Meet your new favorite summer party recipe: slow cooker baked beans. Long loved for their sweet, tangy flavor and tender, creamy texture, baked beans for backyard barbecues and summer cook outs used to mean heating up the whole house to slowly cook the dried beans for hours upon hours. Here the slow cooker saves the day by doing all the work and keeping you cool at the same time.
This recipe for slow cooker baked beans really is as easy as soaking some dried beans, dicing an onion, and layering a few things in the slow cooker before letting the beans cook low and slow overnight. You're going to be making these lush, crowd-pleasing beans all summer long.
Slow Cooker Baked Beans: Watch the Video
Why You Should Slow-Cook Your Baked Beans
Traditional baked beans are started on the stovetop with a sauté of some bacon and a diced onion, then dried beans and some cooking liquid are added and the whole pot goes into a warm oven for several hours. The long, low heat of the oven transforms the beans from hard to tender, thickening the cooking liquid as it absorbs it, making for a rich gravy around the creamy beans.
The slow cooker can make the same transformation without heating up the stove and, dare I say, make better, creamier beans with less effort. Because the slow cooker is designed to cook low and slow but doesn't heat up enough to sauté the bacon and onions, the only special consideration we'll make for this method is how we pile in the ingredients.
Layer Your Slow Cooker for Better Baked Beans
Slow cooker baked beans are nearly a set-and-forget recipe with one special exception. Layering the beans between the bacon and onions helps get the aromatics the heat they need to soften gently before all their goodness — fat from the bacon, flavor from the onions — is soaked up by the beans. This simple layering really only requires resisting the urge to stir once the cooking liquid is added.
Key Steps for Slow Cooker Baked Beans
- Soak the beans before cooking. The actual cooking time of your baked beans will vary depending on the age of the dried beans. Unfortunately there's no real way to tell how old your beans are at the store. Soaking the beans overnight will, however, cut your cooking time considerably. An overnight soak of 10 to 12 hours is ideal, but even a few hours will shorten your cooking time.
- Layer the bacon, onion, and beans. This sounds complex, but I promise it's not! Put the bacon right into your slow cooker's crock, then pour the beans on top and finally sprinkle on the onions. After you mix up the cooking liquid, pour it over the beans and resist the urge to stir before you begin cooking.
- Mix the cooking liquid well. Because we want to avoid stirring the contents of the slow cooker for the first few hours, make sure the cooking liquid — in this case, water, molasses, brown sugar, and tomato paste — is whisked well before pouring it over the beans.
- Save the seasoning for the end. Generally, it is best practice to leave salting any beans until the end of cooking, as long exposure to salt softens the beans' skin and can make them mushy. With these slow cooker beans, salting at the end also allows for adjustment based on the savoriness of your salt or canned tomato paste.
Seasoning and Storing Slow Cooker Baked Beans
These slow cooker baked beans cook low and slow for six to eight hours. After six hours, begin tasting the beans for doneness and go ahead and add the salt. The beans are done when they are creamy throughout and the sauce is richly thick. You can keep the beans in the slow cooker to keep warm for up to two hours after cooking for serving.
Leftover beans keep well in the fridge for up to a week, but they also freeze beautifully too. I like to freeze them flat in a zip-top bag for future dinners — it feels just like having a can of baked beans at the ready, but they taste so much better for your efforts.
Brown Sugar & Bacon Slow Cooker Baked Beans
Serves 8 to 10
What You Need
dried navy, pinto, or great northern beans
thick-cut bacon, small dice
yellow onion, small dice
1 (6-ounce) can
molasses (not blackstrap)
packed light or dark brown sugar
apple cider vinegar
kosher salt (optional)
6-quart or larger slow cooker
Measuring cups and spoons
Chef’s knife and cutting board
Rinse, sort, and soak the beans. Spread the beans out into a rimmed baking sheet or plate and pick out any debris or broken beans. Transfer the sorted beans to a colander and rinse under cool water. Transfer to a large bowl or 6-quart or larger slow cooker (this eliminates one extra bowl to wash) and cover with 6 cups of cool water. Cover and soak at room temperature 10 to 12 hours.
Drain the beans. Drain the soaked beans and dry the slow cooker insert if needed.
Layer the bacon, beans, and onions. Spread the diced bacon in a single layer in a 6-quart or larger slow cooker. Add the drained beans, and sprinkle the onions over the beans (do not stir). Cover and turn on to the LOW setting while you prepare the sauce.
Make the flavorful sauce. Place 3 cups of water, the tomato paste, molasses, brown sugar, vinegar, and mustard in a large bowl and whisk to break up the tomato paste. Reserve the salt for seasoning later in the cooking process.
Pour the sauce over the beans. Pour the sauce evenly over the onions, beans, and bacon. Do not stir to combine.
Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Cover and cook on the LOW setting for 6 to 8 hours. At the 6-hour mark, begin tasting for doneness and add the salt as needed. The beans are ready when they are creamy and tender.
Stir and serve. Stir to combine — the sauce will be thick. Serve or cool and refrigerate.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before reheating in the microwave or on low heat.