For Fewer Blowouts, Bake Your Beans

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2015

For perfectly cooked beans with fewer blowouts, skip the stovetop and head for the oven.

We’ve cooked a lot of dried beans on the stovetop, but even if we take all the extra measures, some blowouts or broken beans and uneven cooking are inevitable. When developing our Drunken Beans (see related content), we found that cooking them in the oven significantly improves the odds of turning out a perfect batch.

On the stovetop, stirring the pot helps even out the cooking, but it isn’t perfect; plus, some beans break. Jostling during simmering can also lead to broken beans. In the oven, it’s easy to maintain essentially a subsimmer, and the heat is even so stirring isn’t necessary. Furthermore, the beans’ flesh absorbs liquid faster than the skin, and because the heat is higher on the stovetop, the beans’ flesh swells before the skin has become sufficiently flexible, making the beans more likely to burst.

Our oven technique for cooking beans for use in other recipes (the liquid is discarded) works well with any variety, but it is especially good for thin-skinned beans like pinto, kidney, cannellini, black, flageolet, and navy. Here’s our method: Pick through and rinse beans. For every pound of beans, dissolve 3 tablespoons of salt in 4 quarts of water in a large container. Add the beans and let soak for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. (To quick-soak: Start with boiling water instead of cold and let the beans soak at room temperature for 1 hour.) Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 275 degrees. Drain and rinse the beans and transfer them to a Dutch oven along with 4 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, and transfer to the oven until the beans are tender, 40 to 60 minutes.