Posted by: Erica Retrochef | September 3, 2012

Baked Beans (Your No. 1 Meat Saver)

Baked beans — that picnic/potluck classic that people seem to either love or hate! Apparently they don’t just come from a can — who knew?

Brer Rabbit’s Recipe!

4 cups navy beans
1/2 lb. salt pork
1 cup Brer Rabbit Molasses
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 cups boiling water (from simmered beans)

Wash beans; pick over; soak 3 hours in boiling water to cover. Cover, bring to boil in same water (to preserve minerals and vitamins) adding extra water if needed to cover well; skim; cook slowly until tender — about 50 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking water. Turn beans into bean pot or 3-qt. casserole. Scrape pork rind until white, score top by cutting down about 1 inch, and bury in beans with rind exposed. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over beans. Cover; bake in slow oven (325° F.) 3-1/2 hours or until tender, uncovering during last hour. If necessary, add water during baking. 12 servings.

Quite a lot of baked beans is just waiting, apparently. So it’s really quite easy, even though it takes a long time. But with a total cooking time of over seven hours, this is not a spur-of-the-moment meal. It was originally planned for a Saturday, but realizing we needed navy beans instead of pinto beans* wasted an hour, requiring a schedule shift to Sunday. I had to start on this before lunch, to ensure we’d have it by dinner time.

* Pinto beans would probably work equally well, but I was being as true as possible to the recipe this go-round.

I’d actually been thinking of making baked beans for a while — not even because they’re particularly retro, but whenever somebody brings homemade baked beans to a potluck, they taste amazing. The big holdup (in my mind, at least) was where I was supposed to find salt pork, which is one of those ingredients I just don’t picture as “modern.”

When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, she just gave me a look and told me to look in the “prepared meats” section. And there it was.

Sort through the beans and discard the ones that don’t look quite right — for example, if a different bean has gotten mixed in, or there’s a weird dark spot on the bean.

I never think of rinsing beans as being incredibly important, but there’s definitely a bit of dust (or something) that comes off them after a quick rinse. See how cloudy the water is?

Add enough water to cover? Usually I add almost twice as much water as I think I need, because beans swell a lot while soaking.

Plan your container size accordingly!

After a quick switch to a larger pot, more water, and the stovetop, I was yet again relegated to waiting for an hour while the beans simmered. And this is the quickest part of the recipe!

This is all the cooking water I salvaged when draining. No, it didn’t all go down the drain accidentally, it got soaked up by the beans!

Scoring salt park is a lot harder than I expected. There’s still a layer of skin on it (ew), and unlike chicken skin, pig skin is very hard to cut through.

Once it was all prepped, I squished it into the beans.

The sauce was very quick to put together, although the high viscosity of molasses means it takes a bit of effort to make sure it’s evenly mixed.

Dump the sauce on top, throw it in the oven, and walk away for three hours!

When everything is beautifully browned, you’re ready to eat.

Some barbecue chicken on the side, and these were ready to go!

These were not the most amazing baked beans I’ve ever had — the beans were a little bit tough (possibly needing a longer soak, although three hours is pretty long), and blackstrap molasses imparted a pretty bitter undertone to the sweetness. But I was pleased to have figured out how to make this “staple” from scratch, and found it surprisingly easy … if you’ve got the time to cook in short spurts over the entire day!

While I got this from the delightful “Hey, My Mom Used To Make That!” blog, it’s much more likely that my grandmother used to make this…


  1. Welcome back Erica!!! I’ve always wanted to make baked beans from scratch too. I feel like I just went to a potluck just oogling your “supple” Baked Beans:)

    Great job and thanks for sharing…

  2. Making baked beans from scratch is a lost art, our grocery store has several different kinds, aside from Bushs Baked Beans. They’re OK, but I too have had amazing baked beans from scratch, courtesy my late grandmother. Now I buy Grandma Brown’s baked beans in a can (which are pale, pasty, pre-cooked) and ready to be gussied up in the pan with brown sugar, onion, and bacon. Lots of recipes out there – Good eats!

  3. Where I grew up, Brer Rabbit (who, as we all should know, is really a corrupted version of El-ahrairah) only marketed the blackstrap molasses. So I was under the mistaken impression that Brer rabbit didn’t make regular molasses, and hence this recipe was calling for blackstrap molasses. So I went to four different grocery stores looking for blackstrap molasses. The last conveniently located one was the Piggy Wiggly, which I usually avoid, but I thought they might have a greater molasses selection because of their deliberately southern character. It turned out that they did have the blackstrap molasses, although made by a company I’d never heard of from Passaic, New Jersey.

    It also turned out that the bitterness of the blackstrap molasses did not improve the flavor.

  4. Yep – I was going to comment that Brer Rabbit did make regular molasses, and that I have not yet found adequate use for blackstrap – it’s just the leavings in the molasses barrel, and tastes like sugared tar. Not so helpful for the beans.

    Because I generally cook all of my beans from scratch, I hate to tell you that I generally soak for three hours… and then simmer for the same. An hour for white beans isn’t too bad, but two would have been better – or maybe extra water in the super-sticky sauce. Also, crunchiness can come from the beans being stale, which isn’t something you can identify by sight! It’s trial and error and knowing where to source your food. But hey – now you know where fatback or whatever comes from. (I suspect bacon might’ve worked just as well?)

    It looks really tasty.

    • The use for blackstrap is to impart a molasses flavor with less sugar. I use it in mostly-savory recipes that call for brown sugar: I’m diabetic and just do without the full load of sweetness (or use sucralose solution or concentrated stevia if I think sweetness is called for). When I was a kid in Illinois I think they had Br’er Rabbit brand molasses that was not blackstrap.

  5. My shortcut version is to drain a can of white beans and add equal parts ketchup, prepared mustard, and molasses, plus some dry mustard powder and salt. i also like minced onion in mine. Bake for an hour, covered. Uncover, stir, and bake another 30 mins if they are still soupy.

  6. Dear Erica,

    I regret to inform you that this blog has made me fall terribly in love with you. Is there any chance you’d like to get married?

    Warmest Regards,


    • Dear O.L.,

      You may want to browse through some of the “bad” recipe posts and reconsider 😉

    • Unfortunately for you, Captain, our hostess here is already attached.

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