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Beans 101: How to cook dried and canned beans

Dried beans take some planning — but they are totally worth it.
Bean there, done that.
Bean there, done that.Getty Images/iStockphoto

Beans are an incredibly easy ingredient to cook, and the perfect base or accompaniment for many dishes like soup, chili, tacos, rice, salad, dips and more. They’re nutritious, chock-full of protein and fiber, affordable and versatile. In other words, knowing how to properly cook beans opens up a whole world of meal options.

Dried beans take some planning, but they are totally worth it. If you’re trying to make a “wow”-worthy dish that calls for beans, take the extra time to cook dried beans rather than turning to canned beans. They don’t have that canned taste or sliminess that you get with canned beans, plus, you can better infuse the beans with flavor from the first step.

How to measure beans

Beans expand once soaked and cooked, so you want to make sure you’re measuring correctly for any recipes. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of dried beans, that’s pretty straightforward; but if it calls for 1 cup of cooked beans, that actually means you’ll need about 1/2 cup of dried beans (though we would suggest cooking more beans than you need and storing them for later). Generally, 1 cup of dried beans gives you 2 to 3 servings of cooked beans, and a heaping 1/2 cup of dried beans is equivalent to a 15-ounce can of beans.

Easy Marinated Beans

How to wash and soak dried beans

No matter what type of dried beans you’re cooking, you’ll want to wash and soak them first. Sometimes there is debris mixed in with dry beans.

Pour the beans into a colander and rinse them under water, swirling with your fingers. Next, put the beans into a large bowl and cover with 3 to 4 inches of water and let them soak for 6 to 8 hours in the refrigerator. You can do it overnight or first thing in the morning if you’re cooking them for dinner. It can be tempting to skip this step, but don’t: Soaking makes the beans cook faster and makes them more easy to digest, which helps prevent gas. You and anyone around you will be thankful you made the extra effort. Lastly, you can add about a teaspoon of salt to the soaking liquid to help infuse the beans with flavor and prevent the beans from blowing out of their skin.

No matter what type of dried beans you’re cooking, you’ll want to wash and soak them first.The Yarvin Kitchen / Alamy

How to cook dried beans

You can cook beans on the stovetop, in the pressure cooker (or Instant Pot) or in the slow cooker. For every 1 cup of beans, you’ll need 3 to 4 cups of water (or stock). If you’re preparing the beans for a dish in which you want them to remain firm and intact (like bean salad), you can go with 3 cups of water. Season the liquid with salt and any other seasonings depending on what your final dish is, to help flavor the beans from the inside out. You can’t go wrong with options like garlic powder, onion powder and chile powder.

On the stovetop, put the beans and the water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer and then cook until tender. Cooking times vary based on the type of bean you’re cooking. Here’s a guide for some common beans. The softer you want the beans, the longer you’ll need to cook them.

  • Black-eyed peas: 20-25 minutes
  • Great Northern beans: 45-60 minutes
  • Navy beans: 45-60 minutes
  • Kidney beans: 50-60 minutes*
  • Black beans: 50-60 minutes
  • Pinto beans: 50-60 minutes
  • Azuki beans: 60 minutes
  • Mung beans: 60 minutes
  • Lima beans (large and small): 60-90 minutes
  • Yellow or green split peas: 60-90 minutes
  • Chickpeas: 1-3 hours

*Note: Always soak kidney beans and boil them for 10 minutes before your preferred cooking method, in order to neutralize a toxin called phytohemagglutinin that can cause severe stomach issues.

How to cook beans in a slow cooker

Follow all the initial steps for rinsing and soaking. Put beans and water or stock in the slow cooker and cook on high for 3 to 6 hours, or on low for 6 to 10 hours. Black eyed peas will be on the shorter end of that timeframe, while chickpeas will be on the longer end. After about 5 hours, check your beans every half hour until they reach the tenderness you desire.

How to cook beans in a pressure cooker

The pressure cooker is perfect for when you’re short on time. It’s so fast, you can even cook beans from scratch on a weekday! Rinse and soak the beans, add them to the pressure cooker and then add enough liquid so they are covered by about 1 to 2 inches. How long you cook the beans depends on the type of bean and type of pressure cooker you’re using. Here’s a handy chart. Make sure you use natural release on the pressure cooker, which can take up to 30 minutes.

Natalie Morales' Brazilian Black Beans and Rice

Tips:

  • Start with aromatics for flavor enhancers. For example, you can start with bacon or ham hocks, as well as sautéed garlic, onion or umami-rich mushrooms before adding the liquid and beans.
  • Make a big batch of beans and freeze them for easy prep later. Put drained beans into zip-top bags, squeezing out any air. They’ll be good for up to 6 months.
  • Save the bean-cooking liquid to use as a stock for soups and stews.

How to cook canned beans

Despite the better taste of dried beans, canned beans are good to have on hand. They require pretty much no planning. To cook the beans on their own, just pour the beans and their liquid into a pot. If you want to season the beans, now is a good time to do so. Heat on medium and stir, until they are heated through, usually about 10 minutes. If you don’t want the liquid, you can drain.

If you’re preparing the beans to use in another dish, like chili, you can pour the beans from the can into a colander to drain the juice, rinse them off, then add them to the pot in which you’re cooking the rest of the dish. You can also heat up oil, add aromatics like garlic, onion and green pepper to sauté, then add the drained beans and seasonings, sautéing until they are heated through.

There are so many places your bean-cooking journey can take you! Here are a few recipes to get you started: