There are a lot of complaints about using dried beans, but the most common one is – how do I get dried beans to soften? The second complaint is that they take too long. Who wants to put beans on to soak today, and then bake them for hours to have them tomorrow night?
First, you need to let go of some of your ideas about beans. You might know that beans are a great long-term storage food, that they must be soaked overnight, that salt makes them hard and that they need to be simmered long and slow.
And I’m going to blast these myths out of the water. Are you ready?
Of course you are.
Let me tell you my secrets to getting beans soft, and having them for tonight’s dinner. (I will note – the texture of quick-cooked beans is not as soft as soaked beans, but most people won’t even notice the difference.)
#1 – Don’t store beans forever.
Shocking, I know, but beans are NOT actually a very good long-term storage food.
Since they are so incredibly easy to grow (just don’t let your bean seed go moldy!), beans are one of those foods that you grow this summer to eat over the winter.
If you want good baked beans, start with this year’s beans. They don’t store well.
#2 – Beans are soaked in order to hydrate them. It’s not a necessary step.
Sacrilege, I know.
After all, everyone knows that dried beans absolutely must be soaked overnight. Like so many things that “everyone knows”, this one is wrong. I start my beans just after lunch and we eat them for dinner. There’s a caveat here, though. If your beans are old, soaking might help.
And if you’re really pinching pennies on fuel, soaking means a bit less boiling.
#3 – Beans like HOT water.
Forget everything you’ve ever heard about simmering.
Once they are IN THE OVEN, turn down the heat to 250F or so and let them bake slow and low, but if you use low heat on the stovetop, you’ll never have soft beans.
Start dried beans in boiling water, and keep that water boiling. You’ll need to skim off the scum, so stay near.
Nothing like cleaning bean scum off your stovetop to make you stick close to the pot.
#4 – Beans like SOFT water.
If you have hard water, you probably buy your beans in a can because you know that you just cannot make baked beans.
Stop beating yourself up – that hard water isn’t helping.
When we lived in a city that had some of the hardest water in Canada, I couldn’t get beans to soften unless I used different water.
There are two things that you can do – either buy distilled water, or use rainwater.
#5 – A pinch of soda doesn’t hurt.
Even though I’m using rainwater and boiling my beans on a nice high heat, I always had a pinch of baking soda.
The last thing I want is to find hard beans after I’ve boiled them.
I don’t add anything else. Save the sauce until after the beans are soft.
#6 Boil them. This is important enough to mention twice!
I do not soak my beans. I add a pinch of baking soda, but that’s not enough to get soft beans.
I bring a pot of soft water (rain water or our well water) to a nice boil, add the beans and then let them cook. I keep the water bubbling the entire time.
Clearly the best time to make beans is on a snowy, cold day when you have a roaring fire going in the wood cookstove!
It takes about an hour to boil beans soft, but that sure beats waiting 12 hours while they soak. Just like soaking them, they will wrinkle and then unwrinkle and then slowly increase in size.
#7 – Bake them.
When they are soft, scoop them out of the water and into a baking dish.
And make sure that they ARE soft. Once you have added any tomato products (ketchup, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce), the beans will NOT soften any farther.
Add your bean sauce and whatever meat you are using. At this point, they should be SOFT and only need enough time in the oven to brown the top. This won’t work if you wanted to slow cook them with a ham bone, so add sliced hot dogs or sausages. Of course, meat is completely optional and unnecessary.
And there you have it. 7 Easy tips on getting your beans soft.
Remember, if you have OLD stored beans, and you gently simmer them on the stovetop in your hard water, you’ll never get those beans soft.