Baked beans are one of the best side dishes to accompany your BBQ spread.
They pair well with smoked meats, but one of the best things about baked beans with BBQ is how well they take on smoke.
In this recipe, I’ll walk you through how to make smoked baked beans, and how you can customize them to be as sweet, savory, or spicy as you like.
Why smoke baked beans?
Beans are a blank slate when it comes to flavor, and adding a layer of smoke only makes them better. If the smoker is already rolling with pork butt or brisket, why not let the beans cook low and slow as well?
These beans are thick and won’t get overly smokey. Just a subtle added layer of earthy flavor that contrasts with the sweetness of the dish, but not enough to overpower or add an ashy taste.
Can you bake these beans in the oven? Sure, but you’ll miss out on the smokiness that takes the dish to another level.
Whether you have a pellet grill or a wood burner, these beans may steal the show at your next BBQ.
Best beans for baked beans
Navy beans are the quintessential ingredient in the majority of baked bean recipes, however that doesn’t mean you have to stick with tradition.
Other beans that are good to use are great northern, kidney, butter, pinto or borlotti beans. You can even play with a combination of them for varied textures and flavors.
Keep in mind, different beans have different cooking times. A firm bean like kidney will hold up better over low and slow heat than those like pinto or butter beans which have a creamier texture.
Canned vs dried beans
You can use either for this recipe, canned obviously being the quickest and most convenient. But if you have the time to soak your beans overnight and then cook them the next day it’s well worth the effort as the texture of dried beans is superior to canned and you can also control the amount of sodium that goes into them.
How to make smoked baked beans
Cooking is all about expression and making recipes your own, so in that regard, we’re going to start with a solid base for this recipe and give you options to personalize to your liking.
We’re going to be using a one-pan approach utilizing a Lodge cast iron 12″ skillet to cook our bacon and caramelize the onions, then throw in the rest of the ingredients and put on the smoker.
You can use a dutch oven or even start in a skillet and move to a foil pan, but the cast iron is both convenient and retains even heat throughout the cooking process.
Preheat the cast iron skillet over medium heat on the stovetop. While that is coming up to temperature, prepare your smoker to 275°F – 300°F. Anywhere in that range is fine. We’re using the Z-Grill 700D4E with a hickory and applewood pellet blend.
If you’re already smoking meat at around 250°F, that’s okay. You’ll just need to extend the cooking time for the beans.
1. Building your base
Once your cast iron skillet is hot add the chopped bacon. Let the fat start to render out and stir occasionally.
Once the edges start to crisp up, add half a diced sweet onion and two minced cloves of garlic to the pan. Stir to incorporate and evenly distribute the bacon fat.
Continue cooking until the bacon is crisp and the onions are tender and starting to caramelize. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the beans, molasses, brown sugar, black pepper, ketchup, mustard, apple cider vinegar and soy sauce.
Stir all the ingredients together until they are well combined.
2. Smoking the beans
Place the skillet with the bean mixture directly onto the smoker grates. Let the beans sit undisturbed for roughly two hours until bubbly and syrupy.
If you like your beans with a thinner, runnier sauce, check at the 90 minute mark and stir. Keep an eye on them until they’re at your preferred doneness. Same goes for thicker beans – just let them ride until they reach the desired consistency.
Pull the beans off the smoker and let cool for ten minutes or so to set up.
Ways to customize your baked beans
Now that we have the basic foundation, let’s explore some fun additions to the recipe to differentiate it from the norm.
1. Place under meat to catch drippings
If you already have meat cooking on the smoker, catching some of the drippings to add to the baked beans is a great option. It infuses a deep meaty flavor into the beans and supports the smokiness going into the dish.
You can either catch the fat in a separate container and stir into the beans, or place the skillet directly under any meat that’s already rendering fat.
Be sure not to add too much though as the beans will then have a layer of fat sitting on the top. Roughly two tablespoons of drippings should do you right.
2. Sub the bacon for a vegeterian side
It’s not always about the meat here at Smoked BBQ Source, so here’s an option to make these baked beans vegetarian friendly. Sub out the bacon and cook the onion and garlic in coconut or avocado oil. Add in some chopped green and red bell peppers and continue the recipe as normal.
The peppers maintain some of their crunch and add a mild flavor to the final product keeping this a filling vegetarian option.
3. Bulk the beans up with chopped brisket or pulled pork
Ok, back to the meat now. Baked beans are a great vehicle for BBQ meats. Try adding in ⅔ cup of smoked protein and taste how great it makes the beans.
Rough chopped brisket, hand pulled pork or diced chicken work great in this recipe. The bean base acts as a sweet BBQ sauce for the meat and the meats carry their smoke flavor into the beans.
Burnt ends are also a great option to mix in – especially pork belly burnt ends. Make sure the chunks aren’t too large or they’ll overshadow the beans.
If you’re on Team Bacon, you can always add more: line the bottom of the skillet with three slices of thick bacon and top the beans with 4 slices more, one for every serve. Increase the temperature to 400°F for 10-15 minutes at the end of the cook to crisp up the bacon on top.
4. Experiment with different bean combinations
Switch up the texture of your dish by adding different types of beans as discussed earlier; pinto, kidney, great northern, borlotti, or butter beans. Just make sure your combinations have a similar cook time.
5. Ramp up the heat
For the masochists out there, try mixing in some raw hot peppers of choice. Add ⅓ cup of diced raw jalapenos or ¼ cup of habaneros. If that’s not hot enough for you, throw in a teaspoon of red pepper flakes – try Korean gochugaru.
You can use any hot pepper of choice just keep in mind your audience. If you have a high tolerance for spicy foods, then have it all.
6. Add a sweet touch
This one is great for those who love sweet and savory combinations. Sprinkle 1 tsp of brown sugar across the top of the beans close to the end of the cooking time. Turn your temperature up to 400°F and keep a close eye on the sugar topping so it doesn’t burn. You can even Brulee the sugar for a crunchy sweet topping.
Smoked Baked Beans
- 2 16oz can navy beans drained and rinsed (or 32oz dried beans, soaked overnight then drained and simmered till tender around 40 mins)
- 3 strips bacon diced
- ½ medium sweet onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp black pepper freshly ground
- 1 tsp mustard prepared
- ¼ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup molasses
- ¼ cup brown sugar packed
- Set up the smoker to 275F°.
- Preheat the skillet to medium heat on your stovetop.
- Add the bacon to the skillet and cook until it starts to brown.
- Add onion and garlic to the bacon and stir to coat in the rendered fat.
- Cook until the onions have softened then remove from the heat.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet and stir to combine.
- Place the skillet on the smoker and cook for 2 hours or until desired doneness.
- Remove from the heat and serve while warm.