The Science of Beans

By:

Meathead

Beans play an important part in American culture and especially barbecue culture. Hard to find a pit stop that doesn’t serve some sort of beans.

Canned beans are quick and easy, and safer

Open the can, drain the salty liquid, rinse, heat for 30 to 60 minutes, and canned beans are ready to eat. They are also safer. I’ll discuss this below.

Once upon a time I felt it was a philosophical requirement for me to cook only dried beans. I now prefer canned.

Dried beans are cheaper and some folks like the taste better, but they take a lot of time, and there is a minor health risk

Dried beans take a lot more time and a bit more effort than canned. You can find dried beans in any grocery, and a large selection in Mexican groceries. You can find hierloom and unusual varieties online. Try those grown by Steve Santo of Rancho Gordo.

Raw or dried beans, especially red kidney beans, must be handled properly. They might have a naturally toxic protein called Phytohaemagglutin (a.k.a. kidney bean lectin). It is present in many plants and animals in small quantities, but kidney beans and a few others might have a lot of this compound. Proper cooking denatures the protein and destroys the toxins. Research suggests the best method below is the safest. It is infinitely preferable to vomiting, diarrhea, and severe abdominal pain for 3 to 4 hours, all of which can be triggered by as few as 4 to 5 beans that have not been prepped properly.

To do this right, you should start the soaking process at least 24 hours before serving time.

  1. Dump dried beans on the counter and make sure there are no pebbles or other foreign matter mixed in.
  2. Give them a quick rinse in cold water.
  3. Measure the volume of beans. Calculate three times the volume of the beans and add that much water to a bowl or pot. Add 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water. Older books say not to salt the beans, but modern cooks have busted that myth. Add the beans and soak at least five hours. You can soak them up to 12 hours if you wish, and you should. It takes a loooonnnnnggg time for them to absorb liquid. The longer that dried beans soak, the less time they need to cook.
  4. Drain the beans and discard the soaking liquid. I know a lot of beanbrains say to save the liquid, but it can be laden with lectin. Play it safe and throw out the soaking liquid. Cover them again with at least 1″ more water than the level of the beans and bring to a boil for 30 minutes. Use a deep pot because once they start to boil they make a lot of foam. Stir occasionally to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom. After 30 minutes, discard the water. The beans can then be added to a recipe and cooked in the recipe. But they will not cook as quickly as canned beans.
  5. After the beans have been added to the recipe let them simmer until they get soft enough to pierce easily with a fork. At first they will rattle around like marbles and when you get experienced you can gtell a lot just by stirring them. Try chewing some as a test. They may need up to 12 hours of simmering. Exact cooking time will vary depending on the type of bean, their size, their freshness, how long they soaked, and how long they boiled. Cooking time will also depend on the cooking method. Beans cook faster in a pot on the stovetop than in a pot in the oven, and longer still on a smoker underneath the meat at 225°F.

If you live at altitude, bean cookery can be consterning. Water boils at a lower temp at altitude because the column of air pressing down on the water surface is shorter and that lowers the air pressure, so vapor escapes the water at a lower temp. As a result it takes longer to cook beans at altitude. A rule of thumb is add 10% for each 1,000 feet above sea level.

The bottom line for dried beans is this: If you prefer to use them, then be patient. Give them plenty of soaking time. Buy the same type and brand of beans several times, and make note of the optimum soak and cook times for you. Once you get the hang of things, they’re easy, and safe.

Pressure cooking option 

Dried beans cook much faster in a pressure cooker. Rinse, soak, boil, and cook 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. Then open the lid and cook another 20 minutes or more until they bean soup is the right consistency.

Click here for Meathead’s classic beans recipes.

Related articles

Here’s the great Steve Santo of Rancho Gordo, my source for all things beany, with a simple bean recipe. Click here for Meathead’s classic beans recipes.

Approximate equivalents

Here are some useful measurements. They can vary significantly depending on the type of beans, the size of the beans, or the brand of the canner.

  • Dried beans absorb liquid when cooked so increase the liquid in the recipe when you cook with dried beans.
  • Dried beans expand to about 2.5 times their original volume when soaked and 3.5 times their original volume when cooked.
  • 1 can of beans = 15 ounces undrained = about 10 ounces drained = 1/4 pound dried beans.
  • 1 pound dried beans = about 2 cups dried beans = about 5 cups soaked beans = about 7 cups cooked beans = 4 cans drained beans.

A smashing good trick

If the beans are done and it is dinner time and the liquid is too runny, you can put the beans in a pot and boil them, lid off, to reduce the liquid, or you can thicken things by smashing a few beans with a potato masher or by pressing them against the side of the pot.

Published On: 2/28/2012 Last Modified: 4/24/2021

  • Meathead - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.


If you help us, we’ll pay you back bigtime with an ad-free experience and much more!

Millions come to AmazingRibs.com every month for quality tested recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, product reviews, and inspiration. But it is expensive to run a website with more than 4,000 pages and we don’t have a big corporate partner like TV network or a magazine publisher to subsidize us.

Our most important source of sustenance is people who join our Pitmaster Club, but please don’t think of it as a donation. Members get 21 great benefits. We block all third-party ads, we give members free ebooks, magazines, interviews, webinars, more recipes, a monthly sweepstakes with prizes worth up to $2,000, discounts on products, and best of all a community of like-minded cooks free of flame wars. Click below to see all the benefits, take a free 30 day trial membership, and help keep this site alive.


Post comments and questions below

grouchy?

1) Please try the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help.

2) Try to post your question to the appropriate page.

3) Tell us everything we need to know to help such as the type of cooker and thermometer. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can’t help you with time and temp questions. Please read this article about thermometers.

4) If you are a member of the Pitmaster Club, your comments login is probably different.

5) Posts with links in them may not appear immediately.

Moderators

  Max

Click for comments...

Spotlight

These are not ads or paid placements. These are some of our favorite tools and toys.

These are products we have tested, won our top awards, and are highly recommend. Click here to read how we test, about our medals, and what they mean.

Use Our Links To Help Keep Us Alive

A big part of this site is our unbiased equipment and product reviews. We love playing with toys and we have no problem calling them the way we see them. Some companies pay a finder’s fee if a reader clicks a link on AmazingRibs.com and buys a product. It has zero impact on our reviews, zero impact on the price you pay, and the sites never tell us what you bought, but it has a major impact on our ability to keep this site alive! So before you buy, please click our links. Here’s a link that takes you to a page on Amazon that has some of our favorite tools and toys: https://tinyurl.com/amazingribs


If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the Slow ‘N’ Sear


The Slow ‘N’ Sear turns your grill into a first class smoker and also creates an extremely hot sear zone you can use to create steakhouse steaks.
Click here for our article on this breakthrough tool


Is This Superb Charcoal Grill A Kamado Killer?


The PK-360, with 360 square inches of cooking space, this rust free, cast aluminum charcoal grill is durable and easy to use. Four-way venting means it’s easy to set up for two zone cooking with more control than single vent Kamado grills. It is beautifully designed, completely portable, and much easier to set up for 2-zone cooking than any round kamado.

Click here to read our detailed review of the PK 360

Click here to order directly and get an exclusive AmazingRibs.com deal


The Cool Kettle With The Hinged Hood We Always Wanted


Napoleon’s 22″ Pro Cart Charcoal Kettle Grill puts a few spins on the familiar kettle design. In fact, the hinged lid with a handle on the front, spins in a rotary motion 180 degrees. It’s hard to beat a Weber kettle, but Napoleon holds its own and adds some unique features to make the 22″ Pro Cart a viable alternative.

Click here for more about what makes this grill special


The Good-One Is A Superb Grill And A Superb Smoker All In One


The Good-One Open Range is dramatically different from a traditional offset smoker. By placing the heat source behind and under the smokebox instead of off to the side, Open Range produces even temperature from left to right, something almost impossible to achieve with a standard barrel shaped offset.

Click here to read our complete review


Finally, A Great Portable Pellet Smoker


Green Mountain’s portable Davy Crockett Pellet Smoker is one mean tailgating and picnic machine. But it’s also gaining popularity with people who want to add a small, set it and forget it pellet smoker to their backyard arsenal. And with their WiFi capabilities you can control and monitor Davy Crocket from your smart phone or laptop.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order


Bring The Heat With Broil King Signet’s Dual Tube Burners


The Broil King Signet 320 is a modestly priced, 3-burner gas grill that packs a lot of value and power under the hood. Broil King’s proprietary, dual-tube burners get hot fast and are able to achieve high, searing temps that rival most comparatively priced gas grills. The quality cast aluminum housing carries a Limited Lifetime Warranty.

Click here to read our complete review


Compact Powerful Sear Machine For Your Next Tailgater


Char-Broil’s Grill2Go x200 is a super-portable, fun little sizzler made of heavy, rust-proof cast aluminum. The lid snaps shut. Grab the handle and you’re off to the party! Char-Broil’s TRU-Infrared design produces searing heat while reducing fuel consumption. A 16 ounce LP gas canister is enough to keep you flipping burgers for hours.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order