Thursday, April 11, 2013

Baked Beans for a Barbecue

Hey. We never said we were trying to win Beautifullest Side Dish. Lay off.
Despite the fact that, some nights, it is all I can do to put Pizza Toast on the table, I love to have lots of people over for dinner. I really do. And as soon as the weather is nice, I like to make burgers and veggie burgers and huge salads and a ginormous pot of (cheap and cheerful) baked beans. Everybody loves them (by which I mean "most people like them pretty much"), and they're great if you're actually too lazy to make veggie burgers, because then you still have a protein to serve the vegetarians! (Sleazy but real, folks.) Also, if you got a pressure cooker like I told you to recommended, this is a very quick and effortless recipe. Otherwise, this is a very time-consuming and effortless recipe, and one that I'm not quite as sure about.

I am not sure why the beans look so weirdly lacquered here. 
A few notes: despite the unconscionable amount of sweetener, these are just about right. Less sweet than many canned varieties, but still familiar in their smoky sweetness. I'm sorry about the sugar. It's kind of the baked-bean thing, but you can eat all your beans unsweet the whole entire rest of the year. Also, I'm sorry about the liquid smoke. You'll feel like you might as well be ashing your American Spirit right into the pot, but it really adds the perfect smoky flavor, I've found. You can substitute smoked paprika or chipotles, but be mindful of the heat potential if you're serving heaps of potentially bean-eating wimps kids. Edited to add: I forgot to mention (thank you, readers, for reminding me!) that the only reason you need to add something smoky here is the absence of bacon. How the mighty have fallen! A year ago, I would have been like, "Chop a pound of bacon and fry it. Fry the onions in its rendered fat." That's what you really should do, if you can.

Baked Beans
Makes tons (10-20 servings)

1 cup of purchased barbecue sauce is a good substitute for the ketchup, molasses, vinegar, cloves, and liquid smoke—although I confess to liking the flavor better in the more-ingredients version. Still don’t hesitate: the beans are delicious that way.

4 cups pinto beans (about 2 pounds) (Navy beans are traditional, but my devotion to big, succulent pinto beans knows no limit.)
3 tablespoon kosher salt (divided use) (or half as much table salt)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cups water
½ cup ketchup
½ cup molasses
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon dry mustard (I like Coleman's)
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Put the beans and 2 tablespoon salt in a pot and cover them with water by a generous 3 or 4 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat off, cover the pot, and leave them to soak for approximately an hour (a little more or less is fine!). Drain the beans.

Heat the oil in the bottom of your pressure cooker*, and sauté the onion over medium heat until soft and golden, around 8 or 10 minutes.

Add the drained beans to the pot, along with the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt, the six cups of water, and all the rest of the ingredients. Stir well. Seal the lid, bring the cooker to pressure, and cook at steady, low pressure for 35 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the pressure to release on its own.

Now take the lid off. The beans will seem too liquidy and fall-aparty, and you’ll think you’ve overcooked them. Fret not! With the lid off, simmer the beans over low heat for 30 minutes to an hour, until the beans firm up (oddly, they will) and the liquid gets nice and thick. Taste and adjust the seasonings (if they don’t taste robustly delicious, consider adding more salt, vinegar, or sugar). Serve.

* If you don’t have a pressure cooker (which you really should have, if you’re at all serious about beans), try this method instead, based on one in The Joy of Cooking:

Soak the beans, as above, but don’t add salt and don’t drain them. Instead, after an hour, bring them back to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 to 90 minutes, or until the beans are creamy but still intact. Drain them gently.

Now sauté the onions, as above, in a Dutch oven (or another lidded oven-safe pot), then add the beans, 3 cups of water (instead of 6) and the remaining ingredients (use 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt). Bake in a 250 oven until the liquid is thick and the beans are delicious: 4 to 5 hours. Taste for salt and other seasonings.

This is a nice, inexpensive way to make a huge side dish.
I like that the garlic powder turned away at the last second--so coy and mysterious!
Beans soaked and drained.
Half these onions were destined for the veggie burgers. It was kind of a twofer situation.
This is the watery stage, when you'll be despairing. No worries! They'll boil down nice and thick.


  1. I bought a pressure cooker like you told me to, Catherine! I haven't regretted it!

  2. I too purchased a pressure cooker! But I got an electric one. In blue. It looks like a metallic blue sports car really, which is fine, because my husband does most of the cooking. I make him follow a lot of your recipes. Anyway, thanks for the beans recipe. I like to bring beans to bbq's because I'm vegetarian and the people I know don't believe in vegetarians, much less bother to make the veggie burgers. So I like to show up with my own meal, but so many bbq beans recipes call for bacon.

  3. Anonymous1:39 AM

    I didn't exactly buy a pressure cooker, I fished the one I was scared of out of the cupboard and had another go - it was a great move and now I use it a LOT! Thanks! You should work for the Pressure Cooker Advertising Board, Catherine...

  4. So, I know you were going for the whole vegetarian thing here, but I think you may have forgotten the bacon. I always put bacon in my baked beans, because as we all know: Everything's better with bacon.

  5. alison8:11 AM

    Oh it's 8 in the morning here and i'm Soooo hungry for these beans now!

  6. These look delicious, even without bacon! Have you shared a recipe for veggie burgers before, because I would love a good one.

    1. Darcey, click the link in the third line! It is the *best* recipe. xo

  7. I bought a jar of applewood smoked sea salt the other day. I was expecting it to be pretty subtle, but it is super duper smoky. I'm wondering if you could substitute the regular salt and liquid smoke with some of the applewood salt?? Hmm...

  8. I have a pressure cooker and I use it a lot. But if I have time to plan, I prefer to cook my beans in my crockpot overnight. I don't presoak or anything. I bet you could put everything in the crock (maybe with an extra cup or two of water), then in the morning dump into a pot on the stove for that last 30-60 minutes. Next outdoor outing, I'll give it a go.

  9. Jennie7:41 PM

    You would get paid good money as a food stylist to make those beans look so lustrous, Catherine. The difference is that a food stylist would probably achieve that look with something nasty like glycerin or baby oil. oil beans...

  10. Anonymous8:28 PM

    I still have my mother's aluminum pressure cooker from the 1950s - but I am scared to use it!!


  11. Anonymous10:05 AM

    Diane, it might be safer to buy a new one!!

  12. Anonymous8:46 PM

    I love your writing so much, I made my spouse start reading your posts. He doesn't really get it, which (honestly) makes me love them more - kinda like it's a secret society thing. Anywho, thanks for the smiles and recipes....and sisterhood.

  13. Anonymous10:18 AM

    I LOVE baked beans. I use the canned stuff instead of pasta sauce because I am LAZY. But since I borrowed by moms pressure cooker, which is now collecting dust on the bottom shelf, years ago - I might as well try my hand at some real baked bean cooking.

  14. Anythingforbenandbirdy (remember that awful disney login procedure...)6:27 PM

    I like beans with tomato sauce from a can - not so much the deep browned beans, so I have hesitated to put a pressure cooker on my list of must-haves. Any ideas on how to make them taste just like out of the can? Any I remember from my childhood beans had skins on them too, which my palate (and now I think my kids too) couldn't handle. But I like the economy of it all, so please, convince me :)

  15. Hi! here. Your blog is really awesome. I will keep on visiting your blog and I can't wait to see your latest post. Have a nice day!!

  16. Anonymous7:02 AM toast.......I know we're talking beans but.......mmmmmm

  17. Made the beans! Remember I said hubby does most of the cooking? I made the beans all by my very own self. In the scary pressure cooker. And they were great! Even my picky son ate a few. Thanks for the recipe. They'll definitely be my staple for cookout invitations.

  18. Catherine!!! I just saw you were on the NYT!!! I'm so proud of you! And the article was, of course, beautiful and perfect.

  19. I know this is odd, but I also know Michael is a runner, and you haven't posted about this week's events. Anyway, I just hope you and yours were not near the scariness, and I apologize for my creepy paranoid internet concern.

    1. No, no, we're fine here. Sad and fine, and thank you for checking. xo

  20. miryboo4:46 PM

    Yep, officially worried.

    1. No, I'm just lame, and shaken, and getting ready to post, I swear. I'm sorry, and humbled by your concern. xo

  21. oh, I consider liquid smoke "natural." It's awesome. These beans look great. We like to eat leftover baked beans next to eggs and buttered toast for breakfast.

  22. Making them right now for tomorrow! Am making your buttermilk pancakes for dinner too. Your recipes are all my staples now! Thanks!

  23. dale_in_denver1:44 PM

    My youngest of 3 sons was just diagnosed with celiac. Yay for gluten free recipes!