Bourbon Barbecue Baked Beans
"Kentucky has always said you can't really make bourbon outside of Kentucky because it's a combination of the barrels and the limestone-fed springs that give us the water. That's our story, and we're sticking to it." John Yarmuth
This recipe below is more Southern than Boston Baked Beans, sweeter, and will make the best baked beans you've ever had, certain to wow your guests. OK, I know there's a lotta stuff in this recipe, but when you consider that baked beans are really a stew, and stews get complexity from, well, stewing, I say the more stuff, the merrier. The important thing is that it's quick and easy to assemble. Lotsa stuff, little fuss. Besides, nothing that has bacon in it can be bad.
There is an alternative prep, and a lot of rib joints make their beans this way: They take the unsold ribs from yesterday, scrape the meat off the bone, and use it instead of the bacon. Some even add scraps from their other meats. The best ribjoints put their bean pans under the meat in their smokers and let the drippings fall into the stew bringing with them flavor from the rub seasonings, fat, and smoke. This is a great technique, but it is easy to oversmoke them, so leave them in the smoker for only 2 to 3 hours on your first try.
If you are from Texas or South Carolina or New Orleans, you might not like these beans because they are sweet. That's the way the rest of the nation likes beans. Sorry. You need to try my recipe for Grannie's Texas Beans or Hoppin' John or Red Beans & Rice.
Bourbon Barbecue Baked Beans Recipe
Makes. About 12 servings
Takes. 20 minutes prep, 45 minutes or more to cook
6 strips of thick cut bacon
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeño, or more or less to your taste, coarsely chopped
3 cans (15 ounces each) white kidney beans, drained and rinsed (for tips on working with dried beans, click here to read my article, The Science of Beans)
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup Kansas City style BBQ sauce
4 tablespoons molasses, any grade
1/4 cup Kentucky Bourbon or Tennessee whiskey
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf (try not to leave this out)
About the beans. You can use three cans of different beans if you wish.
About the bacon. Substitute hot dogs for bacon and you have Beanie Weenies.
About the peppers. Substitute poblanos for bell peppers. Richer flavor and a little heat.
Optional add-ins. Add 1 teaspoon American chili powder or ancho powder and/or 1 teaspoon rosemary leaves (not powder). Add 1 tart apple such as Granny Smith or Jonathan, peeled, cubed, and add it with the whiskey.
1) Make sure you are using a 2 quart or larger pot or Dutch oven. Cook the bacon over a medium heat. When it begins to brown, flip it, brown the other side, but remove it before it renders all its fat and gets hard. We want bacon that we can cut, not crumble. You will probably need to do the bacon in two batches. And what the heck, go ahead and cook an extra slice or two for the cook to eat when nobody is watching. Drain the bacon by putting it on 2 layers of paper towels on top of a section of the local newspaper.
2) Pour off the bacon fat into a coffee cup leaving behind about 2 tablespoons and most of the brown bits dissolved in the fat. When the fat in the cup begins to cool, but before it hardens, move it to a plastic tub and store it in the fridge. You can use this later for cooking onions or veggies. Nothing perks up broccoli like bacon fat!
3) Add the onions and peppers to the pot and cook them until they wilt. If the bacon bits stuck to the bottom start to get too dark, add an ounce of water and they will dissolve promptly with the help of a wooden spoon.
4) Add 3 cups of hot water or stock and everything else including the bacon. There are four good ways to cook these beans:
- On your grill/smoker. If you have a smoker, put them below the meat for about 2 to 3 hours at 225°F. They will collect flavorful, smoky drippings from the meat laden with seasoning from the rub. Just be sure they don't burn.
- In your oven. Put the pot in your oven uncovered for 2 hours at 225°F. Stir every 30 minutes to make sure they don't burn.
- On the stovetop. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and then turn it back to simmer for 30 minutes without a lid. Stir and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon every 10 minutes to prevent burning and sticking. Try to keep the bay leaf submerged.
- In a slow cooker. Set it to medium, which should be about 250°F and check them in about 2 hours.
6) Remove the bay leaf. Taste and adjust the flavors as you see fit. If you like it spicier, add hot sauce. Add more molasses if you like it sweeter, or salt if you think it needs it. Cook it longer if you want it thicker, or add water if you want it thinner.