Barbecue Sauce Spices Up This Cookout Star
OK, there are baked beans you make from scratch. You know, soak the beans overnight, then combine them with some pork and molasses and slow braise them in the oven for hours until the aroma drives you crazy enough that you grab the pot (before they’re done!) and start dipping your spoon in.
Pretty good. But not as good as these shortcut beans. My recipe starts with canned baked beans (don’t tell!) Then you add some bacon and barbecue sauce, plus other goodies. Time in the oven? No more than an hour. Time before the aroma drives you wild and you grab the pot of beans (without an oven mitt!) and start spooning them down? Half an hour — 45 minutes tops.
Seriously, these baked beans are good. I don’t care what else you serve at your next cookout, this is the dish people will keep coming back to (and the one they’ll beg you to bring to every pot luck for the rest of your life.)
Fortunately, this is a pretty easy recipe to make. But you don’t have to tell them that.
Recipe: Baked Beans with Bacon
In some parts of the world, people enjoy eating baked beans straight from the can, no flavor enhancement expected. That’s exactly how they serve them for an English breakfast. At tea time they serve the baked beans on toast — but still straight from the can.
Not for me. I want flavor, and lots of it. So I always pep up canned beans with some goodies — which manage to transform this somewhat plebeian dish into gastronomic royalty. Although I vary both the ingredients and their quantities almost every time I make this recipe, I follow the general template I learned from my mother years ago. (OK, who are we kidding? Decades ago!) I’m not sure exactly where she got the recipe, but various renditions of a similar dish have been included in The Joy of Cooking for at least the last 4 or 5 editions.
This recipe serves 8 or so. It’s easy to double or triple if you’re feeding a crowd. Preparation time is 20 minutes; cooking, an hour (largely unattended). These beans usually taste better the next day (after being stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator). Leftovers will keep a few days in the fridge, and they store well in the freezer for a couple of months. In fact, I often make a huge batch for Memorial Day, then freeze leftovers for July 4th and Labor Day cookouts.
- ½ - ¾ pound bacon, sliced into 1-inch pieces (more is always better, right?)
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced (you want a bit more than a cup)
- 2 - 3 ribs of celery, cleaned and diced
- 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
- 2 - 4 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, and diced (optional, but wonderful)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 15-ounce cans of baked beans (a/k/a “pork and beans;” brand doesn’t matter)
- ¾ cup barbecue sauce (or to taste – I often add more; see Notes)
- 2 - 4 tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark)
- hot sauce to taste (optional but recommended; I use Tabasco; and I add at least a dozen vigorous shakes, often more)
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (very optional; its flavor note differs from hot sauce)
- additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (see Notes)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Slice bacon and place in cold frying pan. Put pan on medium to medium-low heat, and sauté bacon until brown and crisp (8 - 10 minutes once the pan is up to heat).
- Meanwhile, peel and dice onion (dice of ½ inch or a bit less), celery, and green bell pepper.
- Wash jalapeño pepper and cut lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful, the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Chop into very small dice. Add to the bowl, and then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
- When bacon is crisp and brown, remove from frying pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a small plate. Add the diced onion, celery, green pepper, and jalapeño to the frying pan, salt and pepper to taste, and sauté over medium-low heat until soft but not brown (5 minutes minimum; usually a few more than that).
- Meanwhile, open cans of beans and dump contents into a 3- or 4-quart Dutch oven with cover (or another similarly sized casserole). Add barbecue sauce, brown sugar, and optional hot sauce and/or cayenne. Stir and taste. I often add more barbecue sauce at this point (I really like the flavor). If the sauce is too hot for your taste, add more brown sugar — the sweetness helps tone down the heat.
- When the onion, celery, green pepper, and jalapeño are soft, add them to the baked bean mix. I always include the bacon grease (you may prefer not to, although the flavor won’t be as good). Add the reserved bacon pieces and stir the mix to combine all ingredients. Taste, and add more barbecue sauce, brown sugar, etc. if needed. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Place covered in oven and set timer for 30 minutes. When timer goes off, uncover baking dish and cook for another 30 minutes (an hour total).
- After an hour, the baked beans are cooked. Serve immediately; or wait at bit and serve them warm; or wait longer and serve them cold (they’re good all 3 ways, though I think they’re best hot). When hot, the beans can be a little soupy; you may want to use a slotted spoon to serve, particularly if you’re using paper plates for your cookout.
- Any brand of tomato-based barbecue sauce that you like will work in this recipe. In St. Louis (where I live), Maull’s is the best-selling barbecue sauce, and it works well. It has a slightly sweet taste with just a bit of spiciness. But Maull’s is not distributed nationwide, so you may not be able to find it in your market. An even more flavorful choice might be Stubb’s, which is widely available (their spicy is particularly good). When I can get it, I also like Gate’s Barbecue Sauce, which is produced by chain of restaurants in Kansas City. Gate’s isn’t particularly sweet, so if you use it, you might find you’ll prefer a bit more brown sugar.
- The amount of brown sugar you use depends on how sweet your barbecue sauce is. That’s why tasting in Steps 6 and 7 is critical — at this point you’ll know if the flavor is unbalanced.
Tasting in Step 7 also is important so you can add the proper amount of salt and pepper.
- If you don’t like barbecue sauce, you can substitute ketchup (which is how my mother always made this dish). I don’t think the flavor is nearly as good, but many people enjoy it that way.
- Some people also like to include molasses, cider vinegar, and/or mustard (either the powder or the prepared kind) in this dish. I’ve made it that way and it’s good; but I prefer my current recipe. If you want to experiment, you might begin with a couple of tablespoons of molasses, ¼ cup of cider vinegar, or a couple of teaspoons of mustard powder. Taste as you add your ingredients to make sure you’re liking the result.
- An alternative version of this dish calls for leaving the browned bacon pieces whole (after you assemble the beans, you lay the bacon pieces on top before putting the dish in the oven). But IMO, this dish tastes much better with the bacon mixed in.
- Yet another version of this recipe calls for topping the beans with frankfurter slices (put them on top of the beans right before putting the beans in the oven). The beans-and-franks version is intended to be a weeknight main dish, rather than a cookout side. But you may find the idea appealing.
- Really, feel free to adjust quantities and ingredients to suit your individual taste. I rarely cook this recipe exactly the same way two times running.
The Best Summer Cookout Dish I Know
Although these Baked Beans with Bacon are great any time of year, I usually prepare them only during cookout season — from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In fact, the pictures in this post were taken late last summer. Because I won’t have another photo opportunity until Memorial Day, when I’ll make this dish again.
“Oh, come on,” wheedled Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, “we can have a taste before then, can’t we? Australia and New Zealand just celebrated Anzac Day, which is kind of like our Memorial Day. Shouldn’t we show solidarity by having some baked beans? It’s the least we could do.”
“Tempting,” I conceded. “But I think we should start testing some of the drinks we’ll be doing for our Summer Sippin’ Series.” (You’ll be reading more about this in a couple of weeks! We plan to feature a soothing, cooling potion every week this summer.) “I’m not sure if we have time to do both right now.”
“Tough choice,” Mrs K R agreed. “Hey, is that a fresh bottle of rum?”
“Yes, and it just can’t wait to meet our new Tiki mugs!”
“Well, OK. I mean, Memorial Day is coming up soon, right? I can wait.”
Good decision. Bring on the cocktail umbrellas!
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