As an inexpensive source of protein, beans are a dietary staple for a large portion of the world. Beans come in many varieties and are quite versatile. I’ve enjoyed beans in main courses, side dishes, salads, soups, and even desserts!
We eat our fair share of beans, but rarely get them from a can. Years ago I learned how easy it is to cook dry beans in bulk in my crock pot, then freeze them for future use. I’ll never go back to canned beans.
Why I prefer using dry beans over canned beans
- First, I am always grossed out by the slimy liquid that accompanies beans in a can. I’m not sure what it is or what it’s there for, but I think it’s gross.
- Another benefit of not getting your beans from cans is avoiding the controversial chemical BPA. I’d prefer to avoid weird chemicals potentially messing with my family’s hormones.
- Dry beans are much cheaper. A pound of dry beans costs between $0.60 and $1.50, which is similar to the prices you might pay find for a can of beans. A can of beans is about 1.5 cups. A pound of dry beans will make more than 3 times what you get in a can.
- With dry beans, you can control the amount of salt you put in (which you want to do after cooking them), whereas canned foods are loaded with sodium.
My Bean Routine
There are lots of different ways to cook dry beans. You can cook them in a pot, pressure cooker, or slow cooker. You can soak them overnight, do a quick soak, or with some beans, skip the soak entirely. I’m going to keep things simple and just tell you the way I do it and what works for me.
I don’t spend much time on it, but I do glance through my beans to make sure there aren’t any tiny stones or other debris. Your package of beans will remind you that beans are a raw agricultural product and may contain tiny sticks or stones that should be removed.
I remember watching and helping my mom do this when I was young. Back then there was a lot more junk in dry beans. I think the machinery has improved, as I rarely find anything I have to pull out.
Using a colander, I rinse the beans. It’s pretty straight forward and just takes a second.
3- Overnight Soak
For every pound (2 cups) of dry beans, add 6-8 cups of water. I usually do at least 2 pounds at a time and add about 12 cups of water. If you’re new to cooking dry beans, go ahead and measure the water the first time, then you can just eyeball it in the future.
I always cover my bowl with a plate or cookie sheet just to keep out the stray fly, ant, or two-year-old. Just let it sit overnight or around 8-12 hours. When you’re cooking beans in the crock pot you don’t have to be a big stickler on the soaking. In fact, you don’t even have to soak them, but I always do.
4- Rinse again
Discard the soaking water and rinse your beans again with the colander. Pour beans into your slow cooker.
Safety Note: Red kidney beans contain a toxin that makes them potentially dangerous to cook in the slow cooker. After soaking them in cold water for at least 8 hours, rinse them and put them into a pot. Cover them with 2 inches of cold water and boil them for 10 minutes. Drain the water, then cook them in the slow cooker on high (or just opt for the stove).
5- Cook in Slow Cooker
Add enough water to cover your beans with about 2 inches of water. The time varies depending on the slow cooker and the variety of beans, so do some experimenting. On high, my beans are done in less than 4 hours, on low they take about 6 hours. My slow cooker is always on the low end of cooking time ranges. Your beans are done when the are soft and you can smash them on the roof of your mouth with your tongue.
6-Drain and Cool
Drain off any remaining liquid. Allow your beans to cool before putting them in freezer bags. I’ll admit that I don’t always wait until they are completely cool to bag them, but I at least let the bags cool before putting them in the freezer.
Most often, I use quart-size Ziploc freezer bags (remember how I reuse them). The bags will fill up comfortably without about 4.5 cups of cooked beans, so I try to use beans in about those quantities. You can freeze them in whatever portion is convenient for you. I have also started making plastic wrap packets to get the beans in just the right amounts and then putting several plastic wrap packages in a freezer bag.
8- Thaw and Use
In an ideal world, you would set your beans out ahead of time to thaw before using them. They are definitely easiest to get out of the bag that way. More often than not, I pry them out the the bag frozen and add them to my pot on the stove. When I make chili or bean soup, I often start with a can of home-canned tomato puree. The frozen beans thaw quickly in the stove. Sometimes I thaw them in the microwave, which also works just fine.
If you use plastic wrap, be sure your beans are at least slightly thawed (run under hot water) before ripping off the plastic wrap, so you don’t leave any pieces of plastic wrap in your beans. That would be almost as gross at that slimy liquid in canned beans.
I love having cooked dry beans so accessible when I’m cooking. Having beans in the freezer really speeds up dinner and increases my options.