Cooks at high altitude usually have a culinary war story or two about the cake that never rose, the cookies that came out flat or the beans that never cooked through. In a sky-high kitchen, making dried black beans in a slow cooker might seem to take eons or never yield an edible dish at all. With a few simple adjustments, preparing dried black beans in a slow cooker will no longer be a guessing game. For the best results, use recently purchased beans. The older the bean, the longer it will take to cook -- especially at altitude.
Prepping Your Beans
Sort beans to scan for and remove foreign objects, such as small twigs or stones. Rinse beans in a colander.
Place dried beans in a bowl and cover with cold water, about 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans. Let stand uncovered for 8 to 10 hours or overnight.
Use an alternative soaking option if you're short on time. Boil water and beans for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover and soak for 2 to 3 hours.
Drain water from the bowl of soaked beans. Rinse off beans in a colander.
Quality Slow Cooker Time
Add soaked black beans to the slow cooker along with enough water to cover the beans by approximately 2 to 3 inches. At high altitude, the boiling point of liquid drops by 1 degree for every 500-foot increase in elevation, so to maintain liquid just above a simmer, use either the medium setting or 200 degrees Fahrenheit, if your slow cooker has temperature controls. Monitor your beans to ensure the liquid is just above a simmer, with small active bubbles.
Add salt or any acidic ingredients, like vinegar or citrus juice, after your beans have simmered for at least 2 hours. Usually, a recipe for 2 cups of beans will require three-quarters to 2 teaspoons of salt. Incorporating salt or acid too early might affect the ability of the liquid to soften the beans.
Simmer beans for 8 to 12 hours in the slow cooker until tender. The higher the elevation, the longer the beans will take.
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- If you didn't add enough water initially or if you cook beans at too high a temperature causing water to evaporate, add boiling water or other liquid to ensure beans are covered by about 2 inches throughout the cooking time.
- For added flavor, use chicken or another type of broth instead of water to cook beans. You can also add other flavorings, such as onion, garlic, brown sugar or spices. If you're adding fresh herbs, wait until beans are done to maximize flavor.
- Minimize opening the slow cooker lid to check on beans. If your slow cooker has a clear lid, monitor the level of boil without opening at all. If you do need to check on your beans, do so quickly and immediately re-cover. Each time you remove the lid, you lose steam, prolonging your cooking time.
Maya Silver is an editor at DiningOut Magazines. She is the author of "My Parent Has Cancer And It Really Sucks" and has written for "U.S. News & World Report," the "Washington Post Express" and local newspapers and magazines. She has helped hundreds of homes make energy improvements. Her culinary knowledge stems from professional and personal cooking experience.
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