked beans?
Homemade baked beans are a fantastic summer side dish for backyard cookouts or potlucks. Serve them with a side of cornbread alongside meaty main dishes, like baby back ribs, pulled pork, chicken or your favorite hamburger recipe. Leftover baked beans are also a fantastic addition to nachos, huevos rancheros and loaded chili dogs.