Kick the can: the easy way to use dried beans


Back in my single days, I was addicted to a bag of instant beans and rice called Vigo. I’m guessing they only required cooking for 15 minutes or so in boiling water — since that’s about all I could manage in those years — but what I liked about them was the fact that the bag told me to douse them in oil and vinegar, Cuban-style. This dressing made me an addict (nevermind the fact that the brand of beans had nothing to do with this condiment) — I even remember requesting they carry them at my new grocery store when I moved to Tennessee.

Years later, I graduated to canned beans. I’d saute onions, peppers and garlic, and add a can of black beans to the mix, spiced with cumin. A little more homemade, one step less processed.

I think it was our beloved Brazilian Black Beans, from The Joy of Cooking, that first had me buying dried beans. I couldn’t believe how much cheaper it was — I could even afford to buy organic.

But there were still so many recipes that called for a can or two of beans. For both economic and health reasons (home-cooked beans retain more nutrients than canned, contain no BPA, and if pre-soaked are much easier to digest), I decided to try and use dried instead — and finally figured out a way to do it that makes it almost as easy as buying a can.


Cooking in bulk is the key — and to make it even easier, I usually kill two birds with one stone, and have a bean-cooking day when I need a large quantity of cooked beans for a recipe. These white navy beans were cooked to use in a Tuscan White Bean Stew — and I saved the rest for future use. The instructions below include a long (24-hour) soak, which greatly helps bean digestion and combats anti-nutrients. A slow-cooker is my favorite cooking vessel, as I can leave it on while running errands in the morning. The most important thing to remember about cooking dried beans: do not add salt until beans are cooked. Salt toughens beans, and causes most cases of the dreaded beans-that-never-get-done.

Try this just once, and I guarantee you’ll give serious consideration to kicking this can from your cupboard.*


Recipe: How to Cook Dried Beans


  • 2 pounds dried beans (black, pinto, kidney, navy)
  • filtered water for soaking & cooking
  • 1 Tbsp whey or lemon juice (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed (optional)


  1. In a 2-quart bowl, combine the dried beans with 2 quarts lukewarm water (this will more than cover the beans, but the legumes will swell to several times their size) and optional whey/lemon juice. Let sit for 12-24 hours (you can change the water once during a long soak, but this is optional).
  2. Drain and rinse the beans very well.
  3. Combine rinsed beans in a slow cooker with enough fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Add optional garlic, and cook covered, on high, for 4 hours, or until tender. DO NOT ADD SALT until beans are fully cooked (I freeze mine unsalted and season as used).
  4. Let cool completely. Use immediately, or divide into 1.5 cup (one can of beans) or 3 cup (two cans of beans) portions in freezer bags. Will keep frozen for 6 months. To thaw, submerge in a bowl of lukewarm water for 30 minutes until loose enough to remove from plastic (avoid microwaving in the plastic bag).

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.


* Confession: I still sometimes have canned beans in my cupboard. I consider it part of our natural disaster plan, kinda like the stores of food hoarded in my basement.

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday.




15 thoughts on “Kick the can: the easy way to use dried beans

  1. I have to admit that I am a canned bean buyer, although for years I have wanted to convert over to the dry side. I had a very bad experience with dried beans when I was about 20 and have never tried it again, but your method sounds fail safe. I’m going to take the plunge and try it! Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Julie — take the plunge! And please — if you have another disaster, write and tell what happened. I’m no expert, but have cooked enough really bad beans over the years that I might be able to troubleshoot ; )

      1. Thanks, Katy, I will. I’m really excited to try this; in fact, I think I’m going to schedule something into our weekly dinner menu for next week that uses beans just so I can try it.

  2. Okay, my mother was the best maker of any type of beans there ever was. Seriously. She was always asked to bring some type of beans to every church event. When I came home from school and would bring my cousin with me, she would just shake her head that the food we asked for was soup beans and cornbread. Kind of like if my kids would ask for macaroni and cheese (homemade, not box). It’s easy and not very exciting. But they are both comforting. She taught me how to make beans and we are generally too snobby to use canned beans for anything other than a time induced emergency. But, she NEVER soaked her beans; she parboiled them first. She could give me all sorts of reasons why not. I can usually tell beans that have been soaked as opposed to parboiled. Why would soaking be better than parboiling? Parboiling is so much faster and I personally like the results better. I realize others might like there beans firmer. And you are absolutely right about the salt – very last thing!

    1. Nancy, the soaking is all about getting rid of phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. I used to parboil as well — as recommended by Cook’s Illustrated — but went to soaking when I read more about phytates.

      If only my kids would walk in the door and ask for beans and corn bread…

  3. We have a pressure cooker and can our beans (it cooks them at the same time). My recipe is exactly like yours. soak beans overnight, rinse. pack 1.5 cups in pint jars and fill up with boiling water. (We have a 22 Quart canner and can process 20 pints at a time. Process 75 minutes at 10 LBs pressure. A pressure cooker is required. A little more involved than freezing, but we live in an apartment with no extra freezer space. Besides, nothing is easier than opening a can of beans. We eat black beans and rice at least once a week. For chili beans I pack a clove of garlic (whole) in the bottom with 1/2 tsp chili powder and small squirt of tomato paste (or 2 TB tomato sauce), add the beans and boiling water and process as above. This year I’m gonna try to grow some beans in the garden to dry. I’m gonna buy them from here:

  4. Actually we have 4 pressure cookers, different sizes but the biggest is 22 qts. We got all of them at the thrift store, Madison has amazing thrift stores. All are Mirro (made in Wisconsin). They are the weighted gauge type which are permanently correct for safe pressure. The other type is the dial gauge (e.g. Presto), this requires the pressure dial to be tested yearly by the USDA extension service to be safe (Drew and Emily have the dial gauge and they got it tested before using it). If you are to get one, I highly suggest the weighted gauge one because it doesn’t require regular testing to be accurate. So even thrift store finds in good condition are perfectly safe (You might need to get new gaskets, but those usually only cost 10 bucks) I’m sure the modern ones have a more precision dial gauge that doesn’t change very much over time, but I think the USDA still recommends ALL dial gauges to be tested yearly:

    I have never had any issues with pressure canning, but I follow the USDA recommendations. Green beans, beans, whole tomatoes, tomato sauce are about the only thing we pressure can. Oh, we pressure can chicken stock (25 mins at 10 lb pressure) which is amazing, because it is ready in an instant, no more thawing out. As always, we heat up our canned food before eating it. Botulism, is dangerous, but very rare and the toxin is very heat sensitive, so a quick simmer (10 min at 176 F, not even boiling) before eating completely destroys the toxin:

    1. Ok, I think I can find a Mirro here — we have that midwest thing going ; )
      Thanks for the wealth of info! You’re like an encyclopedia.

    1. try this! I’ll bet money that salting them early was an issue (because who doesn’t salt as they cook? and no one ever tells you not to)

  5. I’ve been making the switch slowly the past few years but still keep a few cans around out of habit or “just in case”. I love the thought of freezing beans to use for a quick meal. How to they thaw? Do they get mushy or do they hold their shape pretty well?

    1. Becky, they thaw great — texture is just like what it was before freezing. I do make sure to stop the original cooking when they are *just* tender, since there’s usually further cooking involved when I use them after thawing.

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