Dried beans should be a staple in every kitchen. They are nutritious, both cheaper and tastier than canned beans, and are super easy to prepare. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about cooking with dried beans, along with several suggested recipes to try out!
We will be focusing on beans found commonly at regular grocery stores, and will not dive into the world of heirloom beans (old plant varieties that are usually uncommon or rare now). After doing some research, we found that many guides/books on dried beans are geared toward an audience with more “sophisticated” tastes. These guides focused mostly on heirloom beans, and not ones commonly found at the store.
As rural dwellers with a limited selection of grocery stores, we don’t have access to specialty ethnic or whole foods stores. We have to take what we can get bean-wise. This means black, garbanzo, kidney, pinto, white beans, etc. So, these are the beans we will touch on in this guide – perfect for the everyman!
Why You Should Use Dried Beans Instead of Canned
Canned beans are convenient, no doubt. Other than that though, dried beans are better for so many reasons.
Dried beans are simply the better value. Here’s the math (according to The Simple Dollar) to prove it.
Average cost for a can of cooked beans: $1.19
Average contents of a can of cooked beans: 2 cups cooked beans
Average cost for a pound of dried beans: $1.99
Average cooked contents of a pound of dried beans: 8 cups cooked beans
This means you’d have to pay $4.76 in canned beans to get the same quantity as $1.99 in dried beans. If you’re like us and go through a lot of beans, this can really add up!
2. Less wasteful
This is pretty simple – a can is much more wasteful than a small plastic bag. Even more so since you have to purchase 4 cans to get the same quantity of beans as one package of dried beans. It’s even possible to eliminate the plastic bag if you buy your beans in bulk with your own container.
3. Less sodium
The liquid that canned beans are stored in is packed full of sodium. Let’s examine Bush’s canned black beans as an example. According to their website, just 1/2 cup (equal to 1 serving) of black beans has 460 mg of sodium, which is 20% of your Daily Value. With 6 servings per can, this means there are 2.76 grams of sodium in one can, equaling 120% of your Daily Value. That’s in just one can! What’s even worse is that many people make recipes requiring added salt and the sodium from the beans is not taken into account, which pushes the salt consumption even higher.
This is in contrast to dried beans which have no sodium. Cooking your own dried beans gives you complete control over the sodium content.
4. BPA-free packaging
According to Insider, up to 10% of canned foods still contain BPA in their packaging. BPA stands for Bisphenol A – a chemical substance that’s been used in polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resin since the 1960s. It’s toxic to humans in even small amounts.
The linings of canned goods create a barrier between the food and the packaging, preventing corrosion and metal leaching into the food. Although BPA is being phased out in canned goods, not all companies have done away with the chemical yet. Buying dried beans eliminates the possibilities of you consuming BPA in your beans.
Where Should You Buy Your Dried Beans?
We buy regular beans at our local grocery store. This has worked great for us, and we’ve never felt like the quality has been compromised because they’re cheap. If your goal with using dried beans is to save money or cut down on waste, buying dried beans at Walmart or your local grocery store makes the most sense.
At the stores we shop at, a pound of beans ranges between $0.99 – $1.60. Not bad, since a single can sometimes cost over $1.00.
However, if you’re using dried beans to enhance your cooking, or to try new and less common bean varieties, you may not find what you’re looking for at a run-of-the-mill store. Instead, look into online options. There are many online bean vendors, including subscription boxes, bean clubs, that allow you to pick and choose what heirloom beans you want.
What Are The Common Types Of Dried Beans?
There are many common dried beans, but we will feature 10 of them in this guide. They are: black beans, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, navy beans, lima beans, cannellini beans, red beans, and lentils.
Note: Lentils are NOT an actual bean! However, they are a legume, which all beans are. This is an important distinction because lentils do not need to soak, and they also cook much faster than other actual beans. We’ve included lentils in this list because they are popular and cheap (and delicious!).
The graphic below outlines a few features of each bean, along with an example of what they look like.
How Do You Cook Dried Beans?
There are many ways to cook dried beans, and what method you decide to use will mostly come down to experimentation and personal preference. Soaking, salting, flavoring, and storage methods are all up for debate. Different sources will swear by certain “tried and true” methods, but there’s not one agreed upon “correct” way to cook dried beans.
We will cover the different methods here, and also explain our preferences. However, we encourage you to test various combinations of techniques on your own to find what you like best.
Should You Soak Your Beans?
We vote yes – a firm yes. Since we buy our regular beans from the regular store, it’s quite hard to tell how old they are. Dried beans last a very long time, but the older they are, the longer they take to soften and cook all the way through.
Some claim that soaking beans helps to remove some of the indigestible sugars in them that cause flatulence. However, many nutritional experts say this isn’t true.
Either way, the important thing here is that soaking beans will cancel out any effects of cooking old beans. It’s a great way to avoid the frustration of a seemingly never done pot of simmering beans. There are two methods of soaking: overnight and quick-soak.
This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s simple and easy, but must be planned out ahead of time.
Place your beans in a large pot or bowl and cover them fully with 2-3 inches of water above the beans. Let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours or longer.
You’ll notice that your beans probably got bigger, because they absorbed a lot of the water. The water will also take on whatever color bean you’re soaking, so don’t be alarmed. You can choose to change out the water before cooking, or use the same water they soaked in. If you choose to use new water, give the “bean water” to your house plants!
This is our preferred method. In our experience, quick-soaking dried beans creates a more flavorful end product than overnight soaking. Especially with garbanzo beans (our favorite!).
Quick-soaking takes about an hour, and can be done right before you cook your beans, instead of having to plan an overnight soak.
Put your beans in a large pot and cover fully with 2-3 inches of water above the beans. Cover and heat on the stove up to a boil, and let boil for 2-3 minutes. Then, turn the heat off and let the beans sit for 1 hour.
Should You Flavor or Season Your Beans?
It depends. Depends on what beans you’re cooking, what recipes you’ll use them for, and what your taste preferences are!
We’ve found that some beans, like garbanzo and cannellini, taste great on their own, without any seasonings. But others, like black and pinto could stand to use some extra flavor. If you’re making beans just to have on hand, it might be a good idea to season and flavor. This is especially true if you plan on just adding them to dishes, instead of using a recipe that calls for that bean specifically.
Some recommended flavorings are salt, peppercorn, onions, fresh herbs, garlic, or even meat fat/scraps. There are many recipes for beans that call for lard or a ham hock to be thrown in while cooking them. As vegetarians, we have never tried this, but are sure it would add some nice flavor.
Cooking Dried Beans
Throw your soaked (or unsoaked, if you so choose) beans in a large pot with water. The ratio should be about 6 cups of water per 1 pound of dried beans.
You can choose to use the water that your beans soaked in, or you can replace it with fresh water. In our experience, either way doesn’t make much difference in the flavor or cook time.
Simmer your beans on low-medium heat for 1.5 – 2 hours. We put the lid on and leave it tilted a little, so there’s a small gap. We’re not sure the reason we do this, we just remember reading it somewhere, and the habit just kind of stuck.
After an hour or so, check the firmness of your beans. Continue to do so every 15-20 minutes until the firmness is to your liking. It’s possible that your beans may take shorter or longer than the recommended time to cook fully based on the age of the beans and your stove settings.
You can cook your beans at a higher temperature, however this will cause them to split and fall apart more easily. If you’re using the beans in a puree or other dish where they’re going to be mashed anyways, then go ahead. However, if you want your beans to keep their shape, keep the temperature at a low simmer.
Alternative Cooking Methods
There are several other ways to cook dried beans than on the stove. As the Instant Pot has grown in popularity, so have instructions and recipes on how to cook dried beans in a pressure cooker. Cooking beans in a slow cooker seems pretty easy and perfect for throwing on before leaving for the day. There are even ways to cook them in the oven.
Pick whichever one seems easiest and try it out! That’s what we did with the stovetop, and it’s also why we haven’t felt the need to try any other methods. Why fix something that isn’t broke, right?
How To Store Your Cooked Beans
You can store your cooked dried beans in the refrigerator for up to a week. We usually just keep them in an appropriate sized tupperware container. Some people swear by storing beans in the liquid they cooked in – we just store them dry, and it’s worked out fine for us.
You can also freeze beans! This is awesome if you want to make a big batch to keep on hand for a while. Freezing them could work really well for meal prepping weeks at a time, or if you don’t eat beans that often. Any kind of plastic or freeze-safe container works, as well as large ziploc bags.
After freezing beans, you should let them defrost in the fridge overnight before using. It’s recommended to either cook/reheat them at a very low temperature, or add them to soups/dishes at the last minute. This will prevent the beans from splitting and falling apart.
Recipes and Dishes With Dried Beans
Below are some delicious recipes to use your dried beans in! Some will require them to be already cooked, and others will use the actual dried beans in the recipe. We’ve included recipes for all 10 common beans listed above – some we’ve tried, and some we haven’t. Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite bean recipe we should add to the list!