Tender and creamy navy beans in a sweet and tangy molasses sauce typical of New England. These homemade Boston baked beans are a true comfort food. Slow cooker and Dutch oven instructions included. This recipe requires a 6-qt slow cooker.
5cupsWater (reserved from bean soaking)[See Note 8]
Soak the Beans:Soaking the beans is optimal for a shortened cooking time. Starting with un-soaked beans adds an additional 4-6 hours to the slow cook time. This increases the cooking time from 5 - 6 hours to about 10 - 12 hours. [See Note 1] Overnight soak - Place beans in a large bowl and cover with water. The water should reach at least 2 inches over the top of the beans. Allow to soak overnight or at least 8 hours. Retain the soaking liquid for cooking.Quick Soak - For a quick soak, pour the dry beans into a pot and cover the beans with cold water. Place the pan on the stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, turn off the stove, and allow the beans to soak in the hot water for 1.5 hours. Retain the soaking liquid for cooking.Make sure the water level is at least 2 or 3 inches above the bean level to allow for absorption. Reserving the soaking liquid [See Note 8], drain beans in a colander and remove any debris, discolored beans or empty shells. Soaking overnight greatly reduces the cooking time required.
Prepare the Beans in either a crock, Dutch oven, or Slow Cooker insert:Score the salt pork 1/4 inch deep 1 inch apart, and slice into two even pieces. Transfer to the bottom of the cooking vessel.Combine molasses, mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper, onions and 5 cups soaking liquid. Add the pre-soaked beans. Pour the molasses mixture over beans, stir, and cover. The liquid should cover the beans by 1/2 inch. Add more water if necessary.
Cook the Beans
By Dutch oven or Clay Beanpot:Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.Transfer beans into the Dutch oven or Clay Bean pot and bake covered until the beans are tender and the liquid has thickened - about 6 hours. Check the beans every 45 minutes, adding more hot water if necessary to keep beans in broth at all times. For the last 50 to 60 minutes of cooking, uncover the beans to thicken the sauce. At this stage, if you are having hot dogs or sausages with your beans, you can add them into the pot to heat inside with the beans, optional. Once the beans are to your desired tenderness, remove from oven, adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and molasses, if necessary. Since Navy beans are relatively high in starch, the sauce will thicken slightly as it cools. If the beans do not thicken enough, See Recipe Note 9 for thickening the beans. If the beans become too thick, add a splash or water of chicken stock and thin to desired consistency.
By Slow Cooker: Soak the beans overnight and drain per step 1. Add all the ingredients into the slow cooker and stir to combine per Recipe Steps 3 & 4. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours or HIGH 5-6 hours, stirring occasionally and checking for tenderness. Taste and adjust molasses, salt, and other seasonings. The sauce will thicken as it cools. If the beans do not thicken enough, See Recipe Note 9 for thickening the beans.If the beans become too thick, add a splash of water of chicken stock and thin to desired consistency.
Both fresh water and the soaking water will produce tender baked beans. Retain the soaking liquid for more colorful, flavorful beans with a thicker bean broth.
Dried white beans like Navy beans or Great Northern - I prefer Navy beans for their size. Larger beans like great northern and white kidney beans take a little longer to cook.
Molasses - a sweetener traditional to Boston. Unlike maple syrup or sorghum syrup, molasses was readily available to the Boston colonists making it the obvious choice in sweeteners.
Ground mustard powder - In most cases you can use 1 tablespoon of prepared yellow mustard in place of 1 teaspoon dried ground mustard. In this recipe, you would need to substitute 4 tablespoons of prepared yellow mustard for the ground mustard. Ground mustard is also called powdered mustard, mustard powder or mustard flour.
Dark brown sugar - The difference between the light brown sugar and dark brown sugar is just the amount of molasses added to each. Dark brown sugar has more molasses. For this recipe, light and dark brown sugar can be used interchangeably. If desired, adjust for the use of light brown sugar by adding an extra tablespoon of molasses to the pot.
Salt pork or bacon - Baked beans with bacon (recipe) and Beenie Weenies are great variations on this pork and beans recipe that typically starts with salt pork as it's meaty flavoring.
Salt pork - a piece of salt-cured pork belly. It's most commonly used in Boston Baked Beans, pork and beans, and some soul-food like braised collard greens. If you use salt pork, decrease the amount of salt in the recipe by half and adjust accoring to your own tastes.
Bacon ends - These are the leftover ends from sliced slab bacon for seasoning or rendering into lard and bacon bits. These work well as a substitute for salt pork in baked beans. These are not as salty as salt pork. Adjust the salt level according to your own tastes.
Beanie Weenies - also called Franks and Beans or Franks n Beans. This dish is similar to pork and beans, but adds sliced hot dogs instead of bacon ends or salt pork. Adjust salt in the recipe accordingly.
Salt - Beans cooked with salt are more flavorful. The amount will depend on the use of salt pork vs the other pork products and individual tastes. Start with a minimum amount of salt and increase to your desired level. Typically, 2-pounds of beans start with about 1 tablespoon of salt. However, this can be too salty when using salt pork. Start with less and you can always add more.
Reserved soaking water - the reserved liquid is best for flavor, color, and broth thickness but fresh water may also be used.
How to Thicken Baked Beans if they are too watery:
Remove 1 cup of beans, mash them with a fork, return them to the pot, and stir to combine. The starch in the beans will act as a natural thickener.
Make a slurry of 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of cold water. Whisk the cornstarch so that it's smooth and then stir it into the beans. The heat in the pot will thicken the cornstarch. This is a great gluten-free alternative to flour.
Use 2 tablespoons flour mixed with 1/4 cup cold water for each cup of liquid to be thickened. Thoroughly mix the water and flour to prevent lumps. After stirring the combined flour and water into the sauce, cook another 10 minutes until thickened.
Beans themselves are starchy and act as a natural thickener for the sauce. Sometimes, however, the beans can be a little too thin at the end of the cooking time. This is especially true with slow cooker baked beans where the cooking liquid is not lost during cooking.