Smoking baked beans? Absolutely! When it comes to flavor, smoked baked beans elevate this favorite comforting dish to a whole new level. They surpass canned baked beans by a wide margin, and the best part is, they're remarkably simple to prepare.
Plus, it's a convenient choice as your smoker multitasks, handling both your sides and main dish simultaneously. No need to worry about heating up your house with the oven anymore.
It's all about the perfect balance for these perfect baked beans. We all know how amazing baked beans are: Sweet and tangy, but also savory and spicy, and hearty and satisfying. They are one of those sides that can steal the show, especially with the smoky flavor we're going to give them.
What You'll Need
- Beans - pinto, butter, white northern beans or red kidney beans. You can even use a combination. Use canned or cook them yourself (I cook them in the pressure cooker and it only takes about 25 minutes).
- Bacon - I prefer thick-cut bacon for the great texture in the beans. Of course, you can leave it out if you prefer.
- Aromatics - yellow or white onion and garlic. It's essential to cook them in the pan first before adding the remaining ingredients. Otherwise, the onions might retain their crunchiness even during the smoking process.
- Sweeteners - dark brown sugar and maple syrup. I use both, but you can use more of one if that's all you have. Or you can use honey.
- Barbecue sauce - Making your own is the way to go, but store-bought will work great, too.
- Worcestershire sauce - Adds depth to the flavors.
- Dijon mustard - A little spice.
- Apple cider vinegar - For some acidity and tang to balance out the richness.
- Kosher salt and black pepper - Always, right?
- Heat - Spice levels are a personal preference. I favor sweeter baked beans over spicy ones. However, if you're into heat, simply enhance the spiciness by adding chopped jalapeño or cayenne pepper to the mix.
See recipe card for exact quantities.
Equipment to Make It Happen
- A smoker - A pellet model like a Traeger or charcoal or electric... any type of smoker will work. That being said, you'll achieve a stronger smoke flavor when using a charcoal smoker or one with dedicated wood for smoking compared to a pellet smoker. Here are some great tips for getting more smoke flavor from a pellet smoker.
- A pan - Use either a large cast-iron skillet or a disposable aluminum pan for smoking the beans. To prevent the smoke from staining the exterior of the pan, opt for a cookware that's easy to clean or doesn't require cleaning. Using a cast-iron skillet is advantageous because you can prepare the baked bean base in the same pan and then place it directly in the smoker.
How to Make Smoked Baked Beans
Step 1 - Make the base: Cook the bacon in a large skillet, then add the onions and garlic until the onions are soft.
Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and balance.
Step 2 - Smoke the beans: Set up the smoker to cook with indirect heat and preheat to 225° F (if you are smoking something else that needs to be at a different temperature but is close to 225° F, that's totally fine). Either leave the baked bean base in a 12" cast-iron skillet, or transfer to a large disposable aluminum pan. Place in the smoker and cook for 2 to 3 hours.
Tip: Taste test at 2 hours. If they are nice and smoky and have a great texture, then they are done smoking. If they need some more time, leave them in.
Step 3: Remove from the smoker and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes to cool slightly before enjoying.
Tips for Success
- Customize to your liking – The beauty of crafting homemade dishes instead of relying on canned options lies in the freedom to tailor flavors to your preference. Craving sweetness? Simply increase the sugar or maple syrup. In the mood for tanginess? Experiment with extra vinegar or mustard. Embrace creativity and enjoy the process!
- Cooking the beans yourself? It's better to err on the side of overcooking rather than undercooking beans. (I learned this the hard way.)
- Mix up your beans - One type of beans is great, but adding a variety makes them even better. Different textures, slightly different flavors and various colors elevate this classic even more.
- Don't stress on the wood: Use whatever type of wood you are already smoking with, and it will be just fine for the beans. Fruitwood like apple, or hickory or even oak will be great. If the wood has a stronger smoke flavor, you just smoke it for less time. This is also why you want to taste the beans after 2 hours, to make sure you're hitting the smoky sweet spot.
Quicker Smoked Baked Bean Hack
If you're short on time or ingredients but craving smoky baked beans alongside your other dishes, here's a simple solution. Place a can of baked beans in a skillet and let them heat up in the smoker while you prepare your main course. While they won't match the flavor of homemade, they'll certainly be a tastier upgrade from the plain canned version.
Smoke the baked beans at 225° F for 2 to 3 hours. Taste test after 2 hours and give them more time if needed.
Cool and store the baked beans in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Or remove the air and keep in the freezer for 3 months.
The easiest and most straightforward method for reheating the beans is to microwave them, but you can also gently warm them on the stove or in the oven.
More BBQ Sides Recipes You'll Love
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Smoked Baked Beans Recipe
- ½ pound smoked thick-cut bacon, sliced crosswise ¼"
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ¾ cup barbecue sauce
- 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. Diamond kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups cooked or canned beans (3 15-oz. cans) drained and rinsed pinto, butter beans or red kidney beans
- Heat a 3- to 4-quart Dutch oven or a 12" cast-iron skillet over medium heat and sauté the bacon until the fat is rendered and it just starts to brown but doesn't get crispy, about 10 minutes.
- Remove all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat (save it for another use).
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the diced onion with a pinch of salt. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring frequently for about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic during the last minute.
- Stir in the remaining ingredients except for the beans. Then gently incorporate the beans stirring until fully combined and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning.
- Transfer from pot or pan to a disposable aluminum pan, or leave right in a cast-iron skillet. Leave uncovered so the smoke can penetrate.
- Set up and preheat your smoker to 225° F for indirect heat cooking with whatever wood you planned to use for the main dish.
- Transfer the beans to the smoker and smoke for 2 hours. Taste and smoke up to 3 hours for desired smoky flavor.
- Remove from the smoker and let cool for at least 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- Vessel: You can make these baked beans in a large 12" cast-iron skillet or a separate pan and transfer to an aluminum pan. I like to double a foil pan as they can bend.
- If you are cooking something else in the smoker that needs to be at a different temperature but is close to 225° F, that's totally fine. Just note that the cook time will change slightly.
- Best type of wood for smoking the beans: Use whatever you are already cooking with. If you are making them on their own, go with a fruitwood like apple, hickory or oak.
- Timing: 2 hours, but can go to 3 hours since we're cooking at such a low temperature. Taste test after 2 hours to see how they are tasting. If they need more smoke, let them go longer.
- If the beans start to dry out, simply stir in some water to rehydrate them.