Beans are the original vegetarian protein. Before tofu and tempeh and fancy frozen meat substitutes, there were beans.
And when it comes to beans, you pretty much have two options: dried or canned. The biggest advantage to using canned beans is that they're convenient. But guess what? You can make dried beans that are almost as convenient as the canned ones. Yes, it's true!
Why use dried beans?
If canned beans are less of a hassle, maybe you're wondering why you should bother with the dried ones. Well, here are a few reasons:
- Dried beans are much cheaper! Canned black beans are about 50 cents per serving, while dried black beans are about 17 cents per serving.
- You can control the amount of sodium with dried beans.
- Dried beans taste better. This one is subjective, but I think they do!
- Canned beans often have BPA in the lining of the can.
How To Make Beans in a Slow Cooker
I prefer cooking dried beans in a slow cooker--I think they turn out better. There's one big potential drawback to making beans in a crockpot, though: red kidney beans contain a toxin that can cause food poisoning if they're undercooked. (Some other varieties, like fava beans, contain this toxin too, but in smaller amounts.) By soaking the beans overnight and cooking them on high instead of low, you'll neutralize the toxins, but you can also boil kidney beans for 10 minutes prior to putting them in the slow cooker just to be sure.
Although slow cooking dried beans takes a little bit of time and planning, it takes very little effort. Here's what you do:
Rinse and sort through the beans. Put them in a large resealable container and cover them with plenty of water. Cover and let them sit on the countertop overnight.
Drain the beans in a colander and give them a quick rinse.
Transfer beans to your slow cooker. Add a few cloves of garlic, a diced onion, or a bay leaf or two if desired. (If you want to add salt, do it after the beans are finished cooking.)
Pour water over beans to cover; for a pound of beans, that's about 6-8 cups of water. Cook on high for 8-10 hours. Smaller beans, like black beans, should be done in 8 hours, while larger beans (kidney beans, for example) might take a bit longer, up to 12 hours. Older beans also take longer to cook.
How To Freeze Beans
And this is the point where dried beans become almost as handy as the canned variety--you freeze them! Oh fine, it's a little bit annoying to have to thaw them first, but it's still worth that tiny bit of annoyance, right?
After the beans have cooled to room temperature, use a slotted spoon to portion them out into freezer bags or freezer-safe containers. Because a lot of recipes call for cans of beans, it's easiest to freeze in can-sized portions, which is about 1 ½ cups. Use a ladle to cover the beans with liquid remaining in the slow cooker. If the beans aren't covered, add a little bit of water until they are.
Cover and freeze for up to 6 months. (Oh, and you can label them with my handy printable freezing labels!) Before using, thaw in the refrigerator or microwave, then drain and rinse.
What's your favorite way to use beans?
this is such a good idea. i'm totally going to do this.
SCM (SocialCafe Magazine) says
Great idea. We love beans, but I always make enough just for that day. And now I'm so going to do this 😉
Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen says
Okay that's it....I need to get myself a slow cooker!
Will try this as I use a lot of black beans for soups, do you have recommendataions for pinto and garbonzo beans? I worry a little about the kidney beans and toxins, I did not know this. But, ok if I follow your directions? Thanks!
Pinto and garbanzo beans will work in the slow cooker too; garbanzo beans will take a little more time. With kidney beans, according to the FDA website, if you soak them for at least 5 hours, drain and rinse, and then boil for 10 minutes before cooking, the beans are safe to eat.
I didn't know that bit about the toxin! Scary. I like making dried beans, but 8 out of 10 times I haven't planned far enough in advance and reach for a can.
Yeah, I had no idea that you could get food poisoning from kidney beans!
Dear Lord the toxins! I have some frozen kidney beans in the freezer as we speak...I am going to toss them and start again! I had no idea. I love freezing beans, tomorrow I am going to try black eyed peas.
No, they might be fine! How did you cook them? If you cooked them right, they're probably okay. But if you slow-cooked them on low heat without boiling them first, then you could have an issue...
Kayla H says
So glad I read this! A friend of mine got food poisoning from a boxed mix with dry beans in it. I had never heard that of happening before and thought that maybe she had added some meat to it. Now, after reading this, I know that she probably didn't add any meat and that she probably got sick from the beans. Thanks so much for this info. I am excited about saving money cooking and freezing dry beans :).
Very scary! I had no idea that kidney could cause food poisoning either until recently--I don't think a lot of people do!
I like fava beans. Should I boil them for 10 min. like kidney beans before slow cooking them?
Red kidney beans have the highest concentration of the toxin, but you can boil other beans before slow cooking just to be on the safe side.
I dont have a slow cooker but I tried to make some beans before I saw your website.
I soaked the kidney beans overnight (I guess I didnt give them enough water cause there was none left this morning) and then I put them in a pot and boiled them (for maybe 20 minutes cause I forgot them) and then let them simmer on med low heat for roughly 2-3 hours. Do you think they are safe to eat?
Yes, it's the boiling that neutralizes the toxin, so you should be fine. 🙂
If i cook black beans, borlotti, white beans, and cannelli beans in slow cooker after soaking overnight, is this safe?
I know kidney beans need pre boiling, but not sure re the rest. My favourite being black beans.
I think cannellini beans are a type of kidney beans. I'm not sure if they have the toxin that red kidney beans have, but it never hurts to boil them first just in case.
J D Williams says
Kidney beans -- quite lazy as bachelor -- dried kidney beans not pre-soaked, nor precooked, in pot top of stove, add can of chicken broth with water to cover -- use recipe from Joy of Cooking 1957 edition - lots of butter, pepper, salt, thyme, onions, garlic if like, small pinch of cloves which gives the poor beans quite a lovely kick! Fare thee well! Using for 40 or so years no adverse effects!
Sounds like a delicious, easy meal! When kidney beans hit a certain temperature, the toxin is cooked off, so cooking on the stove usually isn't a problem. It's slow cookers, which cook at a lower temperature, that cause the food poisoning issue.
Have you tried them in the slow cooker without soaking them? I have some dried chickpeas I was hoping to use tomorrow, but I might just have to cook them on the stove pot. I was hoping to just put them in the crockpot and forget about them!
I haven't tried making beans in a crockpot without pre-soaking them. I've done it on the stove and wasn't happy with the results, so I've never bothered to try it in the slow cooker...
Thanks for the info. I bought a slow cooker and have made a few batches of beans. I am vegetarian and eat a lot of beans, black beans being my fav. Ok, so heres my question. In canned beans you have the delicious thick black bean juice. on the ingredients on the can is says water and black beans. period. No other preservatives or additives (they are organic beans).
So i tried to emulate that with my own bean creation in the slow cooker. After a few days it smelled like a dead carcass in my house. The beans lasted maybe 3 days and went rancid. So now i know not to save the water you cook beans in...to always rinse after cooking...is this correct?
I am a male and I am a virgin with slow cookers, so help me out here LOL!
Can someone please give me a rundown of slow cooker rules or direct me to a good website.
Thanks in advance
If you freeze the beans in the liquid after cooking them, they'll last much longer vs. refrigerating them. I think your issue wasn't that you're saving the cooking liquid, it was that you were keeping the beans too long in the refrigerator.
John Simms says
They're cheap and good for you!
Great info! How long after beans have been soaked can you wait before boiling/slow cooking? And do they need to be refrigerated? Thank you!
Kiersten Frase says
After you've drained the beans, you need to cook them, otherwise they'll start to dry out again. Once the beans are finished cooking, they do need to be refrigerated.
I am just wondering, do you get rid of the onions after they're cooked?
Kiersten Frase says
Since the onion is diced, it would be hard to pick them out of the beans! If you're not a fan of onions, I would just omit them altogether.
I do like them but most of my meals with black beans call for varying amounts of onions. Leaving them out would be just fine?
Kiersten Frase says
Yes, leaving them out will be fine!
This is an old post, but I quarter my onion, and leave garlic cloves whole, when adding them to dried beans. When they are done cooking, I can just remove the onion and garlic, if desired.
This is great. I usually spend a weekend with my stove covered in soaking beans one night then cooking the beans the next day to freeze. Americas Test Kitchen suggests soaking in brine (salted water) rinsing VERY well and cooking in fresh water. Having soaked in both fresh and salted water, I find that the salt water soak helps the beans cook faster. I usually freeze without the liquid in a gallon ziplock and the beans are perfect for chili. I can't wait to try out my new crockpot for cooking the beans. I can probably get way more done and won't have a full stove of beans for a whole weekend. Thanks for sharing!
Also - I often use my beans in chili. Do you think it would work to put the soaked beans in the crockpot and cook directly in the chili recipe instead of 2 steps of water then chili? I'm concerned that if I slow cook both then the beans will be overcooked and fall apart (which has happened to me before on stovetop)
Kiersten Frase says
Thanks for the tip about the salted water! I'll have to try that. As for the chili, I'm not sure. I attempted to do a chili like that last winter and I couldn't get the beans to soften. After researching it, I found some people saying that the acid in tomatoes prevents the beans from becoming tender if you try to cook them with chili. That said, I had soaked my beans in regular water; maybe your method, with soaking the beans in salted water, would be different. If you give it a try, let me know how it works out!
Just stir the cooked beans into your chili during the last 15-30 minutes of cooking. They will be heated through, and you won't even know that they didn't cook in the chili.
Thanks for the feedback on the red kidney beans. I prefer to soak my own because I agree that they do indeed taste much better! Especially...chickpeas!
When I soak my own/cook, they tend to split apart, lose color, and not that it should matter, look ugly..LOL.
But when you buy a can of pre-cooked beans they look perfect. What do you think may cause this?
Could I be overcooking the beans or soaking them too long?
Kiersten Frase says
I think cooking them low and slow helps prevent the beans from breaking apart. If you find that happening often when you make them, I'd cook them a little less next time--it could be that your slow cooker runs a little hot. But I do notice that there are always some casualties. I think that's inevitable!
Lita Watson says
I think that using microwave to thaw the frozen baked beans isn't a good idea. Since sudden changes in temperature can affect the overall quality of the dish.