Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans

Ever wonder why Boston baked beans are called “Boston” baked beans? It’s the molasses. Boston has been tied to molasses since colonial days, when the city was a trade center for rum from the Caribbean. Molasses is used for rum production and is a by-product of sugar refining and was easily available to the colonists. And then there’s the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919, when a huge tank of molasses exploded and sent a sea of the gooey stuff flooding the streets of the North End. I lived in the North End of Boston in the early 80s and at the time you could still pick up a faint scent of molasses on a hot summer day.

Now to the baked beans. Boston baked beans are by definition, slowly cooked. According to Shirley Corriher in CookWise (great book, btw), either sugar or calcium will make beans hard, even after long hours of cooking. Molasses contains both sugar and calcium, which is why adding molasses to a pot of beans will enable you to cook the beans for what seems like forever, without the beans getting mushy. But it also means that if you cook the beans in molasses to get that wonderful flavor, you have to cook them a good long time.

Although traditionally cooked in an oven, Boston baked beans lend themselves perfectly to slow cookers, which is the method we prefer here.

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Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans Recipe

  • Cook time: 8 hours
  • Yield: Serves 5-6 as a main dish or 10-12 as a side.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (2 to 2 1/4 cups) dry white beans such as Navy beans or Great Northern beans (can also use kidney beans)
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3-4 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 cups hot water
  • 1/2 pound salt pork (can sub bacon), cut into 1/2-inch to 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, (1 1/2 cups) chopped

Method

1 Place beans in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Soak overnight and drain. Alternatively, bring a pot with the beans covered with 2 inches of water to a boil, remove from heat and let soak for a hour, then drain.

2 Mix the molasses, brown sugar, mustard, and ground cloves with 3 cups of hot water.

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3 Line the bottom of a slow-cooker (or a Dutch oven if you are cooking in the oven) with half of the salt pork (pick the fattiest pieces). Layer over with half of the drained beans. Add all of the onions in a layer, then top with another layer of beans and the remaining salt pork. Pour the molasses water mixture over the beans to just cover the beans.

4 Cover and cook in a slow-cooker on the low setting for 8 hours (or in a 250°F oven), until the beans are tender. Check the water level a few hours in, and if the beans need more water, add some. Add additional salt to taste if needed. Note that fresher beans will cook faster than older beans. Your beans may be ready in less than 8 hours, or they may take longer. Best the next day.

Serve with Boston brown bread.

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65 Comments

  1. Carly from Yummrs

    You sure packed a lot of info into a small space there! First of all, I LOVE Shirley Corriher. She was such a great add to Good Eats (whenever she made an appearance). I never knew Boston was a molasses capital, nor did I know that molasses is high in calcium – and that that’s what allows beans cooked in molasses to maintain their integrity when cooked for so long. Thank you for not only a delicious recipe, but a fun read, to boot!

    • Terrylw

      That was a great story about Boston and the molasses disaster. I have a brother in law just outside of Boston and he grows cranberries. In 2012 Detroit had a salt mine disaster, and the whole city fell into a hole. Just kidding, but that’s what most Michiganders wish would happen. I’m trying this recipe right now, and it looks like a good recipe to me. I always have molasses and dark brown sugar on hand. WE grow a lot of sugar beats here in Michigan, and we build cars as you probably know. Should I cook the salt pork before putting it into the slow cooker or just use it as is? I’ve never used salt pork before. Hey, good luck in the playoff against the Tigers in game six and beyond we hope here anyway.

      • Elise

        No need to cook the salt pork first, just into the pot it goes!

        • Terrylw

          Thanks Elise
          They turned out great. My grandchildren are sneaking in the kitchen and eating them right out of the slow cooker.

  2. Kayla @ Fitter Than Choc

    I have heard of Boston baked beans but have never knew how it got its name. I have been wanting to make my own baked beans, and this recipe is so timely! Will let you know how it goes! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    I know it’s heresy to ask this, but if you wanted to make vegetarian Boston baked beans (i.e., no salt pork), what could you substitute? I tend to use barbecue sauce in soups and stews to get the smoky flavor without the pork. Or organic liquid smoke. Any suggestions?

    • Stephanie

      I would also like an answer on the vegetarian question. Is the fat from the salt pork needed or is it for flavor only? Meaning could I just omit it but then need to add some oil?

      • Elise

        The salt pork is important mostly for the flavor. If you omit it, I would still add a little oil though.

      • Joseph

        No salt pork need for vegetarian Boston Baked Beans. the beans will still be delicious. This is a very good recipe for real Boston Baked Beans. Never add any tomatoes to the beans or they will NOT be Boston Baked Beans! Never, Never, Never!

  4. Susan

    I had no idea there had ever been a molassas disaster! Thanks for including the link, it was so interesting. This is almost the way I make my beans. I stop short of adding the molassas, but I will add it next time…now that it has a story. I love food stories!

  5. Monica

    Growing up in Ipswich we also always had baked beans every saturday night. My whole family actually owns bean pots and we cook our beans all day in the oven on low heat. My recipe uses dried mustard instead of Dijon mustard. We always had cold bean sandwiches on sunday morning. Bread with butter and then the beans. I still do that now-people think I’m nuts. Love your blog. I has been a favorite of mine, great recipes and stories.

  6. Val from PA

    These beans looks delish! Molasses is not something I usually keep on hand, but I’ll give these a try the next time we barbecue!

    I knew that Boston and molasses went together, but had never heard about the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919. All I can say is wow – those poor people!!

    Thanks for the great recipe, and for the history lesson!!

  7. laura @ alittlebarefoot

    fantastic post! i never knew that was why molasses were associated with boston. i also have been looking for more slow cooker recipes, so this comes at a great time. thanks!

  8. Judith

    Unhappily, the molasses and rum were part of a triangle route that included buying slaves on the West Coast of Africa and selling them in the Caribbean. The proceeds were then used to buy sugar, which was brought back to Boston and made into rum.

    I have a similar recipe that uses baby lima beans, dried mustard and a ham hock. At the end, I dismantle the ham hock and add the meat back into the beans. Delicious!

  9. Ken Scott

    1) Irrelevant point: There is a book called “Dark Tide” about the Boston Molasses Flood. My father-in-law lived in Boston and was 16 at the time of the flood.
    2) As above, our 50+ year old recipe uses dry mustard instead of Dijon mustard and uses all molasses instead of brown sugar.
    3) We always rinse out any old catsup bottles we have left and add that to the bean liquid.
    4) I think it was Harold McGee who said that once you add the molasses, the beans will never become more tender. We soak them over night (and they are still hard) and then boil them just until the beans begin to split (about an hour) and then into the oven with the rest of the stuff.

  10. Aimee

    Your baked beans look gorgeous, Elise! As a proud Bostonian and history buff, I am a big fan of both baked beans and the anecdotal gem that is the Great Molasses Disaster.

    I used to have baked beans at cookouts next to my hamburger or hotdog, but now my favorite way to eat them is for breakfast alongside some scrambled eggs and wheat toast. Delicious!

  11. paul jordan

    Your beans are basically like mine but I use dry mustard and the method is a little different. I soak them overnight, but don’t drain. I use that water, cook on high in a crock until tender, then start adding ingredients slowly until the desired sweetness and color. Usually about 8 hours does it. By the way, I’m from Mass, my mom was from Canada, and that is her recipe. Now I live in SC and you don’t get good beans here unless you cook them yourself. Thank you.

  12. Penny

    Yes! When I saw the brown bread recipe yesterday, I was like “Cool, but how do we get those beans?!

  13. Marc Goodman

    While it’s true that molasses is a by-product of sugar production, rum is distilled from fermented molasses.

    You’re right! Thanks for the correction. I’ve adjusted my notes. ~Elise

  14. 00hmai0.0

    Which is better: soak the beans overnight or boil? I want to make this for my brother since he loves beans but he is picky with his beans.

    I would say soak overnight. The boil and soak method is the shortcut. ~Elise

  15. Nate Dame

    Wow, looks delish! I can’t get over the Molasses disaster. Can you seriously still smell it in the North End?

    I don’t know about now, but when I lived there in the early 80s I could swear I could smell it. ~Elise

    • Linnea Hendrickson

      There is a wonderful children’s book, by Joan Hiatt Harlow, Joshua’s Song, about a young newsboy that features the Boston molasses disaster of 1919, and also the flu epidemic that hit at that same time.

  16. Arlene

    I have tried many times to make delicious Boston Baked Beans like my mother made when I was a child but mine always fall short of perfection. Your recipe and instructions sound like my mother’s recipe so this time I will follow recipe word-for-word. One thing I will do differently is to use dry mustard instead of Dijon. The main thing that I want to suggest is for the benefit of those cooks who are cooking any type of dried beans for the first time, always sort through the beans for small stones and/or harvesting debris. This is important. I always find at least one stone or more per bag of beans. Love your website! Thanks.

    Great point on picking out the stones. I use Dijon because the beans benefit from the acidity in the vinegar that’s in the mustard. A nice balance to the sweet molasses. You could use dry mustard and just add a bit of vinegar to the beans. ~Elise

  17. Tina

    I had forgotten that I had read about the Boston Molasses Flood years ago in a Smithsonian Magazine (Nov ’83). Here’s a link to a copy of the article but it doesn’t have the pictures: Without Warning, Molasses in January Surged Over Boston.

    Here’s an article with photos: The Boston Molassacre. ~Elise

  18. Janice

    Love the recipe – we do beans almost the same way, my mother-in-law always had a pot in the oven on Saturdays. She made them with lean salt pork, dry mustard, and no cloves. Otherwise, the same as posted. Oh, and instead of chopping the onions we add a small whole onion sliced almost through into fourths. And we don’t drain the beans after soaking/simmering. We use that bean broth instead of the 3 cups of hot water. I can smell the aroma right now! Looking forward to next Saturday – would love to make these…

  19. devlyn

    I’m making these beans right now. ^_^ Had a slab of bacon I made that just isn’t bacon-y enough for me, so I used all of that for the double-batch. 6 more hours to go… can’t wait to taste them!

  20. Kitty

    Loved the recipe posting . . . made the beans tonight AND the Boston brown bread. The bread was AMAZING . . . but I didn’t know you needed to wash off the saltpork, and the beans were way too salty. They were good enough to try again – but next time, I think I’ll just use bacon.

    Hi Kitty, you shouldn’t have to rinse off the salt pork. I didn’t. Besides, the salt has been absorbed into the salt pork. ~Elise

  21. Jen

    I have beans soaking for this recipe as we speak. I do have a question – what is the logic behind draining the beans after soaking rather than using the water they were in? Is there any noticeable difference? I’ve never made baked beans before so I’m curious about the different methods. :)

    There is a flatulence-inducing chemical in the beans that is water soluble. Supposedly soaking the beans and then draining the soaking water will get rid of some of the problem. ~Elise

  22. Georgia

    Had not read comments about calcium keeping beans from cooking to soft stage. Beans a shade off of very hard after 18 hrs cooking. Also a very sharp almost acidic flavor that no one liked. Entire pot thrown out. Evidently need a tomato based recipe for this family.

    Sounds like your beans were old (as in over a year old). Another thing that can throw off cooking dried beans is the hardness of the water used. The acidity is coming from the vinegar in the mustard, which is there to balance out the sweetness of the molasses and sugar. If you want the beans less acidic, you can cut down on the mustard, or use dry mustard. ~Elise

  23. Lizzy

    This recipe was a hit for my family! I used ground beef in place of the pork since that is what I had on hand.

  24. Megan

    I made these beans in the oven tonight. I used Hormel brand Salt Pork and Grey Poupon Dijon mustard. Both are very salty (to my palate), and I found the end result to be WAY too salty for me. Next time I make this, I will not add any extra salt.

    Despite all the saltiness, the flavor was totally delicious. I will try to salvage the salty beans by adding water and a peeled raw potato. (I googled it, and boiling a raw potato in salty beans is supposed to draw out the saltiness. You throw out the salty potato at the end.)

    Is salt pork higher in sodium than bacon? Did anyone try it with the bacon?

    Hi Megan, I’m wondering if it’s an issue with the brand of salt pork used. I got mine from Whole Foods, maybe it’s less salty than Hormel. Because this seems to be an issue, I will remove the extra salt from the recipe and just say to add more salt to taste if needed at the end. I did make this recipe 4 times to test it, without saltiness ever being an issue. ~Elise

  25. Elizabeth

    Mine turned out tasty, but burnt. I checked them about 4 hours in and had to add more water – but the damage had already been done by then. Do you find you have to add more water halfway through, or is it just me?

    My beans were on the watery side when just cooked, just right the next day. It probably has something to do with the moisture content of the specific beans you were using. I’ll put a note in the recipe to check the water. ~Elise

  26. Fran

    Great bean recipe. I soaked them overnight, poured off the water, added more water and 1 tsp. baking soda and brought them to a boil, turned off heat and let them set for 1 hour and rinsed. Well worth the extra effort, no gas!!!!…but not having a crock pot, I used a dutch oven…a word of warning , it takes a lot more water if you use a dutch oven, even with the oven on about 300 degrees. I cooked them for about 7 hours and checked them twice. Both times I did not stir, just added about 1 1/2 cups water. Have made a lot of beans, not lately thought…The salt pork, which I had in the freezer really makes the dish. I will layer in more next time..also a tip from an Amish cookbook, add about 1/4 cup catsup! All in all–great! and my husband thanks you, it was always his favorite!

  27. Sigrid Lindholm

    YUM! These beans were amazing! I used bacon instead of salt pork, and made it for my small group. I doubled the recipe and it still came out like a dream. Thank you, Elise!!

  28. Liz

    Excellent recipe Elise! Followed it exactly. Loved it. I have tried baked beans many times with no real success. This one is a keeper. Thank you.

  29. Tony C

    Thank you for the recipe. I tried it for the very first time and it came out perfect. I look for comfort food recipes, and using my slow cooker is a huge plus. This will go into my recipe box!

  30. Steampunk

    I am always interested in recipes that involve dry beans in any kind of sauce. I tried your recipe twice but I don’t seem to get the timing right. The first time the beans turned into mash (very tasty though) and the second time I reduced the cooking time and the beans did not cook all equally. It could be that the beans are mixed from different crops (fresh and old) or my slow cooker is defective. I will try it again but I will see if I can finish it on the stove. Anyway, thank you for your recipe and I hope I’ll get it right this time.

  31. Jaime

    I saw this recipe, and thought it sounded tasty. I had them ready the day my husband got home from a week-long trip. He started eating them cold from the fridge and had to ask me to take away the spoon before he ate the entire container – they were that good! Thank you so much for posting this recipe.

  32. Minno

    Hi Elise! I absolutely love receiving your emails and always look forward to adding tried and true recipes to my repertoire!

    I made this recipe yesterday and unfortunately it was terribly salty and inedible as is. I did not add any additional salt to the beans so it definitely was the salt pork. I live in Canada and perhaps U.S. salt pork is different? What can I do to the salt pork to make it less salty? Boil or fry it up first? Substitute bacon instead (although I’m afraid it could come out just as salty)?

    To try to mask the salt, I added the following ingredients (approximate amounts) which my husband said helped a lot (using organic navy beans, soaking over night and baking 10 hours):
    – 1/2 cup ketchup
    – 2 tbsp. sugar
    – 1/3 cup brown sugar
    – 5 tbsp. Dijon mustard

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!

    Hmm, perhaps it is the brand of salt pork? Yes you can boil the salt pork first, to remove some of the salt. You can also use much less salt pork. For half as much salt, use half as much salt pork. To save a pot of beans that is already too salty, you can add some canned white beans (rinsed and drained) to what you already have. ~Elise

  33. Keli

    I’m planning on making this for my son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor (baked beans and Boy Scouts seem to go together – maybe it’s the “musical” quality of both). I saw that I can double it, but can I freeze it? Will freezing make the beans go to mush?

    By the way, love your posts, Elise. Your blog is on my home page and I read pretty much all of them. Many also populate my recipe box! ;-)

    No idea on the freezing of the beans Keli, but if you try it, please let us know how it turns out for you. ~Elise

    • Rose

      My mother-in law always had frozen beans in the freezer for unexpected guests. She would just warm them up in the oven or if it was too hot to turn on the oven in the microwave.
      We always ate them and liked them. But thinking about it we would eat what ever she put in front of us. Always good. I miss that old gal.

  34. frob68

    Going to try this with Lima beans. My dad used to make them from his grandmother’s recipe. And you can still smell the molasses on hot humid days.

  35. Tugboat

    I made these beans yesterday and I have to say that I agree, way better the next day. When they were first finished they were pretty liquidy, as I let them cool the beans seemed to absorb a lot of the liquid. Not only are they less ‘wet’ the next day, they taste a lot better!

    Anyway, great recipe!

  36. Paul

    I remember loving Horn & Hardart’s baked beans as a child, and made this recipe in hopes of recreating that experience. These beans are excellent as is, but to be picky, I found them a bit sweet and runny (even after a few days) for my taste. Next time, I might add more molasses, less sugar, and bake them uncovered for an hour or so.

  37. Vikki

    2nd attempt at making these beans and it’s not going well…..1st time beans were old couldn’t remeber how long they’s been on the shelf – apparently too long.
    2nd time I went and bought new beans at WF, soaked overnight, looked great. Put them in the crockpot yesterday at 7:00a.m. on low it’s a 8 or 10 hour setting, I chose 10 hours and they still weren’t done. Barely obsorbed the liquid. I put them in the frig overnight. Put them in the oven for 4 hours ago on 275. They are softer but have not thickened up. I followed the recipe exactly.

  38. Fritzie

    I love that you included the history and the bean cooking information. I am going to share this with my 13 year old unofficial Goddaughter who has a passion for cooking. I have used this recipe and similar ones and have found that I like it with smoked chicken and turkey legs that are readily available to me at the local deli. The legs are free range, naturally smoked and produced in my small city. This dish works well for our Jewish friends as well and it’s glutin free–a great potluck contribution. I find that if I place the Crock (of the slow cooker) in a box insulated by newspaper the dish continues to cook and stay hot like in the old fashioned strawbox. This was a favourite cowboy dish after all.

  39. lovebucket

    Love, love, love this recipe. Made it today and was blown away by the end result. It was awesome… my husband loved it instantly. It will go great with Sunday Brunch or a good shore lunch pickerel feed from Northern Ontario.
    Thanks a bunch. This is a keeper!

  40. Marlon

    If I were to use canned beans, how long would I have to cook the beans for? Because those don’t take too long to get more tender.

    Canned beans are already cooked. So, you could cook them again, for just an hour if you wanted, to absorb some of the flavor from the other ingredients. ~Elise

  41. Sherri Dosher

    Can this recipe be doubled? I am having a barbecue cookout for my son’s first birthday this weekend and we’re expecting around 45 people. I was thinking of using this recipe but doubling it for extra servings. Thanks!

    I don’t see why not. You’ll just need to use a large slow-cooker. ~Elise

  42. Jen

    I know this is an older post but just wanted to say I made these this weekend for a family party and they were a hit! Used navy beans, and I had some guests with lots of chemical sensitivities so I used some uncured bacon instead of salt pork. In hindsight I should have used extra bacon to compensate for the weaker flavor and added a little salt too–they were just a tad bland. (Regular bacon might have added enough salt but the uncured stuff just isn’t as salty.) Maybe for this reason I felt like they needed a little something later so I stirred in extra salt and a couple teaspoons of cider vinegar when I served them. Great recipe and I’ll definitely make again!

  43. Anna

    Heartily disliking tomato based baked beans, I was thrilled to find this recipe. Sounds very much like the ones I loved growing up in convents in Vermont and Canada where the good sisters used maple syrup instead of molasses. Would it throw recipe off if I browned the salt pork a bit before using? And, if I do that should I pour the rendered grease into the slow cooker with the beans?

    Browning the salt pork? Don’t think it should be a problem. If you try it that way, please let us know how it turns out for you. As for the rendered fat, I think the beans benefit from the fat, so I would put it back in. ~Elise

  44. Adeline

    I happened to run across your recipe while I was googling a recipe for baked beans and ham. This dish sounds amazing, and I really want to try it, but at the moment, I only have lima beans on hand (not Great Northern or Navy beans). Would it be possible to substitute lima beans, or would that destroy the dish? I haven’t cooked enough with dry white beans to be able to differentiate between all the different varieties. Thank you!

    Lima beans are very different in taste than white beans. Personally I would not substitute. But if you do, please let us know how it turns out for you. ~Elise

  45. JJJr

    Hello, just found this recipe after googling. I always wanted to try making my own molasses style baked beans and I’m at hour 5 in the slow cooker as I type this (the kitchen smells fantastic). I think I added too much water though and am worried it’ll turn out too thin in the end. It likely won’t thicken being cooked with a lid on so I’ll probably strain off most of the liquid in the end and reduce it on the stove, then add it back. Can’t wait to see how these turn out!

  46. BRG

    Wow, it took 15 hours for the beans to finally become soft in the crock pot. Great tasting but be aware of the time… Or was it just my beans??

    Many things can make the beans take longer to cook, including the age of the beans (they could have been up to a year old when you bought them) and the hardness of the water. So, yes, the timing is variable. ~Elise

  47. Jillian

    This recipe is great! I have made it twice now, and even doubled it the second time because the first batch went so quickly. I fried the onion in some of the bacon before adding to the pot. I also added black pepper, cayenne, crushed chillies, and a 1/4 c of Jack Daniels per recipe. The Jack really adds a depth to the flavor! So good!

  48. Curtis

    I really want to make this recipe but I live in Peru and cannot buy molasses. Do you have suggestions as to what I can use as a replacement and still get similar results. Thanks.

    • Elise

      Hi Curtis, unfortunately there is no substitute for the molasses flavor in this recipe. You may be able to use a lighter version of molasses if you can find it, by another name. Look for treacle or golden syrup.

  49. Alison R.

    Hey Elise! Thanks for the great history lesson with the recipe above. I am making these now…1 hour left to finish! I will let you know how they taste tomorrow :)

  50. Sara

    I followed this recipe to a “T”; unfortunately, it did not work out. It’s waaaay too watery. I should have figured.

  51. Sara

    Can these be water bath canned?

    • Elise

      No, there’s not enough acidity to safely can these baked beans using a water canning method.

  52. Karen

    I doubled the recipe and used a bag of Navy Beans with a bag of Great Northern White beans. I soaked the beans over night and felt that they were too tough. I brought the beans to a boil and simmered them for an hour. I believe it may be better to boil beans and remove the film afterwards that accumulates on the top. They were much softer afterwards. I used fresh maple Bacon Pieces in the bottom that I had on hand. I diced them smaller than the large chunks. After 8 hours in the crockpot, I thought it needed more brown sugar and molasses. They turned out good and went nicely with or smoked ribs. Thank you!

  53. Hanny

    I’m making this recipe right now and I’ve been cooking this for about 13 hours now and the beans are STILL al dente. I followed the recipe to a T. After googling and reading some of these comments, I either need to buy canned beans or cook the dried beans on their own until they’re mostly done before adding the molasses and other stuff.

    • Elise

      Hi Hanny, many things can affect the cooking time of dried beans, including the alkalinity of the water and the age of the beans. The older the beans, the longer they will take to cook.

  54. Katherine

    I’m afraid I add to the Canadian contingent whose salted pork rendered this otherwise tasty dish in edible. Safeway salted pork – at almost half the listed amount – is too salty. I’ll try again with a smoked hock instead.

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