Yesterday was Father’s Day, and the grill was in play. We had burgers and potato salad and green salad, but dang it, I wanted beans, and I wanted ‘em baked, and I wanted ‘em BBQ style, so that’s what I made. Since we already had burgers in the mix, I made them vegetarian.
I often see questions about what the proper beans for baked beans are – my answer is that you really can use anything you like, but you do want to have a pretty good idea of what you choose brings to the table. You don’t want to drown a particularly flavorful bean in a heavy mix where their subtleties would get lost – but really, the color or size doesn’t matter as much as if they’re tasty and you love ‘em.
Whatever variety you choose, they better be dry beans you cook at home – making this dish with canned beans is an affront to the Legume Gods, and you never want to piss them off… Traditionally, American baked beans use white varieties like Navy or Great Northern. If you’re a Rancho Gordo fan, Alubia Blanca, Ayocote Blanco, Mogette de Vendée, Yellow Eyes, and Vaqueros all make excellent baked beans, (and if you love beans and your not an RG fan, shame on you – get with the program!)
Barbecue sauce is a really broad term – we could be talking mustard based, tomato based, vinegar based, and everything in between. For baked beans, tomato based is the ticket, although I wouldn’t discount experimentation farther afield. Typical BBQ sauce is a balance of sweet and tart, and a little heat – and balance is the key. In my not even remotely humble opinion, using store bought sauce is a crime – it’s super easy to make and so much better when you do.
Here’s my swing on them beans. If you really want to impart some magic into the mix, bake them in clay – like cast iron, clay cookers add a subtle but unmistakable note to the mix that’s hard to beat.
Urban’s Vegetarian BBQ Beans
1/2 Pound Par Cooked Beans (al dente is where you want them)
1 Cup Sweet Onion
1/2 Cup Sweet Bell Pepper
2 fat cloves fresh Garlic
1 Roma Tomato
1/2 Cup Tomato Sauce
1/2 Cup Bean Broth
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
2 Tablespoons Light Molasses
1 teaspoon Yellow Mustard
2-3 shakes Hot Sauce, (Tabasco, or whatever you like)
6-8 twists Black Pepper
In a heavy pan over high heat, add beans, a slice of onion, and 2 bay leaves with at least 2” of water over bean level and bring to a boil.
Allow beans to boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook until al dente, about 20 to 40 minutes depending on variety and where you’re cooking.
Remove beans from heat and allow to cool in the bean broth, (never discard bean broth, it’s kitchen magic).
End trim, peel and fine dice onion, bell pepper, and tomato.
End trim, peel and mince garlic.
Combine all ingredients except beans and veggies in a mixing bowl and whisk to thoroughly incorporate. Let that sit for about 15 minutes, so everybody gets to know one another.
Preheat oven to 300° F.
In an oven safe baking dish, combine everything and mix well – you should have a pretty soupy consistency at this point.
Set in a middle rack and bake for about 3-4 hours – Check thing and give them a stir after 90 minutes, and every thirty thereafter, checking for fluid balance – if things get too dry, stir in another quarter cup of bean broth.
When everything is bubbling merrily, smells amazing, the beans are tender and the sauce has a nice thick consistency, you’re there.
Serve with whatever you like, but truth be told, you wouldn’t need anything else to be a very happy camper.
P.S. – if any of it survives, it’s flippin’ unbelievable the next day, cold on a bed of crisp lettuce…