Vegetarian Baked Beans

published May 23, 2023
summer
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someone moving beans in a cast iron pan with a wooden spoon
Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Food Stylng; James Park

No summertime spread is complete without a pot of baked beans. Tender beans slow-cooked in a sweet and smoky sauce pair perfectly with mains from the grill. The trouble is, many baked bean recipes focus on the bacon rather than the beans. Luckily, if you’re serving guests who abstain from pork, or are simply trying to entertain on a budget, there’s a way to serve the classic side without adding any meat at all. By making a few smart pantry picks, it’s simple to turn humble canned beans into the classic potluck side dish. Here’s how to do it. 

How to Replace Bacon in Baked Beans

Baked bean recipes often rely on bacon for their savory, smoky flavor. In order to make vegetarian baked beans that don’t sacrifice on flavor, start by sautéing a diced yellow onion until it starts to brown. Here, the caramelization adds a rich depth of flavor that raw onion or onion powder cannot replicate. For even more savory flavor, add a splash of soy sauce or tamari — just make sure to choose the low-sodium version, so that you have more control over the level of salt. Lastly, bittersweet molasses and smoked paprika provide that smoky flavor.

What Kind of Beans Are Used in Vegetarian Baked Beans?

There’s no need to soak dry beans. You’ll need two (about 15-ounce) cans of small, tender beans with a thin skin like great northern, navy, or pinto beans for this recipe. 

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Food Stylng; James Park

What to Serve with Vegetarian Baked Beans

Can You Make Vegetarian Baked Beans In Advance?

These vegetarian baked beans can be prepared up to five days in advance, if kept in the refrigerator. Baked beans thicken upon cooling, so make sure to add an extra splash of water to loosen them up before reheating on the stovetop over low heat until warmed through.

Vegetarian Baked Beans Recipe

Classic sweet and smoky baked beans without the bacon.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 25 minutes

Makesabout 3 cups

Serves4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 (about 15-ounce) cans

    great northern, navy, or pinto beans

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 2 cups

    water

  • 1/4 cup

    ketchup

  • 1/4 cup

    molasses (not blackstrap)

  • 3 tablespoons

    packed light brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons

    apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon

    low-sodium soy sauce or tamari

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 2 teaspoons

    smoked paprika

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    dry mustard powder

  • 1 teaspoon

    garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground cloves

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F.

  2. Drain and rinse 2 (about 15-ounce) cans great northern, navy, or pinto beans. Dice 1 medium yellow onion.

  3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or large cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until softened and browned, 6 to 8 minutes.

  4. Add the beans, 2 cups water, 1/4 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup molasses, 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce or tamari, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper if desired. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.

  5. Transfer to the oven and bake uncovered until the liquid is reduced and the beans darken in color, stirring halfway through, 60 to 70 minutes total. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool and thicken slightly, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.