Cooking with Dried Beans: Not So Hard

Logically, we might know that cooking with dried beans is cheaper than buying canned, not to mention that bulk products use less packaging and do not have the sodium of their metal-clad counterparts. But still, don’t dried beans require, you know, effort? Well, yes, they do, but perhaps not nearly as much as you think. While I still use canned beans about half the time for convenience’s sake, when I prepare dried beans, I think, “I should really do this more often.” Done right, the taste is fantastic, and you’ll have saved money in the process.

The easiest approach to cooking dried beans is soaking them overnight, and then using a slow cooker the next day. Soaking the beans allows them to plump up and cook faster. I’ve made garbanzo beans for soups or hummus, and I like using navy beans to make my own BBQ baked beans. I’m a big fan of making a big pot full of pinto beans or black beans to use with tacos or rice.


  • 1 pound dried pinto or black beans, sorted and soaked overnight
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. Better than Bullion beef base (you could use chicken or veggie base too, but I’m a big fan of this particular brand in general.)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 cups water

Combine all ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours (or low for 8), or until beans are soft. Adjust salt and pepper to your preferences. You can also mash the beans to make them more like refried beans.

One pound of dried beans equals roughly two 15 ounce cans of beans, drained. Before I let them soak overnight, I put them in a large bowl and paw through them a bit to check for any strange looking beans or rocks. Yes, sometimes there are tiny rocks, and especially with black beans, you might not notice them at first. For whatever reason, I find that the pre-bagged beans (like you find on the shelves near the rice in the grocery store) are more likely to have rocks than ones I scoop from the bulk bins. I don’t know if that’s because grocery stores with bulk bins tend to be “natural foods” stores with a higher attention to quality overall, but it’s just something I’ve noticed.

How large of a bowl should you have? I’m not too exact, but I think a good rule of thumb is to have a bowl big enough to where your desired amount of beans fill it halfway. Then cover the beans with enough water to fill the bowl. It’s also probably a good idea to cover the bowl with a dishtowel or something similar, especially if you have curious pets.

In the morning, drain the beans in a colander and rinse them beneath the faucet, then go about making whatever recipe you have. One thing to remember: Highly acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes or vinegar slow down the cooking time, so if you don’t have any wiggle room to let the beans cook for an extended period (say, you have almost exactly four hours until you want to eat dinner), add those ingredients, at the earliest, about halfway through the total cooking time.

Beans can also be cooked on the stove top after being soaked overnight, and the process is fairly similar, except that you have to keep a closer eye on things. This black bean chili recipe is one I’ve made before (minus the sweet potato because mine had spoiled, and it still works), and it cooked for a little over two hours before the beans were soft and ready. If your beans were not already soaked, the beans will soften, but expect it to take all day.

One of the bulk beans that you do not have to soak ahead of time are lentils. They are small and thin enough to cook in a manner similar to rice – two cups of water for every cup of lentils, 20 minutes of covered simmering, and you’re done. Split peas cook in a similar way. They all still should be sorted and rinsed ahead of time, but because they are so small, it’s easiest to do it with a mesh strainer. Colander holes tend to be too large.

I used dried chickpeas/garbanzo beans in this curry recipe, previously posted on P-Mag.

So do give dried beans a try. I’m not enough of a foodie to properly articulate the taste difference, but I do know that the difference is better, even if I’m just using some cheap Walmart brand bag. I’ve also found that organic dried beans are not too much more expensive than their non-organic counterparts (pre-bagged or from the bulk bins), which is almost never the case with the canned versions.

If you’re already a dried bean convert, feel free to shout out your favorite ways to prepare them in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

6 replies on “Cooking with Dried Beans: Not So Hard”

Thank you for this! I’ve been wanting to start cooking with dried beans, but after the disaster that was my first attempt I’ve been slow to start again. The beans were sitting there all delicious in my slow cooker, and then I broke the lid and got glass in them :-(


That black bean recipe look absolutely delicious, so I’ll stop lamenting my ruined beans and try again.

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