If I were to ask you to quickly name the ingredients you’d use in baked beans, what would you tell me? Which kind of bean would you include in your recipe? Remember your answer and stick with it. Don’t let this recipe or my answer and the answers of others sway you.
I ask because I have preset opinions on which beans I use for which dishes. If I make chili, I automatically grab a bag of kidney beans. Refried beans also make me head towards the kidney variety, but sometimes I mix things up and use black beans too. It’s just the way the universe turns. In the same rotation of sun, moon and stars is the staple legume for baked beans; the navy bean. It’s small, it’s mild-flavored and I think it has one of the more smooth textures when cooked. It’s just karma-etically correct.
Apparently, Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t have the same vibe of karma as I do because they passed by the navy and great northern bean and pulled out the pinto bean for their Barbecued Baked Beans. I’m not sure why since there wasn’t an explanation with the recipe, but since they work on making their recipes “the best,” who am I to argue (I just wait and do that after I make the recipe).
Soak the beans. I know; I know. I could be creating the “soak the beans,” “don’t soak the beans,” and “just used canned” wars with those three words, but this is their recipe, not mine so I’m not getting into it. All I will say is that a can of navy beans has about 410mg of sodium. A bag of beans, less than 2mg. Just as another fyi, a small bag of Lay’s Barbecue Potato Chips has only 150mg of sodium.
Once the bag of chips is finished, preheat the oven and pull out a good sized Dutch oven. Cook finely chopped bacon in the pot until nice and brown, then add onion and let it sizzle gently until it’s nice and soft. Then throw in the garlic, stir for 30 seconds and add the nicely soaked and plump beans. Pour in some water, barbecue sauce, sugar, mustard, hot sauce and a little salt and stir it all up. Then bring it to a simmer.
That’s pretty much it for work. Once the bean simmer, cover them and slide them into the preheated oven. They cook there until nice and tender, about 2 1/2 hours, at which point they’re uncovered and cooked an additional 1 1/2 hours, or until thickened; in theory. To finish, add another half cup of barbecue sauce, season and serve.
The 2 1/2 and 1 1/2 hours for cooking are the longest amounts giving for both, with cover and without. I found that 4 hours wasn’t near enough time for my liquid to thicken and ended up mashing some and cooking it another hour to get the correct consistency. I also think that the type of barbecue sauce used is key to the flavor of this, as is using more instead of less hot sauce.
I originally made this for a neighborhood party and doubled the batch because it supposedly made 6 servings. They must expect people to take huge servings. Doubling the recipe gave me enough for a small army, not 12 people, and I had an awful lot left over. People ate what I put out, but not the entire bowl so I never had the opportunity to put out more.
Hubby and I were unimpressed. The beans weren’t inedible, but they also weren’t memorable. I am not fond of the use of pinto beans for this dish. I found the skin to be a bit tougher and the texture more mealy than navy beans. Hubby just found them blah. Dudette enjoyed them though. This was a side dish that she didn’t try to compromise on how much she needed to eat in order to be considered “finished.” Maybe that’s because they were so blah.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
For starters, I’d definitely use navy beans. I’d also coarsely chop the bacon instead of using a fine chop. I like to see the ingredients that are in my dish, especially when it’s bacon. There were a pair of vegans in the crowd and I had to make sure to tell them about the bacon because they had looked and couldn’t see any. I’d also up the hot sauce because a teaspoon does nothing to impact a pound of beans and all the other stuff.
- 1 pound dried pinto beans, rinsed and picked over
- 4 slices bacon, chopped fine
- 1 onion, minced
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 4 teaspoons)
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup barbecue sauce (good quality)
- ⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- Table salt and ground black pepper
- Add beans to 6 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, then cover it and let it sit for an hour. Drain the beans and clean and dry the pot.
- Preheat the oven to 250.
- In the Dutch oven, cook the chopped bacon until browned, 6-8 minutes. Add the onion and cook it for 5-7 minutes or until it is softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Pour in the beans, water, ½ cup barbecue sauce, sugar, spicy brown mustard, hot sauce and a teaspoon of salt. Bring the beans to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven.
- Cook the beans in the oven until they are just tender, 2-2½ hours. Remove the lid and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, 1-1½ hours, or until the liquid has thickened.
- Remove the Dutch oven and add in the last ½ cup barbecue sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.