April 10, 2016

My Simple Method for Cooking Beans from Scratch

Easy Method for Preparing Dried Beans from Scratch

I just love beans, I really do. They are a good source of plant-based protein, with the added bonuses of being tasty and economical. While I always keep beans on hand in my pantry in both canned and dried versions, my favorite approach to cooking with beans is to cook dried beans in big batches, then store them in smaller, convenient portions in my freezer.  I find this to be a cheap and easy way to have quick access to beans for use in soups, stews, chili, side dishes, salads, and for stretching out the ground meat in recipes.

The thing I wonder, though, is how did cooking dried beans get to be such a controversial and (unnecessarily) complicated subject? Although grannies and cowboy cooks have been cooking and eating beans as a staple food for many long years, this practice has become something that now seems to intimidate many home cooks.  It’s understandable why this is, however, when you read the many conflicting articles out there about the hows and whys of cooking beans (do a quick Internet search, and you will see this is the case). The debate seems to revolve around the following:
  1. Soaking vs. not soaking
  2. If and when to add salt 
  3. If and when to add acids (tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar)
  4. How to make beans easier to digest (i.e., reduce the tendency to cause flatulence)
  5. The best cooking methods-stove top, pressure cooker, or slow cooker. (They all have their place, but I mostly use a  pot.)
...and last, but not least
  1. How to remove the phytic acid (naturally present in beans and other foods), which may reduce the absorption of minerals. There actually seems to be some disagreement as to whether or not this is even a concern, but I err on the side of caution and soak my beans.
All of the conflicting information out there is enough to drive anyone to rely exclusively on canned beans. After years of cooking dried beans, though, I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, in my humble opinion, beans are really hard to mess up. I am going to share my easy method of cooking beans, which is about as simple and fool-proof as it can get. Now don’t get me wrong, my method is not the only right way to prepare beans (I actually don’t believe there is a single right way). It is, however, the method I have distilled from trustworthy sources like the USDA, The US Dry Bean Council, and perhaps most importantly, my grandmothers.

The following instructions apply to dry beans like pinto beans, black beans, navy beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and lima beans. Lentils and split peas are legumes, as are beans, but have a slightly different preparation that I will cover in another post.

Also, when deciding the amount of beans you want to cook, remember that beans will expand a lot during soaking and cooking. A single pound (about 2 to 2 1/2 cups) of dried beans will make 6 to 7 cups of cooked beans.


1. Pour the beans into a colander, and sort through them, removing any shriveled beans, stones, or foreign debris. Rinse the beans well under cold running water.

Sort and Rinse Dried Beans in a Colander or Strainer
Sort and Rinse Dried Beans in a Colander or Strainer

2. Transfer the beans to a large pot. Cover the beans with water, adding 8 cups of water for every pound of dried beans. Place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and cover with lid. Allow beans to soak for 1 hour.
  • According to the Idaho Bean Commission, the quick hot soak method will reduce phytic acid, and also oligosaccharides that cause digestive troubles (like gas and bloating). Keep in mind, though, that simply eating beans more often will also reduce the tendency towards flatulence. 
  • Also, soaking beans before cooking reduces the cooking time, and according to some cooks, allows the beans to cook more evenly.

3. After soaking the beans, drain the soaking water and return beans to the pot. Cover with 6 cups of fresh water for every pound of dried beans. Bring the water to a boil, continue to boil for 10 minutes, then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook gently until the beans are tender. During the cooking process, keep an eye on the beans and add a little extra water if necessary.
  • The amount of time the beans will take to cook depends on not only the type of bean, but also how old the beans are. Generally, beans will take 45 minutes to 2 hours to cook, with Lima beans taking less time, and kidney beans taking more. 
  • Although the subject of when to add salt and/or acids (like tomatoes) to a pot of beans is a controversial one, I prefer to wait until the beans are almost tender to add these things. Add them too early in the cooking process, and there is a chance that the skins of the beans will be a little tough, and possibly take longer to soften. Other vegetables, however, like onions, carrots, celery and garlic, however, are fine to add to the beans anytime during the process. These types of aromatic vegetables, along with dried herbs and spices (like a bay leaf), will add flavor to the beans and will not affect texture or cooking time. You can also cook the beans with a little ham or other meat for flavor. 
  • Make sure the beans are thoroughly cooked before eating them. Raw beans contain a class of proteins called lectins that can make you ill when consumed. Fortunately, cooking destroys the lectins and makes them safe to eat. Raw kidney beans are particularly high in a particular variety of lectin that can cause a type of poisoning, so take care when cooking kidney beans to make sure they are fully cooked at a high enough temperature. For this reason, I do not recommend using a slow cooker when cooking kidney beans, since some slow cookers may fail to reach a high enough temperature to inactivate all of the lectins. If you do choose to use a slow cooker, be sure to boil your kidney beans for 10 minutes before adding to your crock pot. 
  • If making bean soup, or “soup” beans like they are called here in the south, go ahead and add some broth and other soup ingredients when the beans are almost cooked. In this case, I like my beans creamy, so I add plenty of broth, and let them cook until they are very soft. 
  • Beans can be cooked in a pressure cooker, but that is a post for another time. Just know beans can foam a lot during cooking, and you will need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your pressure cooker regarding the amount of beans and liquid to use.

4. When the beans are cooked to the desired tenderness, you will want to use them right away, or drain and package to store in the refrigerator or freezer. Store the cooked beans for a day or two in the refrigerator, or up to 6 months in the freezer.
  • I like to store my cooked beans in plastic bags laid flat in the freezer. To reheat, I just soak them for a few minutes in hot water, until they are just thawed enough to remove from the bag. If I want beans that are completely thawed, I usually let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight, or in the microwave in a pinch.
Easy Method for Preparing Dried Beans from Scratch
The cooked beans are ready to use right away, or freeze for later.

          *This post was shared at Cottage Making Mommy - Simple Saturdays. Visit there for more cooking, gardening, and DIY posts!*


  1. You've answered so many questions here, especially the "why's" and "how's". I've pinned it to two of my boards so I'll be able to find it easily. thanks! I'm your newest follower.

    1. I am glad my post answered some of your questions about beans! If you try this method, let me know how it turns out!


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