Early Americans, aware that slow-cooking beans softens the shell and aids digestion, baked their beans to perfection in a slow oven heated by a wood fire. Today, slow cookers offer all of the benefits of slow and low heat without the fuss of tending to the fire and watching over the beans. Soak the beans first, and you can have a tender, slow-cooked crock that might even rival a pot from grandma’s oven.
Cooks traditionally soak beans overnight to soften them a little before cooking, and to remove indigestible sugar that causes flatulence. Although overnight soaking is recommended, you can also bring the beans to a boil in a pot of water and allow them to set for two hours before cooking. Drain and rinse the beans before adding them to the crock pot.
Beans in a Hurry
While beans develop the best flavor when cooked slowly, it is possible to cook beans on the high setting of your crock pot. Many prefer this method as it allows them to put the beans in the crock pot by lunch time and still have beans for dinner. After soaking, most dry beans cook in approximately five to six hours on the high setting of your crock pot. This method works well for bean soups or recipes that include other ingredients, such as meats or veggies.
Cooking beans on the low setting of your crock pot requires more time, but infuses the beans with more flavor. Most beans cook to perfection in seven to eight hours on low. This method is preferred for traditional baked bean recipes, or to create savory sauces on the beans.
Cooking Times Vary
Several factors affect the cooking time of beans. Some beans, like kidney beans, naturally take longer to cook than others. As a rule, the smaller the bean is, the more quickly it will cook. Storage also affects cook time for beans. Dried beans stored for a long time tend to cook more slowly than those that have been in the cabinet for a few weeks.
Beware of the Water Level
Beans cooked on the stove or in the oven lose moisture while they cook, often requiring the addition of water periodically during cooking. The crock pot, however, is designed to keep moisture in. This means that adding too much water in the beginning results in watery beans. Cover the beans with an inch or two of water and adjust as necessary during cooking until you learn how much water you need for the consistency you desire.
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Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with more than four years' experience in online writing. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in teaching 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.
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