We Tried 7 Methods for Cooking Dried Beans and the Winner Blinded Us with Science

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You know the story: Beans are a staple of nearly every world cuisine, they are delicious and nutritious, and you can save some serious cash by cooking them from dried. Cooking dried beans is one of the most basic and essential kitchen tasks, but you’d be surprised by the number of ways you can cook them. You can soak them overnight, in a brine, or not at all, and then cook the beans on the stovetop, in the oven, or use an Instant Pot or slow cooker to do the work for you.

With so many methods to try, we set out to find out which one is the very best way to cook dried beans. We put seven popular techniques to the test to determine once and for all the ultimate method for preparing dry beans, and the winner was a complete surprise.

How We Tested These Dried Bean Cooking Methods

The seven methods for cooking beans came from a variety of sources — Kitchn’s own methods, reputable cooking websites, and magazines. In order to reduce variability between bags of beans, all of the beans tested for this showdown were the same brand and purchased on the same day from the same store. The beans were mixed and then divided into 1-pound batches. The beans were prepared over a two-day period to account for soaking and stovetop space. All batches of beans were prepared with 1/2 medium yellow onion, 2 dried bay leaves, and 2 garlic cloves for flavoring. Kosher salt was added in the amount and at the time specified by each individual recipe. In the end, some methods produced very soft beans good for dips, while other batches were for whole bean recipes. There was one method that won me over as the best all-around way to cook dried beans.

Cooking Method: “Quick Soaked” and Cooked in an Instant Pot

About this method: Beans cooked in the Instant Pot should be finished, well, in an instant, but cooking them in this appliance is actually a multi-step process. Start by boiling the beans using the sauté function, then cook on HIGH pressure for 1 minute. Quick release the pressure, then drain and rinse the beans. This is the Instant Pot equivalent of the overnight soak. Return the beans to the pressure cooker with fresh water, salt, and aromatics. Pressure cook on high until desired doneness — 15 minutes for chickpeas — then let the pressure release naturally

Results: These beans were tender, but not creamy, and most remained intact, cracking slightly but not splitting wide open. The beans absorbed less flavor from the aromatics than those cooked using other methods. Despite the fact that all of the cooking liquid is locked in during the pressure cooking, making evaporation impossible, the liquid remained relatively clear and thin. Use this method when you require whole beans for salads or grain bowls.

Takeaways: The locking feature of the Instant Pot makes it difficult to monitor the beans’ progress. For creamier beans, increase the cook time by 1 to 2 minutes, and assume some risk that the beans may break apart.

Cooking Method: Slow-Cooked on Low for 5 to 6 Hours

About this method: Slow-cooking dried beans promises to be the easiest way to cook them — just set them and forget them. Add beans, aromatics, water, and salt to the slow cooker at once. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours, but begin checking after 5 hours.

Results: After 6 hours, the beans and aromatics were fragrant. Half of the beans split down the middle, and the skins slid off the beans. The cooking liquid reduced despite being covered for the entirety of cooking; it was golden and flavorful, but not as viscous as canned aquafaba.

Takeaways: This method was among the easiest, but the beans’ creamy (borderline mushy) texture means that it’s best for recipes that don’t rely on retaining the shape of the beans (like hummus).

Cooking Method: Overnight Soak and Cooked on the Stovetop

About this method: I considered this method the control test. The chickpeas were covered with water and left to soak overnight at room temperature. The next day, the beans were drained, rinsed, and placed in a Dutch oven with aromatics and covered with fresh water. Then the beans were brought to a boil, partially covered, and the heat was reduced to maintain a simmer until the beans are tender, 1 to 3 hours. Kosher salt is added towards the end of cooking.

Results: This basic method requires no fancy equipment, but it does require the forethought to soak the beans overnight before cooking. The age of beans can have an impact on how quickly they cook (regardless of the method), and this batch took 2 hours to cook.

Takeaways: This method produces a good basic bean, with most remaining intact but with a creamy texture. This method requires preplanning and ongoing attention to make sure that the water level doesn’t drop too low (I had to replenish the water after 1 hour) to monitor the broad range of simmering time.

Cooking Method: Brined Overnight and Baked in the Oven

Results: These beans were creamy and had an earthy, well-balanced flavor. Some of the beans cracked, but very few burst so widely that they were left hanging open. At first, I assumed this method would be largely hands-off, but between preparing the overnight brine and waiting for 30 minutes for the pot to come to a boil on the stovetop before transferring it to the oven to bake, it was more involved than I anticipated. Once the beans make it to the oven, you’re free to attend to other tasks.

Takeaways: While the beans were well-seasoned, the difference between these beans and non-brined beans was minimal. If you try this cooking method, feel free to skip the brine and season the beans at the end of cooking.

Cooking Method: Quick Soak and Cook on Stovetop

About this method: This was the method I’m most familiar with since I rarely remember to soak beans overnight in my everyday life. Prepare the beans by covering the beans with water, bring to a boil, then boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, cover, and let the beans sit in the hot water for 1 hour. Drain the beans, then return the beans to the pot with the aromatics and fresh water. Bring the beans to a boil over medium-high heat, then partially cover and simmer until tender, 1 to 3 hours, adding salt towards the end of cooking.

Results: While this method eliminates the need for an overnight soak, it replaces it with a more hands-on quick soak at the stovetop. Once the beans started simmering, I had to replenish the water after one hour. After 1 1/2 hours, the beans were creamy and mostly intact, with just a few that were cracked.

Takeaways: While this method did require attention at the stove, it was easy to judge the doneness of the beans as they cooked.

Cooking Method: No Soak and Cook on Stovetop

About this method: This method is straightforward: Place beans in a Dutch oven with aromatics and cover with 3 to 4 inches of water. Place the lid on the pot and bring to a boil, then uncover and reduce heat to maintain a simmer until the beans are tender, 1 to 2 (or more) hours. Season to taste at the end with kosher salt.

Results: You’ll need a very large pot for this method in order to cover the beans with 3 to 4 inches of water. Monitor the pot as it comes to a boil, then keep an eye on it as the beans simmer to make sure the water level doesn’t drop too low. This is among the easiest of methods, with no prep work required and no oven temperatures or pressure valves to monitor.

Takeaways: This is a great option if you are around the house anyway; simply set the pot on the back of the stove and let it simmer. Surprisingly, despite skipping the overnight or quick soak, the beans were tender after just 2 hours of cooking. The liquid is flavorful, especially after seasoning at the end, making it good for soups. Some beans cracked, but the gentle cooking meant that very few split wide open. These beans were among the most versatile, and could be used for salads or dips.

Cooking Method: Cooked on Stovetop with Baking Soda and Salt

About this method: This no-soak method uses baking soda to shortcut the cooking time. Combine beans, aromatics, 5 cups water, and 1/8 teaspoon baking soda in Dutch oven, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt, then reduce heat to low, cover, simmer until tender (1 hour 15 minutes to 1 1/2 hours), adding more water if needed.

Results: Not only was this method the fastest, but it was also among the easiest. Similar to the runner-up, this method goes straight from dry bean in the bag to the stovetop.

Takeaways: In this method a pinch of baking soda is added to the cooking liquid, making it slightly alkaline. The result? Creamy beans in a fraction of the time. Cook’s Illustrated dove deeper into this, finding that adding baking soda can reduce bean cooking time because the bean structure breaks down more quickly in an alkaline environment.

Cooking a pot of beans doesn’t have to take all day. Beans made using the winning technique were among the creamiest of the bunch and their shape remained intact. Preserve the beans in recipe-ready amounts by placing 1 1/2 cups of beans to a quart-size freezer zip-top bag, and then fill with cooking liquid. Close the bag, lay flat, and freeze. That bag is the equivalent of 1 (15-ounce) can. Freeze the beans for up to 6 months.

Patty Catalano

Contributor

Patty is a freelance recipe developer who worked as Alton Brown’s Research Coordinator & Podcast Producer and in the Oxmoor House test kitchen. She loves maple syrup, coffee and board games. Patty lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children.

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