Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kitchen Tip #4: How to Cook Dried Beans

 With food prices increasingly on the rise, I'm finding myself cutting back more and more on expensive proteins like meat and cheese and either substituting with beans or combining the two to make a meal go further. Dried beans are probably the most cost-effective meal-planning option, and they are incredibly versatile and healthy. 

A great way to cut food costs is to institute a meatless meal one or more nights a week. Every Wednesday is "bean night" at our house. {Doesn't that make you want to come to our house for supper?} My family loves beans, and if you were to stop by on a Wednesday night, you'd find us chowing down on a pot of either pintos or Great Northern (white) beans with cornbread. When we have lots of kale in the garden, I'll cook up some greens to go with our beans, too. And when I crave something less "Southern," I'll mix it up and cook some black or red chili beans to use in burritos, quesadillas, or chili; to go with rice; or as a side dish.

I know the thought of cooking beans might seem daunting to new cooks, but if you're serious about saving money (and you like beans), then I encourage you to give it a shot.  You really can't mess them up.

Here's a super-easy tutorial for cooking dried beans including pintos, black beans, red beans, or Great Northern (white) beans. There are two options for cooking dried beans: (1) the Overnight Soak (when you know beans are on tomorrow's menu and have 8 hours or more to prep) & (2) the Quick Soak (when you totally forget to soak them overnight or decide at lunch time that you want beans for supper).

For both options: 

1. Rinse your beans! Bagged beans are often very dirty and contain rocks, dirt, and other debris, so wash them multiple times until the drained water no longer contains dirt and debris.

 2. Put rinsed beans into a large cooking pot. Remember that the beans will swell, so use a big pot.

For Overnight Soak: 
1. To 1 pound of dried beans, add 6-8 cups of cold water. Let stand overnight or at least 8 hours. {Notice how the beans have swelled, nearly doubling their original size.}

 2. In the morning (or after 8 hours), drain the water from the beans and rinse once again.

For Quick Soak:

1. To 1 pound of dried beans, add 6-8 cups of water.  Bring water to a rapid boil (where you can't stir the bubbles down); and boil for 2 minutes.

2. Remove pot from heat. Cover with lid, and let stand for 1 hour.

3.  Drain water and rinse beans again.

Cooking Directions following Overnight Soak or Quick Soak:

1. Add 6 cups of water to beans.  Also, add any spices, onions, or meat (not salt at this point).  If I'm planning to use the leftover beans for chili one night, then I will go ahead and add onions, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and oregano to my beans while they're cooking.  That way they're already seasoned when I go to make my chili.  My mom loves to use thyme with her beans.  Play around and find what you like, or simply stick with salt and pepper.

Also, call me a Southerner (I am!), but I'm a firm believer in adding a little bit of bacon (or bacon grease), ham, salt pork, smoked turkey, or any smoked meat to the pot. Whatever needs to be used up, whether in the freezer or fridge gets added.  If in a pinch, my mom uses bacon bits (real not imitation).  Today, I unloaded a hunk of ham left over from Christmas.  The smoky flavor sends the beans over the top.

2. Simmer gently (not boiling) with the lid on until beans reach your desired consistency.  I like mine very soft and mushy, so I cook them all down on really low heat.  But generally they will be ready to eat in 1-2 hours. Sometimes I'll add carrots or new potatoes while the beans simmer.

3. Season with salt & pepper to taste.  {I don't salt my beans until AFTER they've finished cooking and are tender because I've read that salt makes the beans tougher if added while they're still cooking.  However, my mom always seasons her beans with salt before she cooks them and has never noticed any toughness.}  At this point, you could also add canned tomatoes.  {Be sure not to add any acidic ingredients to beans before they've cooked as they will never get tender.}


If you've never cooked dried beans, let me encourage you to give it a try.  It really is very easy to do, and you will find that you can save a lot of money at the grocery store by incorporating more beans into your menu.

Do you cook dried beans?  If so, how do you like to prepare them, and what do you do with your leftovers?

For comments or questions, contact me at:

Find Growing in His Glory on Facebook.

I would love to see more of you!  If you are encouraged by what you read here and would like to have posts from Growing in His Glory delivered to your inbox daily, simply click here.  Or you can subscribe in a reader of your choice in the right sidebar.



  1. Keri, I love your cooking tips! I learned a thing or two about cooking beans. I had no idea about the acidity, but it makes sense. I've learned that adding a little liquid mesquite can mimic that meat taste if you don't have any meat on hand or don't want to eat it.

  2. My pressure cooker is my new best friend in my kitchen! Cooking them the traditional way as you described never worked for me. So happy to order bulk beans knowing I'm saving money AND I can cook them perfectly now! :)

    1. Buying bulk beans is a great idea! I really need to look into that! I actually have a pressure cooker but have never used it! How sad! I will have to get it out though and try cooking my beans in it. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  3. This is very helpful. Thanks! I use my crock pot for beans. I didn't know about any of the flavoring tips. Thanks!

  4. I love to cook pinto beans in my crockpot. I start them before I go to bed so they cook about 8-10 hours and turn them off when I get up. Perfect and they are ready to eat for lunch. :-)

  5. Hi Keri - I popped over from Tammy's Recipes! I forgot to soak my beans last night, so now I'm following your instructions for 'Quick Soak' so we can have White Chicken Chili for dinner tonight :)

    QUESTION: Do you save your bean broth? If so, how do you use it in future meals? I have 3 quarts in my freezer, because I thought I would use it for something, but now I have no idea what to do with it!!!


  6. Hi, Barbara! I'm so glad you stopped by. I usually save my bean broth with my beans actually because when I freeze leftovers, I am generally intending to use them in soup or chili, sometimes for refried beans or in burritos. I've never strained the beans and kept the broth separate; however, I think it's a great idea if you have the freezer space. I'd say bean broth would make sauces richer and thicker than water would. You might also use it as a substitute for vegetable stock say in preparing risotto or rice or just use it as your stock for soups and chili.

    I admit I am intrigued by the idea of bean broth but will have to try it out to see how good it is in these and other meals. Best of luck!

  7. Thanks for your reply Keri! I have beef stew on tomorrow's menu and don't actually have any beef broth made up, so I think I'll try the bean broth.

    If you try it and like it and think of other great ways to use it up, please let me know :)

    1. Hi Keri! I couldn't wait to tell you - the beef stew I made with the broth from pinto beans was the best beef stew I've ever made! The flavor popped - it was amazing (if it's OK to say that about my own cooking without sounding conceited!). I can't wait to try something else with leftover bean broth :)

    2. That is great, Barbara! I'm so glad the bean broth worked so well. I'm actually going to use some today to make a double batch of chili. I seasoned the beans with cumin and chili powder when I cooked them, so I suspect (and hope) the broth will only enrich the flavor of the chili.

      Thanks for sharing the results of your efforts.