Smoky Southern Baked Beans
Southern baked beans are the epitome of summer potlucks and barbecues! These baked beans are smoky, sweet, tangy, and just a little heat. No Texas barbecue would be complete without them!
Baked beans are the epitome of summer. And when they’re so easy to make at home from scratch – there’s no need to reach for a can! Especially when you can customize southern baked beans to your liking. They’ll have the perfect level of sweetness, tang, and smoky goodness.
My Texas-style baked beans have one ingredient that you may not have seen in baked bean recipes before – cooked ground beef. It gives homemade beans an added layer of flavor. Here in the south, we also swap the traditionally used navy beans for pinto beans!
However, you can make my southern baked beans recipe with navy or pinto beans; it will work with both. You could even use a combination of the two if you prefer!
What ingredients do you need to make southern baked beans?
- Butter: You could use ghee, melted tallow, duck fat, or even bacon grease here. Entirely up to you! I prefer butter as we’ll be flavoring the beans with ground beef as well.
- Ground beef: I prefer to use ground beef for this recipe, but any kind of ground meat or poultry will also work. You can also omit the ground beef entirely if you would prefer to keep these beans vegetarian-friendly.
- Aromatics: such as onions, peppers, and garlic. All of these ingredients are minced so that they just blend right into the sauce.
- Brown sugar: I prefer to use muscovado sugar for this recipe, which contains molasses to give it that rich, depth of flavor.
- Seasonings: I use a lot of different seasonings in my baked beans recipe. However, all of them are pantry staples that most people have in there kitchens. These ingredients include smoked paprika, chipotle chili powder, cayenne pepper, garlic, and onion powder.
- Sauces: We’re using a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and yellow mustard.
- Ketchup: You can use any kind of ketchup you like for this recipe, but here in Texas, we LOVE this ketchup! It works beautifully in this recipe and doesn’t make it too spicy taste!
- Passata: just a fancy word for tomato sauce (or puree) that is not seasoned. The closest thing to Passata is tomato sauce (without herbs and seasonings) or tomato puree that you water down a bit to a sauce-like consistency. Both would work for this recipe if you can’t find Passata.
- Molasses: Molasses gives baked beans their signature dark color and deep, rich flavor. You could use honey or maple syrup, however, without molasses the beans don’t develop that depth of flavor that baked beans are known for!
- BBQ sauce: Use whatever kind you like for this recipe! I prefer something that has a smoked flavor to enhance the flavor of the beans. There’s no liquid smoke in this recipe (I’ve never been fond of the stuff) so I look for all the ways to give this recipe a more smoky touch!
- Beans: Navy beans are the most common kind used when you make baked beans. However, you can use pinto or red kind beans as well.
How to make the best southern baked beans:
Making baked beans isn’t very difficult! Once you have everything prepped, it’s as simple as placing it in the oven, and giving it a good stir around half-time; that’s it!
- Get the oven going and prep your ingredients: Be sure to allow adequate time to heat your oven through. I suggest investing in an oven thermometer to ensure yours is heating properly. It’s less than $10, and it so worth it if you bake often! Make sure the onions, peppers, and garlic are chopped very finely for this recipe. You want them to just meld right into the sauce rather than be chunky, like salsa.
- Cook the meat and the veggies: Add the ground beef to the cast iron pot and cook and crumble the meat into small pieces. You want to use ground beef that is 85-90% lean so that you don’t need any oil to cook the meat in. The rendered fat will then help flavor the chili! You’ll want to remove the ground beef to a bowl and cook the onions, peppers, and garlic in a couple of tablespoons of butter and the rendered fat.
- Let it bake: Once the veggies soften, add the ground beef back to the pot along with all the remaining ingredients. Give it all a good stir and pop a lid on top. Place the cast-iron skillet in the oven and allow for the beans to cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour. If you prefer saucier beans, cook for 45 minutes. If you prefer more hearty beans, cook for 1 hour. You can even let it go for a bit longer if you want them to be even thicker. Let stand for 5-10 minutes, so the flavors have a chance to blend and then serve warm!
Are Texas-style baked beans spicy?
Typically Texas-style food does have a bit of a kick to it! We like our spices down in the south! This recipe can be as spicy as you want it to be. If you’re scared of layering with a variety of different spices, feel free to cut out the cayenne and the red pepper flakes completely. The beans do tend to get spicier as they sit, so if you’re making this in advance, consider curbing the spicy ingredients a bit!
I want the beans to be smokier, how would I do that?
The addition of molasses, chipotle pepper powder, and a smokier bbq sauce lends a rounded smokey flavor! However, if you would like that flavor to be more pronounced, I suggest using smoked black pepper powder or a dash of liquid smoke!
How far in advance can I prepare homemade baked beans?
I prefer to make these beans at least one day ahead of serving them! I like thicker beans, so for me, it’s a no brainer to make them ahead of time. You can make these up to 2 days in advance if you’d like. However, they do tend to firm up quite a bit. You’ll need a bit of liquid to help thin them out when you reheat!
If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Most Addicting Macaroni Salad
- Summer Classic Coleslaw
- Mexican Grilled Corn
- Tomato Avocado Black Bean Salad
- 2 tablespoons ghee or butter (or melted tallow, duck fat, or bacon grease)
- 6 ounces 85-90% ground beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, minced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon EACH: Worcestershire sauce, smoked paprika, yellow mustard, AND chipotle pepper, optional
- ½ teaspoon EACH: garlic powder AND onion powder
- ¼ cup EACH: apple cider vinegar AND molasses
- ½ cup EACH: ketchup, passata, AND BBQ sauce
- ¼ teaspoon EACH cayenne pepper AND red pepper flakes
- 3 (15.5 ounce) cans navy or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- SAUTE: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325ºF. Heat a cast-iron pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook and crumble the beef into small pieces. Remove to a bowl. Add the butter to the skillet and cook the onions, peppers, and garlic for 4-5 minutes or until the onions soften.
- BAKE: If you’re cooking in an oven-safe pot, add the ground beef back to the pot. If you’re not, grab an ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid, add all of the ingredients to the pot, including the ground beef and softened veggies. Stir to combine and place covered in the oven for 45 minutes - 1 hour. Stir the beans about halfway through to make sure nothing is sticking. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.
- I use ground beef but any kind of ground meat will work
- Depending on the sweetness of the bbq sauce, you'll need 1-2 tablespoons of brown sugar. For me, 2 was a bit much with certain bbq sauces. So I would start with less as you can always add more!
- Bake the beans for 45 minutes if you prefer them saucier and for 1 hour for thicker, heartier beans!