Before this summer, I thought baked beans were just the thing you picked up in a can from the market. Everything else at the barbecue might be made from scratch, but when it came to beans, all you needed was a can opener and a pot to warm them through. No brainer, right?
Then I discovered they can be So. Much. More.
Friends, allow me to take you on a magical journey to the land where baked beans are made from scratch and unicorns just might exist. Homemade baked beans are a dream come true. They are sweet, smoky, tender, and hearty enough to feed a crowd… if you are willing to share. They make a great addition to late summer barbecues, and are the perfect Fall side dish.
Baked beans from scratch can sound intimidating, but trust me, we can do this. It is as simple as one, two, three.
Step 1: Buy your beans and soak them overnight.
You know the dry bean section of the store? Maybe you pass it without a thought it as you push the cart to the dairy fridge? Or do you glance at it once in a while wondering “Who would cook beans from scratch when they come ready to go in a can?” Answer: You. You are about to cook beans from scratch.
Working with dry beans allows us to achieve the perfect finished texture. If we went with canned beans here, by the time they were finished baking (aka soaking up all the delicious flavors in the sauce, and transforming into something heaven sent), they would be a soft puddle of mush. Which translates to bad baked beans.
Once you bring your prized beans home, you’ll have to let them soak overnight before cooking. This softens up the beans and draws out some of the compounds that might lead to a post meal Bean-O. So soaking = a win, win.
Step 2: Boil them until tender.
The next morning, drain the beans and give them a rinse. Add them back to the pot and cook until tender. It might take longer to cook a pot of beans than it does to open a can, but it is all hands off. You don’t even have to stir the pot.
Step 3: Bake the beans.
Finally, the best step. The beans get tossed with the Sauce-to-Beat-All-Sauces and tucked into the oven where they will transform from pale white beans and watery sauce, to deeply golden beans and a thick glossy sauce. They will have soaked in all the sweet, smokey, and spicy flavors of the sauce. Who’s ready to dig in?!
Optional, but highly recommended, fourth step: pat yo’self on the back because you just made THE BOMBEST baked beans that ever did exist, no can opener required.
- 1 (16 oz) bag small white beans or navy beans
- 10 cups water, divided
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 sheet kombu
For the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1/2 medium onion
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tamari OR liquid aminos
- 1 tablespoon mustard powder
- 1/4 teaspoon smokey paprika
1. Add the beans to a large pot. Cover the beans with 6 cups of water and stir in the salt, kombu, and bay leaves. Let soak over night or 8 hours.
2. The next morning drain and rinse the beans. Return them to the pot along with the kombu and bay leaves. Cover with 4 cups water and bring to a simmer. Cook, until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. Drain and discard the bay leaves and kombu. Set aside.
3. While the beans are cooking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the onion into a food processor. Process until finely chopped. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate the onion on a box grater.
4. Heat the oil in a medium sauce pot. Add in the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened.
5. Add in the tomato paste and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly until the tomato paste has darkened in color, about 5 minutes.
6. Add in the remaining ingredients and bring up to a simmer. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
7. Combine the cooked beans and the sauce. Pour into a casserole dish with a lid and bake, covered for 30 minutes. If your baking dish does not have a lid, you can use aluminum foil to cover. Stir the beans, and return to the oven, covered, and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove and serve.