aked beans are perfect on cool autumn day and pair well with almost any meat or gameday food. I think baked beans are an amazing side dish because they act as a bridge between meat and vegetables. You can scoop up some baked beans along with anything else on your tailgate plate and they will taste amazing. They also keep well and leftovers can be added to eggs in the morning.
It’s taken me many years to nail this recipe and I’ve found that the key is to balance sweetness and spice from black pepper. If you don’t add anything to sweeten the beans, they aren’t really baked beans. However, many versions of baked beans that I’ve both made and tasted elsewhere are almost candied because there’s nothing to balance the sugar. I’ve found that lots and lots of black pepper allows me to make the beans satisfyingly sweet, but the end result is still savory and doesn’t taste like an out-of-place dessert.
This recipe can be made both vegetarian and gluten-free if that’s a consideration for you. I personally think bacon is a key ingredient, but have found that adding it to the beans to cook all day is not necessary. In fact, I think that cooking the bacon separately and adding it to the beans 30-60 min before eating is ideal--the bacon keeps more of its chewy texture that contrasts nicely with the beans. When I need to make this vegetarian I simply remove some of the beans for vegetarians 30-60 min before eating and add the cooked, chopped bacon.
- 2 cups fresh, dry beans. Our favorite is painted pony beans, but any white bean will do.
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 apple peeled, cored, and chopped (I like honeycrisp)
- 3 ounces of tomato paste
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 3 slices of thick bacon
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- Few shakes of cinnamon
- Place beans in a large bowl and fill with water. Let sit overnight. Put plenty of water in, they will soak up more than you might think.
- Early in the morning, add the soaked beans and the rest of the ingredients to a crockpot. Cook on low all day, at least 12 hours.
- 30-60 minutes before eating the beans, cook bacon. Start in a cold cast iron skillet and cook low and slow, turing bacon over often. When bacon is done cooking, let cool and drain on a paper towel. Then chop into pieces. You can either add the bacon straight to the crockpot, or if you need it to be vegetarian you can pull some of the beans to the side (to keep vegetarian) and add the bacon to the remaining beans.
- The secret to good baked beans is the balance of pepper and sugar. You probably need more pepper than you think. If you add the amount of sugar prescribed above, you might taste test and have it taste almost candied. This means that you don’t have enough pepper. If you add enough black pepper the flavors will equilibrate and you won’t notice the sweetness very much. These also sometimes take more salt than you think. The salt brings out the flavor of everything, so if you taste it and it’s a little lackluster, try more salt. This should be a very flavorful dish.
- 8/30/22: I substituted the apple for two peaches during peach season. The beans turned out well and you could taste a hint of peach flavor in them, though I'm not sure you could tell the difference if you weren't looking for it.