How to Use Dry Beans in Recipes

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

Everyone acts like dried beans are the end all. How do I get the beans in the bag to work like the beans in the can? I’ve soaked them overnight and they still aren’t like what I get out of a can. Am I legume challenged?


Baffled Bostonian

Heather says:

Dried beans can be a challenge, you have to interpret each recipe and decide if it was originally written for dry or canned beans. If there is a very short cooktime involved it is safe to assume the author of the recipe is picturing canned beans. In this case your beans should already be cooked and rinsed. 

After the beans have soaked, either overnight or a quick soak, drain the water and rinse the beans. When cooking beans you want them to have flavor, but not so much that it will overpower the spices of the recipe in which they will be used.

To cook one pound of beans (2 cups of dry beans, measured before they are soaked) place the beans in a heavy pot, this helps prevent scorching. To the pot add two slices of uncooked bacon*, two whole garlic cloves, and 8 – 10 cups of water. Vegetarians can use butter of vegetable oil, but some fat is needed for best results.

Bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. When the beans first start to boil a foam will develop, it’s just a water soluble protein, don’t worry about skimming the pot, the beans will reabsorb it during the cooking process. You want to keep the beans at a gentle simmer until done. Don’t hover, just give them a brief stir when you happen to walk by every now and then. 

 Two important tips:

Do not use hard water to cook beans.

The minerals in the water will significantly increase the cook time. In this case it’s best to use bottled water.

Add 1 tsp salt per cup of dried beans.

There are two schools of thought, some say that adding the salt early in the cooking process makes the beans tougher, while those on the other side swear they are more flavorful and not tough. Oddly, the two camps agree that the ratio is 1 tsp per cup.

Here’s a quick guide for estimating simmering time by type of bean:

Black Beans, Garbanzo Beans,
Great Northerns, Navy or Small Whites,
Pink Beans, Pinto Beans,
Red Beans, Red Kidney Beans
1 to 1.5 hours
Lima Beans, Large 45 – 60 minutes
Butter Beans or Baby Lima Beans 1 Hour

Peas and lentils usually do not require soaking.

Black-Eyed Peas 1 to 1.5 Hours
Lentils, Split Green Peas 30 – 45 minutes

If the cook time of a recipe meets or exceeds the time listed in the table, it is safe to assume the author had soaked, not cooked beans in mind.
Good luck!

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22 thoughts on “How to Use Dry Beans in Recipes”

  1. My tried and true method for cooking dry beans is the crock-pot. Lots of water, some olive oil, some seasonings, and 8 to 10 hours on low. Some of the beans you listed I’ve never made, but we make red beans, black-eyed peas, and black beans regularly in the crock.

  2. The other thing to think about when contemplating a recipe is whether the liquid is acidic. My understanding is that acid in the cooking liquid slows/stops the beans getting soft — tomato sauce, things with vinegar. So even when the cooking time is long if the sauce/broth is acidic you probably want to make sure you have the beans soft enough before adding to the recipe.

  3. My grandmother always added 1/8 tsp baking soda to her beans. She said it helped with the hard & acidic water and reduced the chances of getting bean toots. It actually seems to work for us. Careful not to add too much baking soda though or the beans will taste “soapish”.

  4. I’m vegetarian, and so I do a lot of cooking with beans, but I use almost exclusively dried, not canned, beans. For one thing, I am DONE with the overnight soak. When I am quick cooking beans for the quicker soak method (before actually cooking them in a recipe) I add baking soda, a little salt and two bay leaves. It really does improve the overall flavor of the beans in the finished recipe.

  5. Bottled water for cooking? That’s pretty wasteful. Not to mention expensive. That would cancel out the savings from using dried beans, and also be really bad for the planet.

  6. Meg, bottled water comes in forms other than the 20oz convenience bottle. Many homes with very hard water are used to the issues that accompany that fact. Many have a cooler type system for drinking water. Using water from there would not be wasteful, the jugs are collected as part of the service agreement. Additionally water by the gallon at most stores is very cheap. Just recycle the jug as you would a gallon of milk.

  7. I’ll have to try this with some kidney beans I have that I just have NOT been able to get soft. I know we do have pretty hard water, so perhaps that’s the problem. I’ll try some distilled water (since I already have several gallons on hand) Thanks!

  8. I get to live in Alaska. When I cook a pot of beans it only takes me about an hour and a half. I always clean the beans first and then I try to add some kind of pork meat to it. We love left over ham bones and some of the fat from the ham. It gives it a great flavor. I definitely add at least one onion cut up and lots of garlic. My men love it. I have two boys and my husband. Beans are so good for you and they are very cheap. Thank you, Veronica

  9. I am on hour sixteen, and they still aren't tender. I gave up the stove top and moved them into a crockpot hours ago.(electricity to run the crockpot is far less expensive than the cost of the gas for the stove)They soaked for 2 days, not kidding. what am i doing wrong? I used bottled water. I am high altitude.

    • its the altitude. water boils at a lower temperature, so it takes longer to do. if you cook a lot of beans, or want to at high altitude, it is a good idea to invest in a pressure cooker (a pressure canner would be too big for your average pot of beans) the pressure inside the pot increases the temperature of the water.
      i live above 8,000 ft, and i usually just boil them forever and eat them underdone. there are a lot of different tips on the internet, but i havent tried enough of them to give a good opinion 🙂

  10. This was my first time using dried beans. I soaked them overnight, but hen added them to a pot with diced tomatoes to make a chili. I moved them to a crock pot last night and they are stil hard this morning. I'm guessing they are old from what I read, but I don't want o dump out an entire pot of chili I made for a party tonight. Is there any way of softening them and saving the pot?

  11. I have a hard time with my beans too. I use RO water, soak over night and cook till soft. It's after I refrigerate them that they get hard. Should I cook them longer? I do live at altitude. I mostly want them for my 10 month old who needs to eat some protein. I'm going to try the bacon and salt. I know the burrito places do vegetarian BB that are soft and flavorful.

  12. "I soaked them overnight, but then added them to a pot with diced tomatoes to make a chili"

    BIG MISTAKE. Never add tomatoes or any other acidic food until the beans are tender. Try it again my way and see for yourself. I'm surprised this isn't all over the web. I too had hard beens.

  13. Always add tomatoes LAST after the beans are tender. Tomatoes make the skins tough and chewy. I don’t use tomatoes in chili, though. My Hubby doesn’t like it that way.

  14. Don’t use 8-10 cups of water to cook the beans; drowning the beans in water will reduce their flavor and increase cooking time. Instead use enough water so that it raises 1 inch above the beans. If you didn’t soak the beans, then have 3 inches of water over the beans.

  15. I am a vegetarian & originally from India where we cook dried lentils and beans every day. Whole wheat bread (aka chappatis) and lentils or beans along with a vegetable are daily staples in India. Here’s what we do for speedy and nutritious beans:
    1. We soak the beans or lentils overnight for best results.
    2. We pressure cook the beans and lentils (cooking time varies between cookers, but most of them can cook the beans within 15-20 minutes and lentils in 10 mins).
    3. We use regular tap water and it still tastes excellent
    4. We NEVER use any oil or butter to cook the beans – this is not needed at all. Use a little oil only to season the beans after the cooking process. Never over-cook beans and lentils – they lose their nutritional value, especially iron content, and taste.
    5. After pressure cooking, we season the beans with spices and veggies to make a gravy (e.g., chole is a chick pea curry) or a dry entree (e.g., “sundal” is a dry chick pea snack).
    Enjoy your cooking with beans!

  16. Thank you for the tips from Heather and from other comments I’ve read. I made chili with kidney beans, and they are still a little underdone, which brought me to this article. The next time I make beans I will keep these tips in mind. Thank you!


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