How to Cook Beans From Scratch
If you’re going through a lot of beans lately, you may want to try your hand at cooking beans from scratch. In this article, we’ll tell you exactly how to prepare dry beans and how long to cook beans, whether you’re using the Instant Pot, stovetop, or slow cooker.
These days, more and more of us are turning to shelf-stable foods like beans to provide us with protein and create healthy, easy meals. And while canned beans are definitely inexpensive, dried beans are just pennies per serving! If you’re using beans frequently, it only makes sense to learn how to cook beans from scratch.
Cooking beans might be intimidating if you’re used to simply popping open a can, but they’re actually very easy to make from scratch. Plus, cooking them from dry gives you the opportunity to add your flavors of choice. Whether you want to cook beans on the stovetop, in your Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, or in a slow cooker, we have all the info you need right here.
How Much Should You Make?
The first thing you should know about dried beans is that they expand when cooked — quite a lot, in fact. One pound of dried beans, or a standard-sized bag, is two cups of beans before cooking. Once cooked, this will turn into six cups of beans. If you’re going to the effort of cooking beans from scratch, you’re probably hoping to use your beans for more than one meal anyway. But just in case: If you’re cooking the whole bag, be prepared to make quite a few meals — or feed quite a few people.
Half a cup of beans is considered a serving, and contains about 7 grams of protein, depending on the type of beans you’re using. One standard-sized can of beans is about two cups (or four servings), so a one-pound bag of beans will make three cans’ worth, or 12 servings.
Soak the Beans
Regardless of what type of bean you’re cooking, the first step is to soak the dried beans. This begins to dissolve the starches in the beans, which makes them more easily digestible. To soak your beans, start by rinsing them in cool water. Then sort through them and pick out any discolored beans or small stones you may find (yes, stones are normal!).
From here, you have a choice. You can do a hot soak, which is faster, or an overnight soak, which is simpler.
Hot soak: For a hot soak, boil three to five cups of water (no need to be exact) per cup of beans you’re planning to cook, then let boil for two to three minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the beans sit for one hour. Drain and rinse them before proceeding to cooking.
Overnight soak: Cover the beans with water and leave them on the counter overnight, or for about eight hours. Drain and rinse.
In a pinch, you can skip the soaking step and simply cook your beans a little longer. Just remember that if you skip the soak, you’ll still want to start by rinsing and sorting.
Cook the Beans
When it’s time to cook, you again have some options. While stovetop is the traditional cooking method for beans, they cook up much faster in a pressure cooker, such as the Instant Pot. And if you want to walk away all day while your beans cook, consider using a slow cooker.
Add four cups of water per cup of beans to a large pot along with the optional aromatics of your choice (see below) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Too high a heat will cause the beans to fall apart while cooking.
With a slow-cooking food like beans, the cook time will vary depending on the heat of your particular stove, the size of your beans, and the age of your beans, as well as how soft you like your beans. Beans can take anywhere from 45 minutes to over three hours. Consult the bag for more info, but here are some very general cook times:
- Black beans: 45 minutes – 1½ hours
- Navy beans: 1 – 2 hours
- Pinto beans: 1½ – 2½ hours
- Garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas): 1½ – 2½ hours
- Kidney beans: 1½ – 2½ hours
As the beans cook, check on them from time to time, adding more water if necessary and skimming off the foam that will form on top of the liquid. When the beans are just barely tender but not quite done yet, add some salt. Salting too early will prevent the beans from becoming tender.
The fastest way to cook beans is in a pressure cooker, and these days that usually means an Instant Pot. Using three cups of water per cup of beans plus any aromatics you choose, cook the beans on high pressure, then do a natural release.
- Black beans: 20 – 25 minutes
- Navy beans: 22 – 28 minutes
- Pinto beans: 25 – 30 minutes
- Garbanzo beans: 32 – 40 minutes
- Kidney beans: 17 – 25 minutes
Add salt once the pressure has been released, and simmer uncovered if the beans aren’t quite done yet.
For information on cooking adzuki, cannellini, and great Northern beans, plus lentils, grab our Instant Pot Cheat Sheet (+ Recipe Converter & bonus IP recipes) for $9.99
Place beans in your slow cooker and add any aromatics you’re using. Cover.
Cooking time can vary quite a bit in the slow cooker, as the amount of heat can be extremely different from one slow cooker to the next. On high, most beans will cook for 3 – 4 hours, and on low, they’ll take 5 – 6. However, they can take up to 10 hours, so slow cooker beans are best made early in the day or even the day before you plan to use them; it’s no fun to delay dinnertime by two hours while you wait for your beans to finish cooking.
We recommend that you start your beans in the slow cooker on low and check on them after about 30 minutes. If they’re not simmering, turn the heat up. Begin checking for doneness every half hour starting after about 4 hours. We’re not giving specific cooking times for different types of beans in the slow cooker since so much depends on your slow cooker, but in general, larger beans such as garbanzos and kidney beans will cook longer than smaller beans such as black beans.
Flavor the Beans
You can add herbs and spices at any point during the cooking process, but generally it’s recommended to add aromatics at the beginning and salt and acids near the end. Adding aromatics early gives the flavors time to come together, but salt and acidic ingredients can prevent the beans from becoming tender. Some popular options for flavoring beans include:
Add at beginning of cooking:
- Onion (add halved to your pot)
- Garlic (add whole but peeled)
- Bay leaf
- Pork, bacon, or ham
Add no sooner than 80% of the way through cooking:
- Lemon juice
Flavor combo ideas
Not sure how to choose which flavors to use together and in what recipes they’ll work best? Here are a few suggestions for how to combine flavors to make great meals.
- Add onion, garlic, and bay leaf to any kind of bean. This is a classic flavor combo that can be used in dishes ranging from Italian to Mexican to American.
- Add rosemary and tomatoes to white or garbanzo beans for the beginnings of a flavorful Italian soup, stew, or sauté.
- For a New Year’s Day to remember, cook black-eyed peas in chicken stock along with onions, bacon, thyme, and red pepper flakes.
- Add bay leaf, chile peppers, cumin and coriander to black beans for Mexican dishes, such as tacos or enchiladas.
- Add onion, a smoked ham hock, bay leaves, and garlic to pinto beans for a Southern classic, ideal with cornbread and greens.
- Add onion, garlic, ginger, and chiles to adzuki beans for the start of a fragrant Indian curry.
- Use red pepper flakes along with herbs such as parsley, thyme, sage, and tarragon in cannellini or butter beans for a Mediterranean flair, perfect finished with a squeeze of lemon juice before serving.
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