No-ketchup sticky baked beans
I grew up in New England, and few things remind me of fall more than a big pot of baked beans served on a crisp day. The baked beans of my childhood are, to my now grown-up palate, a little too sweet, so I wanted to update the recipe. Rather than the traditional salt pork, or even bacon, I opted for smoked ham hocks, which has become my go-to meat to add flavor and decadence to beans. Apart from adding that rich, umami, porky goodness, they add a layer of smokiness– something I imagine you’d get from cooking these in an old wood stove or over a campfire.
Many recipes use ketchup or tomato paste to help thicken the broth into that signature shiny, syrupy sauce, but I’ve never been a fan of that method. Instead, we par-cook the beans with aromatic vegetables until just tender, then use that starchy, flavorful bean broth as the base for our sauce. As the sauce reduces in the oven, we get the same effect without unnecessary ingredients so that the beans are the real star of the show. I’ve also used some classic fall flavors, like ginger and fresh sage, to really make the dish feel special and seasonal (although come on, who’s gonna stop you from making these beans all year round?!).
With just a few small changes, these baked beans have gone from the side dish I’d have a few spoonfuls of before moving on to more savory fare, to something I’d be happy to have as a meal all on their own! I hope you feel the same.
NOTE: If you’re not keen on using meat in this dish, you can mimic the flavors you’d get from pork hocks by substituting smoked salt for the kosher salt used in the recipe, and by adding a teaspoon of Marmite and/or a tablespoon of soy sauce before you begin baking the beans.
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- Serves: 6-8
- Time: 4-5 hours (plus bean soaking and cooking time)
- Cookware: large Dutch oven
What you'll need
- 1 lb Primary Beans white beans (such as Alubia, Michelet, or Ayocote Blanco), soaked overnight
- 2 large carrots, halved
- 1 large onion, peeled, ends trimmed
- 2 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 small smoked pork hocks (about 8-12 oz total)
- ½ cup unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 tbsp spicy brown mustard
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 2 sprigs fresh sage
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Add beans, carrots, and peeled onion to a large Dutch oven. Add cold water until the beans are covered by about 3 inches. Cook over high heat until boiling, then reduce to a steady simmer and cook until just tender. Discard carrots and onion and drain beans into a bowl, reserving the broth. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
Return the Dutch oven to the stove, add oil, and heat over medium-high until shimmering. Add diced onions and cook, stirring constantly, until translucent and just beginning to turn brown on the edges.
Add the cooked beans back to the Dutch oven, along with pork hocks, and just enough bean broth for the beans to be covered, reserving any additional broth (it’s okay if pork hocks stick out above the liquid). Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.
Transfer the Dutch oven to the oven and bake, uncovered, for 4-5 hours until beans are super tender and creamy, checking every 60-90 minutes and stirring each time. Add more bean broth as needed to keep the beans just submerged.
Remove the beans from the oven, and stir. The broth should be thick, rich, and sticky. If you find that the broth is too thick, you can thin it out by stirring in a little bit of boiling water. If the broth is too thin, simmer on the stove until the desired consistency is reached. Adjust seasoning to taste, and serve warm.
This recipe is part of our all-new Food memories series– a rotating collection of stories from our favorite home cooks, chefs, and bean enthusiasts, featuring all your favorite beans and showcasing recipes, tips, and bean magic from around the world.