I had a craving for baked beans that hit me like a ton of bricks over Memorial Day Weekend.
And these are the best beans that have ever passed my lips.
I was walking around my San Diego neighborhood, and the smells from neighborhood cookouts were wafting through the air, music was playing, people were laughing with beer bottles clanking, and the early summer evenings that stay light until 8pm reminded me of my childhood summers.
Because I grew up in Minnesota, summer was painfully short and each day was cherished. It meant as much time outdoors as possible and cookouts and grilling were an integral part. The nice thing about grilling was that it kept the mosquitoes the size of golf balls somewhat at bay.
Baked beans were always served at picnics and barbeques, and since I was never a meat eater, I made meals out of baked beans, corn on the cob, watermelon, and white grocery store-bakery sheet cakes. I’d like to get back to that diet, actually.
It’s funny how certain smells set off my cascade of memories, and I had to make baked beans. I had never made them before, but necessity was the mother of recipe development.
This is an easy and nearly work-free recipe. The only caveat is that it takes forever. Like 16 hours or so, but it’s just waiting around, no active work. They don’t call it a slow cooker for nothing. Set it and forget it.
I kept the recipe vegan, and free from garlic, onions, or added salt. Most baked bean recipes start out with bacon, pork fat, stinky spices, and enough sodium to make me retain water until Christmas. No thanks. You won’t miss one ounce of flavor or pig fat.
If you have another method for making beans, use it. Bean recipes are like chocolate chip cookie recipes . Everyone has one, everyone thinks their family recipe is the best, and why another recipe isn’t as good or isn’t the traditional way. I happen to love everything about these beans and wouldn’t change a thing.
After soaking the beans (overnight or for an hour, details in the recipe), and simmering them for about 45 minutes, the mostly-cooked beans go into a marinade that uses everything but the kitchen sink. Mix and match based on what you have.
The key elements include maple syrup, brown sugar, ketchup, mustard, molasses, vinegar, and Guy Fieri Bourbon Brown Sugar Sweet & Sticky BBQ Sauce . Since I was already using brown sugar and bourbon, and because his BBQ sauce had roughly half the sodium as any others I checked, it was an easy choice, and I loved it. Highly recommended.
Bourbon is the other key ingredient and you’ll need a cup. As I poured 1 cup of Jim Beam into my Crock-Pot, it felt so wrong. But so right.
The finished beans do not taste like alcohol and all traces of alcohol are removed. There’s no way any traces survive 16 hours of simmering, and no one will get tipsy from beans. The bourbon adds wonderful richness and depth of flavor, and I can’t imagine the beans without it. Although I’m wondering how beans with tequila or scotch would be. I may have to find out.
If you have reasons to skip the bourbon, you may replace it with water; however, your beans won’t taste like mine and I loved everything about them.
The beans simmer in their black hot tub for 12 to 16 hours. I set my slow-cooker to low and let them cook for 12 hours. I didn’t bother stirring them the entire 12 hours.
When I checked them, the marinade had reduced and thickened, but was no where thick enough. Still pretty liquidy and soupy.
So I set my Crock-Pot to high, took the lid off, and let them simmer on the hottest setting for 4 hours. Between the increased heat and the evaporation from having the lid off, they thickened up considerably and were ready. If you’re having soupy issues, remove the lid and crank up the heat. Because slow-cookers and their cooking temperatures vary greatly, tinker with the settings as you see fit.
The beans are done when they’re tender, the sauce has thickened and the flavor is rich and robust, the smell in your house is driving you nuts, and you just can’t take it any longer.
Before Simmering for 16 Hours16 Hours Later
The beans are slightly sweet, with a touch of heat and tanginess. They’re tender, but not mushy.
The already robust flavors of molasses, maple, and bourbon become concentrated and are intense yet smooth. Although the sauce thickens, it’s still plentiful. I’m a sauce lover and made sure they stayed juicy and saucy.
They’ll make a bean lover out of even those who say they “don’t like beans”. They’ve even begun to convert my husband, a lifelong bean hater.
In the meantime, I’ve never been so excited about beans in my life. It’s the little things.
Bourbon Maple Slow Cooker Baked Beans (vegan, gluten-free)
Yield:about 8 cups
Prep Time:about 15 minutes active work
Cook Time:12 to 16 hours simmering
Total Time:12 to 16 hours
1 pound dry Great Northern beans (or navy beans)
1 cup bourbon
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup barbeque sauce
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup water
heaping 1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup mustard (I used yellow, if using stoneground or dijon, consider using slightly less)
1/4 cup molasses (use mild/light/medium, not dark/robust/blackstrap)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (omit if keeping vegan, or substitute with Bragg's Liquid Aminos or soy sauce)
Rinse and sort dry beans in a colander over the sink.
Add beans to a large pot and cover with 8 cups water and let soak overnight (about 8 hours). OR to save time....
...Use the 1 hour rapid soak method. Bring beans and 8 cups water to a boil. Allow beans to boil rapidly for 3 minutes, uncovered. Shut the heat off, cover the pot, and let stand for 1 hour.
In either the overnight soak method or the 1 hour rapid soak method, drain soaking water and rinse beans well under running water in a colander over the sink.
Return beans to pot, cover with 6 cups water, and allow to simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes, or until quite tender; cooked about 80% of the way. They'll be transferred to a slow cooker where they'll cook for 12+ hours so you don't want them or need them to be totally done, but they shouldn't be overly hard either (taste a few beans, you'll know when you bite into them)
While beans are simmering, combine all remaining ingredients in the slow cooker, and whisk to combine until smooth.
After beans are done simmering, drain them, add them to the slow cooker, and stir.
Cover and cook on low heat for about 12 hours (start checking at about 8 hours), or until beans are tender, the sauce has thickened and reduced dramatically, the flavor is concentrated and robust, and the smell in your house is intoxicating. If after 12 hours your sauce is still liquidy or on the soupy side, remove the lid, increase the heat to the highest setting, and cook uncovered until thickened to desired level (this took 4 hours for me; 12 hours covered on low and 4 hours uncovered on high, for 16 hours total). Note - Because slow-cookers and temperatures vary greatly, you can tinker with the temperature settings as you see fit. You could possibly cook on medium for 10 to 12 hours, or cook on high for 8 to 10 hours, or do a combination of settings until your sauce has thickened and beans are tender.
Serve immediately. Beans will keep airtight in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, and taste better on days 2 and 3 as the flavor marry even more. I would anticipate finished beans could be frozen for up to 6 months, however I have not tested it. Take care all ingredients used are suitable for your dietary needs if keeping vegan and gluten-free, reading labels and selecting specific brands that meet your needs.
Recipe from Averie Cooks . All images and content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or simply link back to this post for the recipe. Thank you.
These beans were right up my alley because I especially love the flavors of brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, the tanginess of vinegar, and the sweet-with-heat. The depth of bourbon flavor just pushes them over the edge.