Somebody asked for a post on my baked beans awhile back. I should punish myself for not posting them until now, as they were the first “food” I learned to cook. We received a Westbend Slow Cooker as a wedding gift 37 years ago and I read the booklet to learn what it was used for. I saw a recipe for baked beans and thought it would be fun to make them.
That was back in the days before Bush’s came out with a wide variety of baked bean flavors. Now I could pull up a lawn chair in the bean aisle with a can opener and spoon and eat my way to nirvana! They use bourbon and all kinds of amazing flavors! I am not worthy! But I do make a good pot of original, old-fashioned baked beans. No cans allowed!
Now I make a small amount at a time, half the recipe, with just one pound of navy beans. My slow cooker is only about 1/2 full when I’m done, about 8 cups maybe? I left the original amounts listed in the recipe and that will make almost a full slow cooker of baked beans. I made the full recipe back when the family was all still at home or I was asked to bring them to the family gatherings. I just wanted to note that my ingredients may look smaller than yours if you’re making a full recipe.
I set the bag of beans on the counter to remind myself to throw them in a saucepan with water and soak them overnight. By the next morning they are beginning to plump up and the pile looks bigger. They are still hard, however. I drain them, add fresh water to cover them (about 8-10 cups) and bring them to a boil on the stove on medium high. This gives them a good head start before I pour them into the slow cooker. I should also note that crockpots work the same for this recipe, I use the terms interchangeably. Put them in whatever ya got!
Once the beans and liquid are transferred to the slow cooker, I skim the foam off the top. We don’t need that. I stir the onions into the beans and add the ham hocks. Check your water level here- you want an inch or more of space at the top for it to bubble and breathe. Add or remove water as necessary. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours then check from time to time.
Your crockpot may vary from mine, cooking the beans slower or faster. I’d check at 4 hours to see how al dente they are. My beans are perfect after 4 hours on high. They are also good after 6 hours on medium if I’m going to be gone all day. I love my slow cooker that has lots of temperature settings. My favorite crockpot has “warm” “low” and “high”. Medium is not an option. I don’t know why they do that!
Once the beans are almost tender, I remove the ham hocks to a plate with a tongs, as best I can. They often fall apart and I have to go fishing for them. I then drain the beans into a colander, reserving the liquid in a large bowl. I put the beans back into the slow cooker and put the lid on to keep them hot. I mix 2 cups of reserved broth with the rest of the sauce ingredients and stir that into the beans. I replace the lid and let them cook while the ham hocks cool enough to touch.
I shred the ham hocks and return the meat bits to the beans and stir. Again I replace the lid and let them cook for another hour. This is the good part where they absorb the luscious molasses and brown sugar flavors. At this point you could add some fried, diced bacon for a different twist but my ham hocks usually provide about 2 cups of meat and that is plenty of pork flavor.
My beans are done in another hour, perfect texture and flavors. Again, your timing may vary depending on your crockpot/slow cooker. A tip: if you’re making beans for a party or gathering and timing is essential, make them a day ahead. These beans are seriously so much better the next day! The flavors have married together and they are at their best. Simply reheat and serve. I’ve always made them ahead and that usually works super well. I say usually because if they’re reheated too long before serving, they will go mushy. Great flavor still, but mushy. Just a warning.
We like them hot or cold. We also like them with a drizzle of white vinegar on them. I’m not sure where that came from, but we liked that optional burst of acid on baked beans when we were kids. We stirred it in and ate them up! I did some research years ago and learned to never add vinegar while cooking the beans as it lowers the pH and hinders the softening of the beans. Similarly, we don’t add the tomato products (ketchup) until the beans are almost done, as that acid also can slow down the cooking. I once had a pot of beans that refused to even start to get soft. I’d mixed the sauce and threw it in at the start. Bad me! You cannot try shortcuts when making baked beans!
Audrey’s Crockpot Baked Beans
2 lbs navy beans
3 teaspoons salt (I use 2 teaspoons and add more at the end if necessary. The ham can be very salty on its own)
2 lbs ham hocks
1/2 cup onion; chopped
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 cup catsup
2 cups reserved bean liquid
Soak beans in water overnight in a large saucepan. Fill until water level is twice that of the beans.
In the morning drain the beans, discarding the water. Place back in saucepan with 10 cups of water and bring to a boil on the stove over medium high heat. Pour beans and liquid into slow cooker, skimming the foam off with a large spoon if necessary.
Add ham hocks, salt and onions. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours. Your timing may vary depending on your crockpot. You want the beans still firm but with some give. The bean version of al dente! Mine are that way at 4 hours. They will be cooking another hour after the rest of the ingredients are added, so don’t let them get too mushy.
When the beans are “al dente”, remove ham hocks and drain beans into a large bowl. Set aside 2 cups drained liquid in a bowl. Freeze the remaining ham broth for another time to make soup. Return beans to crockpot.
Stir together sauce ingredients and add to crockpot. Shred ham hocks and return meat to crockpot; stir well. You may add some bacon, fried and diced, at this point also but my ham hocks usually provide more than enough ham bits.
Cook another hour on high. Taste test for seasoning, adding salt as preferred.