Look for smooth surfaces and bright colors. Dull, wrinkled surfaces can indicate age.
Even though the beans are dried, fresher is still better. Store beans in an airtight container away from heat and use them within 6 months, preferably sooner.
Sort & Rinse
Look for smooth surfaces and bright colors. Dull, wrinkled surfaces can indicate age.
With few exceptions, beans will cook more evenly, tenderly and in less time, if they have been soaked in ample cool water first. (Check specific beans below to see the exceptions.)
Any amount of soaking time is beneficial, but most beans can use a soak of at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours. Or try the quick-soak method: Cover beans with 2 inches of water and boil 2 minutes.
Dried beans can be cooked in a saucepan or pot on top of the stove, in a pressure cooker, in your oven, or in your microwave.
The basic principles of cooking dried beans remain the same no matter which method you use. Dried beans require water or other liquid, oil or other fat and salt. Any acidic ingredients called for must be added at the specified time.
Water or other liquid is needed to soften the beans as they cook. There must be enough liquid to keep the beans covered so they will cook uniformly. Any beans not covered during cooking will dry out and be inedible.
Oil or other fat is used in the cooking of many foods to lessen the possibility of the cooking water boiling over. Vegetable oil, butter or margarine, lard or bacon is usually added to beans to help prevent boil-overs. The oil or fat used in the cooking also adds flavor to the beans.
Salt may be necessary to give beans flavor. There is some controversy as to when is the best time to add the salt to the beans. Some cooks add the salt only after the beans have been softened in cooking. Others prefer to add the salt to the cooking water with the beans. Our experience is that adding salt at the beginning of cooking results in more flavorful beans and does not significantly influence the cooking time or tenderness of the beans. For average taste, 1 teaspoon of salt in the cooking water for each cup of beans is about right. Note: You may want to hold off or cut down on the amount of salt used if salty meat is going to be added.
Place the drained beans into a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with 6 cups fresh water for each pound (2 cups) of beans, or to about one inch above the beans. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil (to prevent boiling over) and seasonings as desired. Boil gently with lid tilted until tender when taste tasted, 11⁄2 to 2 hours. Add hot water as needed to keep beans just covered with liquid. The best rule is to test frequently during cooking, then come to your own decision when beans are tender and taste “done”.
Cooking beans on top of the stove is a slow process that allows the flavors of the beans and seasoning to intermingle, creating the hearty flavor you expect from bean dishes. The disadvantage of this method is that it requires you to be present, although not continuously involved, while the beans are cooking.
To cook beans on your stove-top, combine soaked or dried beans, water, oil or fat, and seasonings in a saucepan or pot of appropriate size. Bring the beans to a boil, reduce the heat, then cover and simmer until beans are tender. This takes 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the bean variety. Check the beans occasionally to see if they are covered with the cooking liquid. If there is so much liquid absorption and evaporation that the top of the beans becomes exposed, add very hot tap water to the pot to cover the beans.
When dried beans boil, a foam forms on the top of the cooking liquid. This foam is water-soluble protein released from the beans and it will be absorbed back into the bean cooking liquid. It is not necessary to remove the foam. (To keep the foam down when cooking beans, add 1 tablespoon of butter, drippings (consider flavor), or vegetable salad oil, for each cup of beans.)
The best cookware for beans is a heavy metal pot or saucepan. Stainless steel, cast aluminum or cast iron are all excellent. The following guide may help you decide which of your pots and pans would be best for cooking beans.
Stainless steel pans should have copper or aluminum bottoms to distribute heat evenly. This cookware is easy to care for and lasts a lifetime.
Cast aluminum pans must be heavy to distribute heat well. Aluminum darkens with use but this does not affect the quality of the cookware or the cooked beans. Thin aluminum pans are inappropriate for cooking pans.
Cast iron is the heaviest of stove-top cookware. It heats slowly, distributes heat evenly and holds heat better than other materials. Cast iron coated with porcelain enamel is easy to clean.
If you have a pressure cooker, take advantage of it to prepare beans in a matter of minutes.
Pressure cookers are especially designed cookware of aluminum or stainless steel. All models have a lock-on lid and a vent over which a weight or pressure regulator, is placed. Most pressure cookers are designed to be used on top of your stove, but at least one model has its own electrical heat source.
Food is cooked by the high temperatures inside the cooker. This high temperature is made possible by raising the pressure to a point greater than atmospheric pressure. Fifteen pounds of pressure will raise the temperature in the cooker high enough to cook soaked beans in 3 to 8 minutes. Cooking times given below are based on 15 pounds of pressure. If your cooker uses only 10 pounds, double the cooking time. (Before cooking beans in your pressure cooker, read the manufacturer’s instructions.)
Safety measures – All pressure cookers have built-in safety mechanisms:
An over-pressure plug prevents pressure in the cooker from increasing if the regulator vent becomes clogged. To make sure this vent is clear, hold the lid up to the light and look through the vent. If the vent is closed or evenly partially closed, unplug it before using the cooker.
A lock-on-lid prevents the cooker from being opened if there is
still pressure inside.
Cooking Beans in Your Pressure Cooker – Combine soaked beans, water or other cooking liquid, vegetable oil and seasonings in the cooker. Do not fill it more than half full. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, seal the cooker and bring it up to the required pressure.
When the pressure regulator indicates the proper pressure, reduce the heat and start timing. Maintain heat under the cooker so the regulator moves gently or rocks 1 to 3 times per minute, as indicated for your type of cooker. If the regulator does not move at all, pressure is not being maintained because the heat is too low. If the regulator is in constant motion, the heat is too high. Cook for the shortest specified time indicted in the section called Bean Cooking Times.
Remove the cooker from the heat. To prevent beans from overcooking, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for quickly reducing the pressure in your cooker. To be sure the pressure has completely dropped, jiggle the regulator. If there is no hiss of steam, there is no longer any pressure.
Remove the regulator and lid and taste a few beans. If they are not as tender as you like, finish cooking without pressure. To do this, bring the beans to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to maintain the beans at a simmer. Place the lid on the cooker but do not lock it. And do not use the weight, or pressure regulator. Simmer for 15 to 30 minutes until the beans are tender.
If you have to cook beans longer on top of the stove after they have cooked in the pressure cooker, add 1 minute to the pressure cooking time the next time you cook them. Continue to add a minute every time you cook beans until they are done to the tenderness you like.
High altitude (above 3,500 feet) will at least double the time needed for cooking beans under pressure (see High Altitudes below). Check the manufacturer’s instructions if you live in a high altitude area.
Because the cooking time in a pressure cooker is so short, the beans may not absorb the flavor from the seasonings as well as when they cook in a saucepan or pot. Some cooks let the beans stand 30 minutes or so after cooking in the pressure cooker to help them absorb the flavorings. Other cooks prefer to use the stove-top method when they want a highly flavored bean dish.
As altitude increases, dried beans take more time to re-hydrate and cook. The difference begins to be noticeable above 3,500 feet.
Your pressure cooker can be useful at high altitudes but you’ll have to experiment with the cooking time. Begin by doubling the pressure cooker time in section called Bean Cooking Times.
Pressure Cooker Tips
Before cooking beans in your pressure cooker, remove the rack, or trivet, from inside the cooker.
When you close your cooker, be sure the lid is closed tightly and locked. If the lid is not closed and locked, steam will escape and the necessary pressure for cooking will not build up.
Never remove the weight, or pressure regulator, while pressure is still in the cooker. This releases steam which is dangerously hot! To see if any pressure remains in the cooker, jiggle the weight on the vent. If you can see or hear steam escaping, you know there is still pressure in the cooker.
Baking in the hot dry air of the oven is a slow process, but it’s the only way to create the glazed, crusty top characteristic of baked beans and bean pot casseroles. Generally, oven cooking is used in combination with cooking in a pressure cooker or in a saucepan on top of the stove. Be sure the beans are not overcooked before baking or they will be mushy.
Traditional containers for baking beans are earthenware bean pots, usually 3 or 3 quart size. The pot and lid should be glazed at least on the inside and must be lead-free. You can also use glass or ceramic casseroles. Metal baking pans are not recommended.
To bake beans, preheat the oven according to the recipe instructions. Then combine the drained cooked beans, seasonings, liquids and any other ingredients in the bean pot or casserole. Cover it and bake for 1 to 11⁄2 hours. To brown the top of the beans, remove the lid and bake the beans 15 to 30 minutes longer.
The advantage of using a crock pot is that you can put the food in it, turn it on and forget it. Several hours later, the dish is ready to eat. But beans do not cook that simply in a crock pot. The Low setting is too low, lengthening the cooking time to 16 to 20 hours. And depending upon the age of the beans and the hardness of the water, the beans may not cook at all! If you cook beans on the High settling, a large amount of cooking liquid evaporates. You’ll have to watch the crock pot to be sure the beans stay covered with liquid. If you want to experiment with your crock pot, try cooking soaked beans for 2 or 3 hours on High, making sure they are constantly covered by liquid. When they are just tender, turn the heat setting to Low and let them cook 6 to 8 hours longer. During these last 6 to 8 hours the beans wont need any special attention.
Crock pots can be used to reheat pre-cooked beans. They are also useful for keeping bean soups and stews warm while you finish preparing a meal or for serving at a buffet.
To cook beans in your microwave, place drained, soaked beans in a container with 6-8 cups of fresh hot water, cover and cook at full power for 8-10 minutes or until boiling. Reduce power 50% and cook another 15-20 minutes or until beans are tender. The beans are now ready for use in any recipe using cooked beans, or for freezing.
Reheating frozen beans in a microwave. Thaw frozen beans in their plastic or glass freezer container. Remove the lid and cover beans loosely with plastic wrap or waxed paper. Microwave on Defrost or the setting recommended by the manufacturer for thawing. Thawing time varies with the amount of beans and the setting used. Do not thaw completely; beans should be icy in the center. Let them stand covered at room temperature 2 to 3 minutes to finish thawing.
If beans were undercooked when frozen, finish cooking them in a saucepan on top of the stove.
To reheat beans, cover with a glass lid, plastic wrap or waxed paper. Beans will pop when reheating on High so use Medium or the setting recommended by the manufacturer. Heating time varies with the amount of beans. Stir them at least once while reheating; let them stand 5 minutes to distribute the heat evenly.
Most recipes will tell you to cook beans until tender. To check for tenderness, pinch or bite a few beans at a minimum suggested time, then every 10 to 15 minutes until the beans are tender.
Overcooked beans fall apart, releasing bean starch which thickens the cooking liquid. This may be desirable for some recipes.
Leftover beans should be cooled and then refrigerated in a airtight container. They will usually keep at least 4 days.
Bean dishes thicken as they cool and their seasonings and flavors continue to blend. That’s why bean dishes are better the next day.
Reheat beans over low heat and stir them often. Beans scorch easily over high heat. If the beans are too thick, stir in some water a little at a time.
Preparing more beans than you need is the best way to get valuable leftovers. With leftover beans you can make quick, easy lunches, salads or appetizers.
Freezing Cooked Beans
If you plan to freeze all of the beans you cook, it’s a good idea to undercook them. This usually means cooking about 30 minutes less than the suggested cooking times. If you cook beans in your pressure cooker, reduce the cooking time by 1 to 11⁄2 minutes. Undercooking will help the beans maintain their shape and texture as they thaw and reheat.
Freeze beans in 1 to 2 cup portions so they’ll be easy to thaw and use. Freezer containers should be airtight and moisture proof. Leave enough space at the top of the container for expansion of the beans. Fill the container to 1 to 11⁄2 inches from the top, making sure the beans are covered with liquid so they won’t dry out.
Cooked beans will keep in the freezer 2 to 3 months. After that time their flavor and texture will begin to deteriorate.
Thawing and Reheating Frozen Beans
Beans maintain their shape better if they are thawed slowly. Thaw them overnight in the refrigerator, for several hours at room temperature, or for about an hour in a pan of warm water. When the beans can be removed from their freezer container, put them in a saucepan to reheat and finish cooking.
Bring the beans to a boil slowly over medium heat to avoid scorching. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. The time the beans need to simmer will depend on how undercooked they were when you froze them. If they were fully cooked before freezing, you need only reheat them.