A simple guide to cooking dried beans

I’m starting off the week with a big batch of home cooked pinto beans. Later I’ll add them to soups or chili, stuff them into toasted campfire burritos, or fold them into a soft egg scramble for a breakfast tortilla wrap. And that is just the beginning of the bean goodness.

If you usually tend to open a can of beans, I want to walk you really quickly through how I cook mine from dried. I think once you try it, you’ll be converted.

Not only is it more affordable (especially if you buy organic canned beans), but you can control the amount of added salt and, well, like most homemade versions of pantry staples, the taste is far superior to anything that comes in a can.

A simple guide to cooking dried beans

It really comes down to covering beans in water and simmering them until they are tender, that’s it. But here are a few pointers.

To soak or not to soak

You don’t have to soak your beans in advance, however, a 6-8 hour presoak does lessen the cooking time, if you’re the organized type.

A  quick presoak which also works well, is to put them in cold water; bring them gently to a boil and then with the saucepan off the heat, allow them to sit in the water for 1 to 2 hours. Then drain off the water, add fresh cool water to cover by one inch and begin cooking.

Cooked to perfection

Place the beans in a large, thick-bottomed pan and add enough cool water to cover them by an inch. Add any flavour enhancers (see below) if using, and bring to a boil. TIP: DO NOT salt the water, as this can cause the beans to toughen.

Skim off any scum that comes to the surface, and lower the heat to a simmer. Continue to cook uncovered until the beans are tender and add more water when needed to keep the beans covered.

When cooking beans, always keep them at a simmer. Boiling can cause the cooking liquid to evaporate too quickly, as well as cause the beans to break apart and the skins to separate.

Cooking times and yields

Cooking times will very with quality, amount and freshness of the beans; it can take from 1-2 hours. I say beans are done when they can be easily mashed between two fingers or with a fork.

As a general rule, 1 cup dried beans will yield 3 cups cooked. I tend to cook in bigger batches, say 3 cups of dried beans, and freeze the extras in 2-cup portions.

The flavour enhancers

By adding certain aromatics to your beans while they cook, you can significantly boost their flavour and get a head start on a tasty bean broth.

Bacon, bacon, bacon. If you’re not aiming to cook vegetarian, try adding a rasher or 1-inch cube off of your slab bacon for a lovely smoky flavour. Garlic is great too, as are a few slices of jalapeno.

vegetarian black bean burritos

If the beans are intended for a Mexican-style dish, I’ll add a bundle of well-washed cilantro stems, tied with kitchen twine. The mild flavour it brings is unsurpassed.

A pinch or two of fresh ground cumin is especially good with black beans; bay leaf, rosemary or thyme can all go in too.

Get creative and have fun cooking beans!

Do you cook beans or legumes from scratch?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. This summer I discovered that if I soak beans for a couple of days in the fridge they actually cook SUPER fast. Sometimes in as little as 20 minutes. It was kind of a happy accident: 90 degree heat with high humidity meant I was NOT going to boil a pot of beans for a couple of hours indoors, so I waited until the next day when it cooled off. Black beans won’t cook that quickly, but most other ones will.

    I really like cooking beans with peppercorn and fennel seed. I usually use them whole, and leave the seeds in when I use them later on. Same with cumin seed.

    Good look on the cilantro root! I am definitely trying that.

    • Leaving the beans in the fridge for a couple of days? I am so there – not because I knew they would cook faster – or even to lower the heat in the kitchen – but because I sometimes start things and then get distracted. (It happens so so easily I am ashamed to say…)
      Tell me Salix – do you rinse the beans and add fresh water to them before you cook them? Did you add seasoning to them before you put them in the fridge or after?
      Thank you!!!!!!

      • I don’t season when I soak because I always drain off the soaking water, rinse the beans, and use fresh water for cooking. I guess there are enzymes that are released from the dried beans that creates that…um…”musical” effect that beans are most well known for. I don’t get gassy at ALL from the beans I cook, but I can always tell when someone hasn’t done that 😉

        I season when I’m actually cooking the beans (with NO salt, just like you said!). I’ve gotten in to the habit of cooking a couple of types once a week or so, and keeping them in the cooking water my fridge until I use them. I freeze them too if I’m not going to get around to finishing them up before they go bad. I try to use up the cooking water in other dishes…as soup stock, deglazing liquid, in place of water for cooking rice, or any dish that might need a bit more moisture, that kind of thing.

        I forgot to mention bay leaves…I use them a lot too. 🙂

    • I read this page the other day and saw the fridge soaking note. I put some beans in there on Friday night, I think, and am doing them today. If they’ve been in the fridge the whole time they should be good, not spoiled at all???

      My husband is from the South and wants pinto beans flavored with bacon grease, and likes this page’s method of cooking, it’s his way; skimming the scum off the top, putting a bare pinch of baking soda in when the water boils, to help the scum rise to the top.

      Hopefully, this will take only about half an hour to cook if the beans have been soaked in the fridge for 2 days. We will see

      • UPDATE: Beans took longer to cook, about 3 hours, but that’s still better than longer time. I wonder if it’s because we are high altitude in the Rockies. But flavor turned out well.

        I’ll try it again. I may have to put them in the fridge to soak about 3-4 days before. I don’t imagine they’ll spoil in there if kept in clean water.

        • New studies show that there is no need to soak the beans. If they are taking that long to cook, perhaps they are old? Dried beans don’t last forever in the pantry; they do need to be refreshed frequently!

          • Gracieliz says

            Dried beans can get so old that they simply won’t soften! My sister in law had some in her food storage, and she cooked them for 3 days before finally dumping them!

    • June majors says

      I cooked some dried beans after soaking over night, but after cooking them for several hours they are still very hard. I have never had this happen before. Any thoughts?

  2. I’ve used dried beans for years now. A great tip for the smokey flavor without the bacon or ham hock is bay. Adding 2-3 dried bay leaves (or 4-6 fresh leaves), along with garlic to your beans will develop a deliciously complex, smokey flavor. It is the perfect addition and easily translates to any bean and any cuisine. I have often read never to salt beans while cooking to avoid toughening, but I’ve never experienced this problem. I always salt mine during the cooking process as I find salting after doesn’t flavor the beans quite as well. Wonderful post and the perfect start to an unprocessed month of eating!

  3. Thank you for this post!
    Any thing I would need to know about freezing the beans after cooking them?
    Thanks again!

    • I always make a large batch of beans and freeze the leftovers. I just put them in ziploc freezer bags, but I know a lot of people will freeze in glass jars. There isn’t anything special you need to do, just fill up the bag and get the air out 🙂 I have used my black beans in cold salads and don’t think there is a difference between fresh cooked and cooled beans and the frozen ones.

  4. Oh your fridge pictures make me so happy! I love dried beans. It is such a cheap way to eat well. I have typically used dried beans all my life, so it is normal for me to have beans simmering on the stove at the beginning of the week. I like to cook a large batch and then freeze them so that I have them available when I need them.

  5. Do you render your own duck fat?

  6. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    Mmm, these pics reminded me I’m way past due for a pot of borracho beans. If you’re looking for something to do with that beer of James’s, Aimee, throw it into the pot with pintos and all the rest of the aromatics. The alcohol cooks off, but the yeasty, flavorful taste of the beer remains, much like in beer bread. It is SO good.

  7. Beautiful Aimee! Living in India, we have always cooked beans from scratch, ALWAYS! When I began visiting the US in the 90’s I was amazed at the cans of everything {beans, tomatoes,chickpeas} that my sister would effortlessly pour out and be done in minutes. That fascination soon died and I am a true locavore. I do everything from scratch – even make my own soft cheese, butter, marmalade, hot sauce, peanut butter, puff pastry, phyllo sheets. This is a wonderful initiative!

  8. Thank you for the post. I seem to mess up this process somehow.

  9. Brian @ A Thought For Food says

    Just what I needed to get my act in order and cook up some beans!

  10. I’m a die-hard bean fan. I cook up a pot from scratch at least once a week.

    We love unprocessed! We substitute hummus on sandwiches instead of commercial mayo. Maybe you’ve already tried that?

    Thanks for a fabulous post about my favorite subject! 🙂

  11. I tend to feel like canned beans are so much easier, though I’m always so glad when I take the time and effort to make beans starting from dried. And really, it’s not all that much effort anyway – it’s almost all hands-off!

    Thanks to Betsy C. for the tip on using bay leaves! Great idea.

  12. Oh I know I am going to love this series!!! We have cooked more and more from scratch over the years – certainly doesn’t happen overnight!!! But I confess… beans from dried beans always looked like too much effort and now I see it is totally doable!!! Thank you!!!

  13. How about beans in a crockpot? Has anybody tried this and how did it turn out?

    • I’ve made ham and beans in the crock pot, but I still soak the beans first: http://www.tragicsandwich.com/ham-and-beans/

    • I always cook my beans in the crockpot. I sort and rinse a pound of beans (or sometimes two pounds–I have a big pot), then dump them in the crockpot and add water to cover by an inch or two. Turn on low and cook until they are soft enough to squish betwen two fingers. I’d say it usually takes three to four hours, but I’ve never timed it. It’s pretty forgiving. Then I drain the extra water and freeze in baggies in either one or two cup portions, depending on what kind of beans they are. I don’t soak them first, and I’ve never tried adding seasonings, so I can’t advise on that.

      • … and your beans don’t turn out all broken? I am having terrible luck doing my black beans in the crock pot. I have tried all methods (soak, don’t soak, cook in soaking water, rinse and use clean, etc) and EVERY time I end up with a crock pot full of cracked beans. It’s not a problem the first use, but when I freeze and thaw later, I end up with a mushy mess… any ideas???

  14. I’m surprised that in a “guide” about dry beans you didn’t mention/know that the main reason for soaking beans is for the digestive element. If you do NOT soak your beans you will notice a significant difference in digestion (ie. gas) as a result. I’m not trying to be funny. You might want to at least soak the beans you are going to serve when company comes to avoid embarrassment. It surprises me how few people actually know this fact about soaking beans.

    • I did call it a “simple” guide. 😉 There are so many things to cover when talking about beans – that’s why my friend Julie wrote an entire book on the subject!

      Thanks for your comment, however. You make a valid point!

  15. Any tips on freezing and thawing so as to not end up with a mushy mess? Do you freeze in the cooking liquid or drain the beans first? (Maybe I’m cooking them too long… I use a crock pot.)

  16. Mrs. Graham Gardens says

    We love beans, too! Great guide, Aimee.

    I can’t wait to try the cilantro, I’ve never thought of that before. One thing I always add is onions – lots of onions! The onion flavor never collides with any sort of dish I add the beans to later. But I’m kind of crazy when it comes to onions, anyway!

  17. That solo squash in your fridge cracks me up. It looks so expectant, like it’s waiting for its unprocessed friends to come join the fun!

  18. Have you tried using smoked turkey wings or legs in the place of smoked pork to pinto beans? Adding some cumin, bay leaves, culantro(instead of cilantro), onions, green peppers, and garlic make it delicious on EVERYTHING!!

  19. This time of year makes me want a pot of beans on the stove at all times. So comforting and hearty and good in just about everything. Love this guide, Aimee.

  20. I like to cook with dried beans, since they are soooo much cheaper and you know exactly what is in them. Just beans! I am not always good at preplanning, however. So I process dried beans in a pressure canner (in quart jars) and then I always have soft beans ready for a last minute meal. You don’t have to precook the beans before you process them. Just dried beans and water!

  21. Oh I just love this post and this time of year!! A big bubbling pot of beans just goes hand and hand with a crisp Autumn day!

  22. Thanks for this guide, Aimee! I just recently switched over to only using dried beans instead of canned, and these are some great tips!

  23. Wonderful guide!!! Thank you so much for posting. My husband and I have been trying to use all the bags of dried beans in our cupboard which, for some strange reason, always seem so intimidating! (The package instructions make it seem so, at least. They almost scare you out of doing it.) Beans are a favorite food, even for baby! And bagged ones are optimal since they’re without the sodium. Can’t wait to get other people excited about this by spreading this post around. Thanks, again!

  24. I’ve always been intimidated of cooking dried beansbecause it always seemed so difficult andtime consuming to me. Now I know it’s not! I have some drid pinto beans in the pantr and definitely will be maing them this weekend. Thanks Aimee!

  25. Diane Buchanan says

    I didn’t read all the comments so excue me if I repeat he reason for soaking the beans is to remove the ingredient that causes …..you know!! Always try to presoak 🙂

  26. Hold on, cheese had to be thrown out because it’s too processed but bacon somehow isn’t? That’s just crazy! Meat doesn’t naturally come sliced in thin strips and cured in salt, those steps are called “processing” because they are the process by which one gets bacon. How is bacon any different than the sliced meats that you dumped? Bacon is nothing more than a sliced meat, is it not?

  27. You soak the dry beans to release the gasses. It isn’t to make them softer. If you don’t soak them then you’re going to be in a world of smelly pain.

  28. They are more trouble than they are worth. I don’t have that kind of time, and canned beans are CHEAP too. I cook most things from scratch, but this just isn’t worth it to me.

  29. I cooked some beans in the crockpot and put some ham in them. The ham had been in the freezer and I put it in frozen. Now the beans have a funky smell – I took the ham out and it smells the same. Do you think my beans are bad because the ham was bad? Should we eat the beans?

  30. June majors says

    I soaked my dried beans over night. Then cooked several hours and they are still very hard. Have any thoughts about why they haven’t cooked. Never had this to happen.

  31. “DO NOT salt the water, as this can cause the beans to toughen.”

    You’re repeating cooking myths. STOP.

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  33. Great post.

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