Forget the cans, these slow cooker baked beans from scratch are where it’s at! With just a few minutes of prep time, you’ll end up with the best baked beans ever!
Something like 5 years ago a friend posted about making baked beans. They looked phenomenal, but being that they’re actually baked, the process seemed way too labor intensive for this mama. Of course, that didn’t stop me from wanting to make baked beans literally every year since as soon as the weather turned. Can you blame me though? They’re like the perfect side dish for tailgating and barbecues! And have you met my husband? That man loves his BBQ and it takes some creativity to always make the perfect accompaniment. So finally, this year, I decided I had time for complex recipes.
KIDDING! I talked to another friend who made baked beans in the slow cooker. I’m all for a few minutes of prep and then just going about my day as the beans cook. I loved how the beans turned out, and when I tested a batch on some friends, they liked them too. Naturally that meant I’m posting the recipe, because nothing makes you feel like your tailgate game is next level like homemade baked beans.
Why slow cooker baked beans?
There are two reasons why the slow cooker is perfect for making baked beans. First, it’s convenient. With traditional baked bean recipes, you have to run the oven for a few hours. Unless you’re one of the lucky folks with a double oven, that’s not always feasible.
If you’re running the oven, you also have to be home to watch it, and you need to have a lidded pot that’s oven safe. With the slow cooker, you aren’t watching a timer as closely. It’s way more “set and forget” until the house smells gloriously of baked beans and your mouth waters.
Second, the slow cooker mimics the oven’s consistent temperature. The beans cook from dry into a perfectly steeped and flavorful baked bean and sauce consistency. A slow cooker also allows just the right amount of water to evaporate. So between the beans soaking up liquid as they cook, and the evaporation, you’ll get just the right consistency on your bean… “syrup”? Baked beans aren’t exactly in soup, the sauce is thicker, so I’m not sure what to call it. But you know what I’m talking about! Does it have an official name? I couldn’t find the info, so if you’ve got the scoop, drop me a comment and let me know.
A few recipe notes…
There are a few tips I’ve found that will help you make the best baked beans!
First, use dried navy beans. Canned baked beans are typically navy beans. They cook creamy, but still hold their shape. This bean’s flavor is well suited for the sweet, salty, smoky baked bean sauce.
Second, plan ahead and soak your beans overnight. This will make it easy to remove any beans you might not want or partial bean husks. Reality moment though, I forget to soak my beans a lot.
A trick I learned from my mother-in-law is to put the beans with some water in a pot. Place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Turn it off. Let it sit 20 minutes, then drain the water and continue with your recipe. I have done this many times and my recipes turn out identical to if I had remembered to soak.
Third, don’t bother cooking your bacon. The bacon is there to add flavor to the beans. No matter how crispy you cook your bacon, it’s not going to be crisp by the time it’s done cooking another 8-9 hours in liquid! You can safely skip that step. The bacon, if diced, will practically melt into your beans and it. will. be. delicious.
If you don’t have bacon or don’t eat pork, you can substitute with diced turkey bacon, or a crumbled sausage (chicken or turkey if avoiding pork). If you’re making this for a crowd, be sure to note that there is meat (and what kind) for those with restrictions. But I know my darling readers are always cognizant of these things, so I’m preaching to the choir.
Fourth, you might notice I don’t have any chili powder or heat in these beans. The great thing about homemade baked beans is that you are totally in control of the seasoning! My recipe is a little less sweet than most store-bought varieties, and has a good amount of smoky flavor. Chili powder is a great optional addition for subtle heat.
Finally, this recipe makes quite a bit! Because it feeds a crowd, it’s great for parties and potlucks, but don’t let that stop you from just making it for the family! I make a full batch and then divide it up for freezing. Slow cooker baked beans freeze *very* well. So in the same way I batch prepare my black beans, I’ll batch prepare baked beans. Having easy side dishes prepared and frozen has kept us from ordering takeout many busy weeknights.
- 1 pound dried navy beans
- 8 ounces uncooked bacon, diced
- 1 medium onion
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon prepared mustard (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, or white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 5 cups of water
- Place the beans in a large pot of water to soak overnight, or at least 4 hours (see notes). Drain and remove any hulls or broken beans that may have floated to the top.
- Place the beans in your slow cooker. You may also use a pressure cooker on the "slow cooker" setting (see notes).
- Add the rest of the ingredients - diced bacon, diced onion, tomato paste, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, apple cider vinegar, salt, and water. Stir to combine.
- Cover the slow cooker and set on high. Cook the beans for 8-9 hours until tender. Adjust seasoning as desired. Serve warm.
- Once cooled, the beans can be stored in the refrigerator up to a week or frozen for several months.
- I like to use mustard with a bold flavor, like a whole grain prepared mustard. Dijon mustard or Coleman's would also be excellent options.
- If you forget to soak your beans, use a shortcut! Place your beans in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, then turn off the flame. Allow the beans to sit in the hot water for 20 minutes, then drain and proceed with the recipe.
- If you are using a pressure cooker as your slow cooker, it helps if you have the slow cooker lid. The large pressure cooker lid doesn't allow for evaporation of liquid the same way the slow cooker lid does. If you don't have one, no worries. You'll just have a little extra liquid at the end. You may use the "saute" setting on low with the lid off to simmer the beans and evaporate some of the liquid.
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