Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans

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Slow cooked crockpot Boston Baked Beans! Loads of molasses flavor. Great with hot dogs or franks!

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Boston Baked Beans

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.

Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans Recipe

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

Why pre-soak the beans? You don't have to (see this great Russ Parsons article in the LA Times about why you don't need to soak beans), but not doing so in this recipe will increase the cooking time. With the beans pre-soaked, they'll still take 8 hours to cook and soften in a slow-cooker. Once beans come in contact with the molasses, the sugar in the molasses will keep the beans firm. That's why they take so long to cook.

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 Soak beans in water: 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 molasses, brown sugar, mustard, ground cloves with water: Mix the molasses, brown sugar, mustard, and ground cloves with 3 cups of hot water.

3 Add ingredients to slow-cooker, layering them, starting with the salt pork: 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 chopped onion in a layer.

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 Slow cook until beans are tender: 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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Showing 4 of 114 Comments

  • Kara Ffrench

    My beans are soaking, I am excited to try this as an experienced cook that has yet to try making homemade baked beans. When I told my husband I was going to try this I told him the recipe was from my “go to recipe site” he asked? “Simply recipes?” Elise, you are known in this house!

  • Deb

    Can you use a smoked ham hock instead of salt pork?

  • Dan

    I made this overnight in a slow cooker using kranski sausages, bacon and borlotti beans. The flavour was exceptional. This will become one of our regular meals. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  • Francine

    I made these yesterday and the flavor is very good. But they came out too watery. I cooked them in the slow cooker with a liner. Do you think that made the difference? I thought they’d have the consistence of oven-baked beans. I don’t know if I’d make again in the slow cooker if the consistency is so watery. They did have great flavor though.

  • Steve

    I made these without the salt pork . I used a quarter cup of veg oil . Wow! What a great flvor. My wife told me it us a keeper!

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Boston Baked BeansSlow Cooked Boston Baked Beans