hot and smoky baked beans

I think that the basic instinct that gets us in the kitchen “after all those messy sustenance issues have been attended to” is a deep-seated desire to make something taste a little better than the way we’ve come to accept it. It’s why there are ten thousand crab cake recipes and a line of followers behind each, and it’s why everyone has an idea carved into their base philosophy of the way corn bread is supposed to taste (and most of it fails to please because it’s not as savory/rich, sweet/cakey or textural/salty as they believe pone was intended to be). I’d also argue that this is why few bother to make their own ketchup, as Heinz figured out a long time ago what most of us expect of it and why reinvent the wheel?

hot and smoky baked beans

I’m pretty sure it’s why this summer I’ve become obsessed bordering-on-frenzied with figuring out how to make all those American BBQ classics unboring. Somewhere along the line, barbeque sauce started tasting like tangy corn syrup, coleslaw started tasting like soggy dullsville, potato salad became a boiled-tuber-floating-in-eggy-oil cop-out, and baked beans became wretchedly sweet and uniform, each crying out for some innovation. But today, I’m starting with the beans.

And what beans they are! These chipotle baked beans are everything your last can of baked beans thought it was going be when it grew up. They’re spicy and complex and dramatic. They were also finished in two meals, and we sang the “beans, beans” song the whole time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Hot and Smoky Baked Beans
Bon Appetit, July 1999

6 bacon slices*
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/4 cups purchased barbecue sauce
3/4 cup dark beer
1/4 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard 3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 to 6 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chilies**
6 15- to 16-ounce cans Great Northern beans, drained
Chopped fresh parsley***

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels and drain. Transfer 2 1/2 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet to large bowl. Finely chop bacon; add to bowl. Add onion and next 7 ingredients to bowl and whisk to blend. Whisk in 4 to 6 teaspoons chipotle chilies, depending on spiciness desired. Stir in beans. Transfer bean mixture to 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Bake uncovered until liquid bubbles and thickens slightly, about 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes.

* So, this is where I admit that despite my love of all things salty and pork-ful, I skipped the the bacon. [Blashphemy!] Even the best of bacon gets a leathery unappetizing texture when in a wet base for a period of time, thus, it was omitted.
** And this is where I warn you, in italics no less, that this is a LOT of chipotle. I used 1 (one!) large one in the whole dish and it was tres spicy. Add what you see fit, but I’d suggest sparingly.
*** Might have forgotten this; the world did not end.

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67 comments on hot and smoky baked beans

  1. Kit

    Love your website! Great recipes and commentary, but … tsk, tsk, tsk. “Barbecue” is spelled with a “c” – not a “q”. Sure, we abbreviate it as BBQ or Bar-B-Q because that’s how it’s pronounced. But, when we write it in full, it’s barbeCUE. (Think of a pool/billiards “cue” stick or to “cue” someone’s lines in a play.) Spelled with a “q”, it would be pronouced “”barbek”, like “technique”, “unique”, “bisque”, etc., where the “que” is pronounced as a “k”.


  2. katie

    My family LOVED this recipe. I found the KEY to making it is not to bake the beans, but to put them in the crockpot and just let them simmer for a couple of hours. It keeps them wonderfully soupy and you get to avoid firing up the oven on a summer day. Also, just saute the onions a little with the bacon so that they aren’t crunchy and raw. I threw in a couple teaspoons of fresh minced ginger as well since I had it leftover from another recipe and liked the added depth, but the beans would have been marvelous without it too.

  3. Rachel

    These are awesome. I added a few healthy shakes of liquid smoke instead of bacon. Also, these would be much better with home-cooked beans. The canned were a little mushy, but the flavor was AMAZING!

  4. Duncan Hill

    ‘Barbeque’ is an acceptable variant in American, despite the origin – a misunderstanding of the abbreviation BBQ; however ‘barbecue’ is the correct appropriate (and internationally understood) form. The spelling ‘barbeque’ should indeed be pronounced ‘bar-bek’.

  5. Janet

    Yum! Brought these to a 4th of July party, to rave reviews. The chipotle is great, and they’re not sweet and sticky like canned beans are. I used dried beans (why? dunno) and raw onions, which were sweet and tender and cooked. Also baked them in a Dutch oven, since I have that and not a glass dish of the appropriate size (or pretty much any size, really). Will make these again!

  6. don

    To cook
    1 dig a hole about 1 cubic foot in the ground. Burn a fire in it for about 2 hours. Put whatever bean recipe you like in a one gallon corn syrup can (I’m dating myself) and place in hole among the coals and charcoal.
    2 keep a fire going above the hole till the next day at supper time.
    3 excavate and die bloated.

  7. light

    I used the bacon drippings as in the recipe but reserved the actual bacon to crumble over the dish just before serving. It was crunchy and delicious and I highly recommend it!

  8. Lenore

    Deb, what kind of barbecue sauce do you use? I’ve got access to mustard/vinegar, sweet, tabasco-tinged, etc., but I’m unhappy with any sauce I try since D.L. Jardine stopped making their Texas Champagne sauce.

      1. Janine

        I have a kid who is turned off by spice, but I try to live on the edge a little to see what I can get away with. Added about 2 teaspoons smoked paprika and a hard shake of chili powder, omitted the actual chili. In combo with the BBQ sauce it hit the right depth of flavor without being too spicy. Loved it!

  9. These beans will make my party spread on Monday. They look fab! These grammar police are annoying and patronizing, btw. “Tsk tsk tsk” – obnoxious.

  10. diana

    does anyone know how many cups of dried beans is equivalent to 6 15-16 ounce cooked great northern beans? thanks…

  11. Thanks for the great recipe. We tried it for Father’s Day instead of our old standby. We now have a new standby! I did it in the crockpot and used Trader Joes BBQ sauce and added a little bit of water which made it a bit more saucy. With this being such a flavorful dish, the missing bacon was not missed.

  12. Mary Beth

    I think I found this via the Saveur newsletter and just posted comments on Epicurious. Good base recipes make the rounds I guess. My only adjustment was to use bacon bits (the real one’s) from the freezer and a bit of canola oil to sauté the onions in prior to combining with the rest of the ingredient. I think the recipe needs the meaty/smoky flavor of the bacon. Next tweek may be to reserve the bacon for topping at the end of baking and add a splash of liquid smoke to the mix!

  13. I am ready to try this recipe once it warms up down here a little. My husband loves baked beans and I’d love to try something more authentic than what I usually make. I applaud your willingness to barbeque (I’m from SC and we spell it that way:) in a tiny apartment in New York. FYI: We (in the Southland) also usually only use the word barbeque to describe cooking pork (or beef in Texas or whole chickens) over coals (preferably hard wood coals) and serving with a sauce – as opposed to ‘grilling’ which is anything else (fish, meats, veggies, etc.) cooked on a grill. But qué será, será. I love your blog!

  14. Meghan

    Deb: I made these the week after you posted the recipe – following your omissions, exactly. We loved these – and they were gone in just a few meals like you said! I’m making them again for our Super Bowl crowd today – and I really believe this is one of my favorite things you’ve posted. (ease + result + ingredients already in the pantry = love.)

  15. Stace

    Hey Deb, this looks like an awesome receipe. In the UK, baked beans are very common as breakfast/anytime food- usually on toast. Highly recommended if you’ve been out on the town the night before. In lieu of being able to wait an hour + prepping with a hangover, I adapted your receipe to make tinned baked beans taste mush more homemade- a tin of baked beans in their sauce (they come in a tomato-ish sauce), some beer and a bit of water, salt, smoked paprika, a dash of chili flakes and some bacon- let simmer for 15 minutes or so while you make toast (or frozen hasbrown cakes) and fry some bacon, put the tea and coffee on- your Sunday looks a whole lots better on the other side of that meal. I’ll definitely go the whole way with your receipe one day though. Also, a hearty seconding of Suzy’s (#14) comment about pedantry.

  16. Larissa

    OMG I LOLzd when I read the first comment about the GRAMMAR. Get a life peeps, this site is about amazing food, not being a nit-picky nellie. I personally am drooling all over my computer thinking about these beans…and am actually making them for a Royal Wedding viewing party I’m hosting…and I’m calling them “These-Are-Bloody-Spicy British Baked Beans”. Sorry if there are any real Brits out there who I’m offending :) Thanks for the great recipe, they’re in the oven now and they smell like HEAVEN!

  17. Allie

    I’m happy to see that bacon is optional, because I live in a pork-free city (Jerusalem) and can’t find bacon. Also, we don’t have canned chilies…we have fresh ones but I’ve never worked with them. Can you advise how I could use fresh chilies in place?

  18. Helen

    Thanks Deb–One more question: I can’t for the life of me find light molasses. Can I use my regular molasses?

  19. I have NEVER liked baked beans in my life (I’m 59), but I love your recipes, so I thought I’d try this one. Made it ‘as is’ with the bacon….. it was so delicious I ate two helpings and am making it today for the second time in two weeks. Thanks for a great recipe. And thanks to my daughter for introducing me to your recipes.

  20. Alisha

    I made this twice and halved the recipe the second time since I’m the only one in the house that likes baked beans. The second time I used an 8×8 glass casserole dish and for the amounts in the recipe that don’t neatly divide in half, I estimated as close as I could and it came out good, same as the full recipe. It’s still a lot of beans though! If you’re making it for 4 or so people, halving it is the perfect amount.

  21. KatieK

    I like to precook onion before adding it to baked beans, meatloaf or any casserole. Somehow it never cooks through when added raw and causes a bit of burping. I love baked beans for breakfast, usually left over with Southern spoon bread. I guess that’s my British heritage speaking thanks to #23 for blogging it’s a UK breakfast. Then it’s my Mississippi/Maryland heritage pairing it with spoon bread.

  22. Al

    Made this yesterday and it was fantastic! I can’t wait to eat leftovers for lunch today. Next time, I’ll try it using your homemade bbq sauce recipe. Thank you Deb!

  23. Mari

    Scrolling through your past posts while snacking, I had an embarrassing but also brilliant thought: “Does Deb have a recipe for homemade BBQ potato chips?”
    If there’s anyone whose experience I trust in such matters it’s you! So if you ever feel like playing around with that, please let us know!

  24. Shelley Brosnan

    This is now my favorite baked bean recipe. I doubled recipe and for some of the beans I cooked a bag of Rancho Gordo beans I had for a trip to CA. I also cooked overnight in the crockpot on low and they turned out great. Not dry not but lots of liquid….just perfect. I used 2 lg chipotle peppers and adds a nice smoky flavor without the heat. Since this was made for others didn’t want to chance it. Best homemade baked beans ever. Thank you,

  25. AlexS

    Hi Deb, we made this w/ Rancho Gordo’s Rio Zape bean, a perfect bean for this recipe. (You introduced to us to RG and I thank you for that :) Your recipe calls for 2 lbs of dried beans (the equiv of the canned), we used 1 lb. It was delicious. The hardest part was finding a plain ‘dark beer’. Fruity, IPA, Organic, Coffee, Chocolate? oh brother… We gave ourselves RG’s ‘The Big 20’ for Christmas (if I didn’t tell you before). We’ve have been having delicious dinners (& leftovers) ever since.

  26. annie

    Just linked to this from Mason-Dixon Knitting. I love baked beans and this looks great but I have a question about the chipotle.

    The recipe calls for 4-6 teaspoons of canned minced chipotle. When you warn that this is too much you say you used 1 “large one in the whole dish.” Do you mean 1 heaping teaspoon? or 1 large pepper? Because 4 tsp of canned minced pepper would probably be the equivalent of one whole pepper. (To me 4 tsp of canned minced chipotle sounds about right.)

    Thanks in advance for clarification!

  27. Jennie M

    So delicious! I made this without the chipotle (I know it’s the main ingredient but I didn’t have it – just added some chili powder) and it was a HUGE hit at our football tailgate! Kept it warm all day in a crockpot and it definitely dried out- would only bake for half the time next time if I’m going to keep it in a crockpot :)

  28. Susan Chester

    Made this yesterday for a cookout. Didn’t have Worcestershire Sauce so I left it out. Also used Strawberry Blonde beer because it was what I had. Also cooked up the bacon and used the bacon drippings to saute my onion before adding it, along with the bacon grease. I used two cans of mixed beans plus four of Great Northern instead of all six Great Northern. Last change is I added the crumbled cooked bacon on top at the very end when it came out of the oven, so it wouldn’t get soggy. So many compliments. Best beans I’ve ever made.


    Deb, I am part of the small subset of the no-cilantro gene group that is also no-beer (ah well, I will just have to settle for WINE!!!). What can I use in its place?

  30. Margaret

    The picture in the recipe header looks like a small red bean but the picture within the recipe clearly has great northern beans. What kind of bean is in the header picture?

  31. Grace

    So, I was super excited about making this recipe. But I got to the grocery store and they had absolutely no canned navy beans (curse the pandemic).

    But they did have dried beans.

    No problem, I thought. I cook dried beans when I make the black bean soup and the three-bean chili on here. Absolutely no sweat.

    So, I soaked the dried beans for 19 hours. I only had 1lb of dried beans, which is 2/3 the amount, but I kept the other ingredient amounts the same, since I knew they would need some extra liquid. I made the recipe, popped it in the oven around 6 PM, and checked in 90 minutes.

    Beans were still hard. I put them back in.

    And repeat every 30 minutes until 10 PM. I added another full beer around 9 PM because they were drying out. But my beans were still too hard to be enjoyable.

    I gave up at 10. I moved the beans to a sauce pan, and stuck it in the fridge. I started simmering it around 9 AM this morning (adding more bbq sauce, brown sugar, probably about two cups of water, as needed.) It’s been simmering for 3 hours, and they are still not quite ready. But the sauce is so tasty! It’s sticky and sweet, and smokey and spicy.

    So, the TLDR: If you use dried beans make sure you a) fully cook them first or b) add lots of extra liquid at the onset and prepare for a much longer cooking time than given here.

  32. Jane Williams

    Hi, I, too, have been making this recipe for years after seeing it on the Epicurious website. I make it exactly as written, except I use 3 different kinds of beans – usually pinto, black and great northern – for visual variety! It’s hard to come up with a better recipe for “baked beans”.

  33. Rebecca

    This recipe is great to feed a crowd, share with friends (meal train), or just have enough leftovers to freeze. Otherwise, I halve it for a more reasonable quantity of beans. I serve it with cornbread and Smitten Kitchen coleslaw (with vegan mayo). I make the following ingredient changes: omit chipotle, use vegan Worcestshire sauce, use dark molasses- decrease to 3 tbsp and increase brown sugar by 1 tbsp. I also like to cook the beans in the crockpot and make the following change to how I cook it: before adding anything to the crock-pot, I fry the onions in a pan on the stove until they start to brown. Then I add some smoked paprika (1/2 tsp or so), a pinch of salt, and all other ingredients except beans. Simmer on stovetop for about 5 mins. While simmering, open all cans of beans, drain, and put into crockpot. Then, turn off stove & add sauce over beans in crock-pot, and cook on medium or high heat for a few hours, stirring occasionally.

  34. Anita

    Deb, when you omitted the bacon, did you also omit the drippings? Trying to figure out if I should sub some other fat for the bacon grease or just omit entirely (we’re not bacon eaters).
    Looks delicious! Thanks

    1. deb

      I’d leave the dripping in if using bacon; if you don’t use the bacon, you can substitute the fat with a neutral oil or even butter.

  35. Ali

    I made these and they were outstanding. What I decided to do ot avoid the leathery bacon problem was to leave it out while cooking and stir it in just before serving. This worked very well and would do the same next time I make these.

  36. If you use dried beans that have been soaked overnight but not precooked how much time will this require to bake? I added a bit more beer figuring I would require extra liquid and only realized the recipe called for canned beans after I had tossed all ingredients in the pot! and into the oven. I imagine Smitten Kitchen has its own 1-800 number haha for such existential culinary queries. Thank you for making our lives always more delicious. Deliciousness pretty much guaranteed

    1. deb

      My friends have the number and I get “wait so how do I marble this banana bread” queries all the time. ;) Cooking time for soaked beans will very much depend on the size and the age of the bean. Something small that hadn’t lived too long on a shelf might only take another 30 to 45 to cook in simmering liquid; something larger or older might still take 1 to 2 hours (although the latter is very rare for me). Add more water as needed!