“Low and slow” is often associated with great barbecue, but one great barbecue side can benefit from the same attention–baked beans. The flavor rewards are well worth some low and slow time spent in the slow cooker.
I am a big fan of baked beans. I like the flavor, I like the texture and I like that I am putting something relatively healthy in my body. As a matter of fact, I enjoy baked beans so much that I could make a meal out of them with nothing more than a tasty roll on the side. As I’ve said before in other bean posts, my children are still in therapy because I made so many bean meals when they were growing up.
Update 8/19/2014: Yes, an update already. My daughter came home from work last night, walked straight to the refrigerator and got something to eat. My husband and I were talking when she came home. We noticed that she had obviously had a hard day, so we let her eat and decompress for a few minutes. Finally she spoke from dimness of the semi-lit kitchen. “Mom, these are the best baked beans I have ever eaten.” You could have knocked me over with feather as I watched her standing there at the counter eating the cold beans right out of container. Amazing–one of my kids now eats beans. More than that, she likes beans that I made. I guess therapy worked for her.
I’ll admit it, I’m a bit ‘off’, or ‘full of beans’, but I’ve learned to embrace that fact. There comes a point in life where a woman learns to relax about her uniqueness. But not about her body…I truly believe that most of us are never quite satisfied with our habitus.
That’s a medical word. Habitus. It means body, but it is much more fun to say. Come to think of it, it can also make us feel better about ourselves. For instance, if I say something like, “My habitus has a wart,” I feel somehow disconnected from the wart. However, if I say, “I have a wart,” then it is as if I am defined by the wart. I own it. It is mine. I am the wart.
Here’s another one, and I must warn you, saying it out loud makes me laugh. “The butt of my habitus is starting to slide south.” See how disconnected that sounds? A habitus is a temporary situation. I mean, so is a body, but it seems to me that a habitus is just the place that I have to reside for now. I’ll get a new, vastly improved version when I’m resurrected and then I’ll happily call it my body.
Hey! Now there is a truly exciting thought! I’m totally looking forward to a phenomenal renovation of my eternal habitus. THAT thought makes me absolutely giddy.
I wonder how baked beans will taste when I have a new body/habitus. Are there baked beans in heaven? Does God eat baked beans? I mean, he made all of the ingredients that go into baked beans, so does he eat beans? I don’t know. Interesting thought, though.
Well, like I said, I eat baked beans and I can unequivocally say that I like them lightly sweet with a smoky background. After bombarding my household with three different variations on baked beans, I am finally very comfortable with this recipe.
These baked beans are made from scratch, meaning I started with dried beans instead of canned pork & beans or baked beans. The beans are cooked with a ham shank until tender, then baked in a slow cooker with a few simple ingredients. Very easy. Plus, the slow cooker won’t heat up your house like an oven does. AND baked beans are very portable in a slow cooker, which works out great for attending a barbecue at your neighbor’s house. So, go get your neighbor cracking on that barbecue shindig and tell her that you’ll bring the baked beans.
Slow Cooker Baked Beans
- 1 pound small white beans or navy beans, about 2 cups
- 1 ham shank
- 3/4 pound bacon, chopped
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup pure grade A dark amber maple syrup
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 2 cups reserved cooking liquid (from beans)
- Rinse beans well under cool running water. Pick out stones, discolored or misshapen beans and other debris. Put beans in a large pot and fill pot with water, 1-2 inches above the level of the beans. Allow beans to soak over-night.
- The next day, drain beans and refill pot with enough fresh water to cover beans by 1-2 inches. Add ham shank to beans. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat so that beans stay at a low boil until tender, 2-3 hours.
- Remove ham shank from beans and set aside to cool. Drain beans, reserving two cups cooking liquid. Put beans and reserved cooking liquid in the slow cooker crock. When the ham shank is cool enough to handle, remove meat from bone and chop into small pieces. Add to beans.
- In a frying pan, cook bacon just until fat has rendered and bacon is still soft, not crispy. Remove bacon to drain on a plate lined with several layers of paper towels. Reserve two tablespoonsful of bacon grease; discard remainder or save for another use. Cook onions in reserved bacon grease, over medium heat, stirring as needed, until onions are soft. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Return drained bacon to the pan with the onions and garlic. Stir together, then add to beans and stir lightly.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, maple syrup, mustard and salt. Stir into bean mixture.
- Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Stir one or two times during cooking. If needed, add a little water during the last 2-3 hours of cooking. The bean mixture should be loose, but not watery. Turn off slow cooker, stir the beans and allow to sit, covered, for an additional hour. Serve as desired.
Option for using canned pork and beans or baked beans: In place of the dry beans, you can use 4 (15 ounce) cans pork and beans or baked beans (Busch's Home-style recommended). Place beans, including liquid, in slow cooker. Prepare the bacon, onions and garlic as instructed and add to beans. Mix together the ketchup, dark brown sugar, maple syrup, mustard and salt and stir into beans. Place ham shank in slow cooker and press down gently into beans. Cover slow cooker and cook as instructed. Watch carefully as beans begin to simmer. Additional water may be needed to keep bean mixture loose, but not watery. Stir periodically to check for texture.
Sometimes I cook beans in the slow cooker. It’s easy and I don’t have to watch the beans like a do when they are on the stove. Don’t ever cook beans with salt or tomato products; they will keep the beans from softening. Once the beans have cooked Cooking beans with a ham shank or ham hocks gives them a nice, rich smoky flavor. After the beans are cooked, drain, reserving 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Remove the ham shank from the beans and set aside to cool. There’s lots of meat on the shank that can be used in the beans.
Rather than using my “good” bacon for chopping up to put in recipes, I like to buy a big package of bacon ends and pieces. It’s at least half the price of bacon slices and has all the same beautiful smoky flavor. Keep some on hand by portioning in separate freezer bags and freezing.
Put the bacon in a hot frying pan.
Fry until softened and fat has rendered. Don’t fry until crisp.
Remove the bacon from the frying pan and allow to drain on a plate lined with several layers of paper towels. Reserve two tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan; dispose of the remainder of the fat or store of other uses.
Saute the onions in the bacon fat fat until onions begin to soften, then add the garlic. Continue to saute for additional minute or two, stirring constantly.
Return the bacon to the pan with the onions. Stir together for a few seconds.
Add the bacon, onions and garlic to the beans.
Stir it all together. This is already looking so good! You can bet that I am picking and nibbling at this point. Yep, beans and bacon, mmmmmmmm.
Add the sauce to the bean mixture.
Give everything a good stir.
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to add the 2 cups of reserved cooking liquid to the bean mixture.
This is the meat from the ham shank. Shanks have a lot more meat on the bone than do ham hocks. This was falling-off-of-the-bone tender.
Chop the meat from the ham shank into small pieces and add it to the beans.
When everything is together, it may look fairly watery. The sauce will thicken as everything cooks together. After several hours, be sure to check the beans and stir them. As they cook, the juice rises to the top, making the beans appear to have lots of cooking liquid. However, the beans resting on the bottom of the crock get too dry and can burn. Stirring periodically helps to keep everything cooking evenly. Additionally, if the beans seem too dry, stir in a little water. The beans should be loose, but not watery.