Four Ways to Cook Beans

When I first started cooking dried beans, many years ago, it seemed like a huge and daunting task. Many, many pots of beans later I know that there’s really nothing to it. I have four different methods that I use to cook dry beans.

Slow Cooker

I use a small slow cooker that works great for me. I can cook one  cup of dried beans with about 3 cups of water. The time varies greatly depending on the type of bean, probably between 4 and 8 hours. I can set it up in the morning and expect to have beans for dinner.  It doesn’t require any tending, just set it and forget it. Mine is easy to clean. The pot is removable and can go in the dishwasher. You can buy more sophisticated models that have timers and a variety of settings. My slow cooker has only 3 temperature settings (high, low and warm). I purchased mine at our local grocery store for about $10.

Instant Pot

Much has been written about the Instant Pot! I use the smaller Instant Pot Duo Mini. It’s the perfect size if you are just cooking for one or two people. Because it’s a pressure cooker, there is no evaporation so I find that I can use less water, maybe one cup of dried beans and 2 cups of water. For some reason I like that. The bean broth seems more concentrated and delicious. . Beans cook in 50 to 90 minutes PLUS the time it takes to get the pot up to pressure – around 20 minutes. So 70 to 110 minutes total. Like the slow cooker, the Instant Pot doesn’t need to be tended. This unit is programmable. And it will switch to “keep warm” mode after the cooking time is over. It’s relatively easy to clean. The cooking pot and the lid can go in the dishwasher though they do take up a lot of space. I bought mine at Target for about $60.

An Old Fashioned Pot on the Stove

Yup, kicking it old school. Sometimes it’s nice to just cook a pot of beans on the stove. Even cooking with a lid you have to expect some evaporation. I start with a cup of beans and 3 or 4 cups of water. Then I check back every half hour or so to see if I need to add more water. Cooking times vary but I’d guess anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. This is definitely a more hands on approach. If you have a pot of beans on the stove you really can’t leave it unattended for any significant period of time. Clean up is easy. My Mom bought me this nice looking pot for about $25 at Target.

A Pot of Beans in the Oven

I own this very beautiful clay pot that I got in Santa Fe NM at Cafe Pasqual’s. It is a traditional mica cookpot. Gorgeous! I can use this pot on top of the stove but I prefer to use it in the oven. This method would work just as well with a cast iron or enameled cast iron Dutch oven. Whatever pot you use, it has to have a well fitting lid.  I find that cooking beans in the oven works best on a cold winter day. In the summertime that hot oven really competes with the air conditioning! A pot in the oven will have quite a bit of evaporation so I start with a cup of dried beans and 3 or 4 cups of water. Just like with stove top cooking I check it every so often to see if it needs additional water. It depends on the type of bean but it’ll take 2 to 4 hours to cook beans in the oven. I think this is a pretty high maintenance method. Unlike the stovetop, you have to pull the hot pot out of the oven every time you want to check it. So it’s a bit of a hassle. And you definitely cannot leave the beans unattended. I have to wash my clay pot by hand. Most cast iron pots will have very specific cleaning instructions. I bought my clay pot for $135 at Cafe Pasqual’s. A Lodge Cast Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven is about $60 at Amazon.

What About the Taste?

Somehow I think that Clay Pot makes the best tasting beans. But maybe it’s just that I’m more deeply involved in that cooking process? I also think that the beans cooked in the Instant Pot have a deeper, richer flavor. However I seriously doubt that in a blind taste test I could really tell any difference in the flavor. They all taste great!

So Which Way is Best?

All four methods have their pros and cons. My favorite method, the method I use most often is my small slow cooker. Though it does require a little planning ahead it’s just so convenient and easy. It doesn’t heat up the kitchen. Clean up is easy. I can turn it on and leave the house for the day.

Nevertheless, I do use all four of these methods for various reasons at various times. I find them all satisfying in their own way. And at the end of each, I have a beautiful pot of beans.

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