How to Prepare and Cook Beans

Bean plant
Bean plant | Source

The Basics

Beans are an excellent source of protein, and very versatile besides. Dishes with beans can include anything from spicy to sweet: from chili to Boston Baked Beans. Cooked beans can be used as main dishes, side dishes, and some are even good in salads.

For the best nutritional boost and healthy beans, you want to begin from scratch with dried beans, not canned varieties, which are loaded with salt. This takes advance planning and time, but is not difficult in the least.

Dried beans, after simple preparation, do take several hours to cook thoroughly, but that advance planning is the key. They can be cooked in any number of ways, either baked in the oven, or put into a crock-pot (slow-cooker) all day long. If you are going to be home, and available for frequent stirring, they can also be slow-simmered on the stovetop.

The cooking method really depends upon the recipe; any recipe that calls for stovetop cooking can just as easily be done in the crock pot, while oven-baked recipes may need some adjustment in liquid content for crock pot cooking, and probably will not adapt well to stovetop methods.

Sort and Rinse

This direction is found on all commercial packages of dried beans purchased in stores. Beans grow in bushes, but mechanical harvesting methods can sometimes incorporate unwanted bits, such as small pebbles. You sure would not want to bite into a stone--that would send you away from your meal and on an emergency trip to the dentist.

What you want to do, then, is to open your package of beans, and pour a few at a time into your hand, looking for any such foreign matter. As you clear each handful, dump them into a colander or large strainer (sieve) for rinsing. (Sometimes beans can carry a little bit of dirt with them as well, so you want to rinse them off.)

Beans must be sorted to check for small pebbles that may have gotten included
Beans must be sorted to check for small pebbles that may have gotten included
Also check for split or discolored beans and discard those
Also check for split or discolored beans and discard those
After sorting, rinse the beans to clear them of any bits of soil or tiny debris
After sorting, rinse the beans to clear them of any bits of soil or tiny debris

Soak Overnight

Once your beans are all sorted and rinsed, you want to put them in a large pot and cover them with water to soak overnight. As they soak, they will swell up, so be sure to add enough water to allow for this so they will remain underwater. Put a lid on the pot to keep the moisture in, and any pets or dust out.

Some beans are actually somewhat toxic prior to soaking and cooking, so this is an essential part of the preparation.

Soaking the beans overnight re-hydrates them and helps decrease cooking time. Be sure to cover with plenty of water to allow for them to swell up.
Soaking the beans overnight re-hydrates them and helps decrease cooking time. Be sure to cover with plenty of water to allow for them to swell up.
After soaking, the beans will be plumped up quite a bit
After soaking, the beans will be plumped up quite a bit

Par-Boil

At this point, you can proceed with your recipe, and just add the beans and your other ingredients. However, they will take much longer to cook this way, and there are few things more unappetizing than biting into under-cooked beans that are still semi-hard.

Par-boiling (or pre-boiling) them helps reduce the overall cooking time by softening them up a bit before they are combined with the rest of the ingredients.

Par boil the beans before putting them into your recipe for their actual cooking time.
Par boil the beans before putting them into your recipe for their actual cooking time.

A Variation on an Old Family Recipe

Check out my personal recipe for Boston Baked Beans. I’ve taken out the traditional salt pork, and made it fully vegetarian, but it still has plenty of flavor.

Usually, allow them to boil for about 20 minutes or so (depending on the type of bean). The old-fashioned way to tell if they are ready is the instruction, “boil until skins roll back when blown upon.” It’s very reliable, and I still use that method to this day when making my trademark Boston Baked Beans.

This is what you are looking for when you blow upon the beans
This is what you are looking for when you blow upon the beans

Drain and Rinse

After par-boiling, drain the beans and give a quick rinse. Now, you are ready to add the rest of the ingredients for your recipe. Use fresh water already at the boil for the water called for in your recipe. If you use other liquid instead of water, such as broth or stock, it is helpful to have that at the boiling point, as well. That way, the beans will begin cooking at once, not having been cooled down with cold liquid that must be reheated.

Add the boiled, still hot beans to your main cooking pot with your other ingredients
Add the boiled, still hot beans to your main cooking pot with your other ingredients

Have you cooked beans before?

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Enjoy Your Beans

No matter what kind of bean recipe you are using, these first steps to prepare them remain constant.

All that is left, then, is to proceed with your favorite recipe, and enjoy!

© 2014 DzyMsLizzy

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Comments 20 comments

Blond Logic profile image

Blond Logic 2 years ago from Brazil

I think I am the only person in all of Brazil who can't make beans. I will try what you suggest.

How long would they go into a crockpot for, any ideas?

Good clear informative photos.

Voted up and useful and shared.


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 2 years ago

What a wonderful Hub. I find it amazing what I can sometimes take for granted. But in today's modern world many people do not have a clue on how to cook. Thanks for sharing! Voted up


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

@ Blond Logic--Beans are really pretty easy. I would want a minimum of 4 or 5 hours in a crock-pot; longer wouldn't hurt. You do get more condensation on the lid, so you lose less moisture than in the oven. That's an advantage if you can't be home all day to keep checking.

I'm pleased you found the article useful, and I thank you for the vote and share!

@ mecheshier--It is true! Many people have forgotten how to cook for themselves these days, so dependent have they become upon "fast food" and pre-packaged convenience foods; none of which are very healthy. I'm pleased you found the article useful, and I thank you for the vote!


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

I love beans, any way they are made. Butter beans and navy beans are among my favorite. It's surprising how many people do not know how to take a package of dried beans and make something good out of them, so you're doing a service here, Liz.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, FlourishAnyway,

I'm pretty fond of beans, myself. My husband has an award-winning chili recipe, that he has graciously adapted for my vegetarian preference, and it is awesome...but I'm not allowed to share his "trade secret" recipe. LOL

Thanks so much for your comment; I'm glad you liked this article.


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 2 years ago

:-) Ah, but there is nothing better than healthy homemade food


catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 2 years ago from the South

I think beans are the perfect food! This is a great guide for anyone not knowing how to cook them. Now I'm off to check out your Boston Baked Bean recipe!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

@ mecheshier--So very true! Homemade is always superior! Thanks for stopping by.

@ catgypsy--Yes, beans are great! Loaded with protein and fiber, low-calorie and easy to cook. I'm glad you liked this article; thanks very much for your nice comment.


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 2 years ago

You are welcome. :-)


alexadry profile image

alexadry 2 years ago from USA

This is very interesting. I didn't know about the blowing tip to see if they're cooked, will have to try it next time. I purchased last year about 25 pounds of beans when they were on sale and we are stuck with a lot but need to start eating more before they get too old!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, alexadry,

Thanks much; I'm glad you liked this article. Just be aware that the "blowing upon" trick is just for determining the end of the par-boiling stage: they are in no way cooked and ready to eat at that point. It just sort of pre-softens the outer layers to help with the real cooking, where they will get soft all the way through and absorb the flavors.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 2 years ago from USA

Thanks for clarifying that. I have been cooking beans for my hubby for years (he's a big bean lover) and I wasn't aware of all these interesting facts!


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

DzyMsLizzy,

Thank you. I use frozen beans (no salt) but if I ever cook beans from scratch then this is useful to know.

Kevin


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Kevin,

Well, my goodness--frozen beans! That's a new one on me! I've only seen frozen green beans, not the type I'm using for this article. I guess an old gal still can learn something every day! Thanks very much for your input!


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

Really useful hub. I'm always a little wary of preparing beans, but when I do I love the results!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Glimmer Twin Fan,

Thanks very much. I hope you find this helpful in your next bean adventure! ;-)


Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 2 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

I have not tried parboiling my beans, but usually I am not in a hurry when I cook beans.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Sherry,

Thanks for stopping by. I find that parboiling the beans just helps with the overall outcome; nothing to do with being in a hurry, since dried beans are not the fastest cooking things on the menu anyway. ;-)


Huntgoddess profile image

Huntgoddess 20 months ago from Midwest U.S.A.

You should always cook the beans with fatty meat. It is much healthier that way.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 20 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Huntgoddess,

Thank you for your comment, but we will have to 'agree to disagree.' Fat in the diet should be kept to a minimum, as it is not very healthy. As for meat of any kind, well, I'm a vegetarian, so that's not anything I would even consider doing.

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