Real-deal Boston baked beans in a fraction of the time! Made with just a handful of simple ingredients & such rich, traditional flavor.
Hey hey! We are about to kick off the unofficial start of summer this weekend, and just in time I’m bringing you this awesome baked beans recipe!
It’s a top-notch Spring/Summer recipe that will be great for all your backyard barbecues!
The flavors are perfectly balanced, with sweet molasses and brown sugar, smoky bacon, and a whisper of tangy apple cider vinegar.
There’s so much savory goodness and this baked beans recipe is done in a fraction of the time that regular baked beans from scratch would need.
What are baked beans?
Baked beans are typically served as a side dish in the US. Although in the UK they’re often enjoyed on toast for breakfast!
They consist of white navy beans, cooked until tender, then flavored with some sort of salted pork and sweetened, usually with molasses and sometimes with brown sugar or maple syrup.
They’re then slow-cooked in the oven until the sauce gets thick and glaze-y.
This baked beans recipe is made from scratch but in a lot less time. It starts with canned beans, which cut out hours and hours of soaking and cooking time.
What does this baked beans recipe taste like?
There aren’t a whole ton of ingredients here, but it all bakes up about as traditional as you can get! Real-deal Boston baked beans.
The balance of sweet, savory, a little tangy, and a little smoky is absolute perfection.
Even better than Bush’s!
Ingredients for Boston baked beans:
You’ll only need 7 simple ingredients for this recipe, plus salt and pepper.
Here’s a quick rundown:
Beans: I recommend canned navy beans. They’re a real time-saver because they’re already partially cooked.
You can substitute with any type of canned bean you like, or a combination of beans such as pinto beans, black beans, or chickpeas.
Or you can use dried beans, but you’ll need to soak them for 4 to 12 hours and then simmer them in seasoned water for another 45 minutes or so.
Bacon: Bacon brings a slight smokiness to these baked beans and a rich, porky savoriness.
I like to use thick-cut bacon for this because it’s pretty easy to find in a regular grocery store. But if you can’t get it, regular sliced bacon will work just fine.
Either way, chop it into like 1/2-inch pieces so you get a little bit of bacon in every bite.
Salt pork is another option and that’s actually more traditional, so feel free to use that instead if you want your baked beans to be truly authentic.
I like to put half in the beans and reserve the other half to go on top, as a garnish.
Onion: Onion flavors the sauce and brings a little added sweetness.
My favorite would be a sweet onion, like a Maui or Vidalia.
But any kind of onion will do! Feel free to use yellow onion, white onion, red onion, or even shallot!
Molasses: Molasses is the key ingredient. It’s what makes baked beans taste like baked beans!
You can use blackstrap molasses or just regular molasses. Blackstrap has a little bit more of a bitter, burnt sugar taste (like the top of creme brulee) that I really enjoy in more savory dishes like this one.
Brown Sugar: Dark brown sugar yields an earthier flavor, but use whatever you have on hand! Or if you want to leave it out entirely, just use more molasses.
Mustard: Dry mustard powder is another really traditional ingredient. It adds a little sharp heat to the mix.
You can sub with another kind of mustard if you like, such as yellow mustard, brown mustard, or Dijon mustard. Add a little at a time, tasting as you go, until you get the right amount.
Apple cider vinegar: This ingredient carries the other flavors and adds a subtle tanginess to the baked beans.
I like to use apple cider vinegar because the flavor goes so well with the other ingredients. But you can sub another kind of vinegar if you like, such as balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, or sherry vinegar.
Salt: Salt carries the flavors and intensifies them. It adds a savory taste as well as making everything so much more flavorful!
I like kosher salt best because it doesn’t have any additives (table salt usually contains iodine and that can leave a bitter taste) so the flavor is pure, and it’s very inexpensive and easy to find.
How to make baked beans:
Slow-cooking brings out all the best in this classic side dish, but the prep is really quick and easy!
Start with the bacon. Cook it in a large pot (I love this kind: Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven) over medium heat, to render out the fat.
Once the bacon bits are looking crispy, fish them out with a slotted spoon and allow them to drain on paper towels.
Leave the bacon fat in the pot. We’re going to use that to cook the onion. This way all that salty, smoky, porky flavor infuses the baked beans all throughout.
Once the onions have softened and gone a little translucent, drain the beans (reserving their liquid for later) and add them to the pot, along with the molasses, the brown sugar, half the bacon, and the apple cider vinegar, dry mustard, salt, and pepper.
Stir it all up so every bean gets coated in all those delicious seasonings.
Once the pot comes up to a simmer, you can whisk it into a preheated oven. (Just make sure the handles are oven-safe! If not you’ll have to transfer the beans to a 3-quart baking dish first.)
Slow cook the beans, uncovered, giving them a stir every so often and adding that reserved bean water as needed.
You’ll know they’re done with they’re thick, sauce-y, and glaze-y. Sprinkle on the rest of the bacon and serve!
What can be added to baked beans?
This baked bean recipe is really perfect as-is, but if you want to put your own creative spin on it, here are a few add-ins you might want to try:
- A small can of crushed pineapple
- Chopped jalapeno or habanero for added heat
- Smoked paprika to bring out the smokiness
- Ground meat or sausage
- Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce for umami
- Additional veg such as tomatoes, corn, cabbage, or bell peppers
- Herbs such as bay leaf, thyme, or rosemary
Can these be made in an instant pot or slow cooker?
The answer is yes!
If you have an instant pot (aka: multi-cooker), this whole recipe can be made right in it. Use the saute setting for the bacon and onion, then secure the lid, close the steam valve, and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes.
For crockpot baked beans, saute the bacon and onion in a skillet on the stove first, then add them to the insert along with the other ingredients and cook for 5 hours on low or 3.5 hours on high.
Can these be made ahead?
Baked beans keep really well for a long time! I’d say a week or so in the fridge.
Allow them to cool to room temperature before placing them in an airtight container and refrigerating.
They can be rewarmed in the microwave for a few minutes, stirring every so often, or in a 170-degree F oven until heated through.
These will also keep in the freezer, in an airtight container, for up to 6 months! Thaw them in the fridge before reheating.
A few more of my favorite savory recipes:
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- 8 ounces (226.8 g) bacon, preferably thick sliced, roughly chopped
- 1 large (150 g) onion, diced
- 64 ounces (1814.37 g) navy beans, canned
- 2/3 cup (224.67 g) molasses
- 1/3 cup (73.33 g) dark brown sugar, loosely packed
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (3 g) dry mustard
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (9 g) kosher salt, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon (0.5 g) ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cook the bacon in a large, oven-safe pot over medium heat until crisp.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked bacon from the pot, leaving the rendered fat behind.
- Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain and saute the onion in the bacon fat until softened and translucent (approx. 5 minutes).
- Drain the beans, reserving the liquid in a bowl to use later.
- Add the beans to the pot along with half the bacon, the molasses, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper.
- Stir to combine, then bring the mixture up to a simmer.
- Place the pot in the oven uncovered, and cook until thickened and glaze-y (approx. 1 hour to 90 minutes), stirring every so often and adding reserved bean liquid if the baked beans seem too dry.
- Garnish with the remaining bacon.