How to Cook Beans in the Slow Cooker
Cooking dried beans in a slow cooker isn’t really any different from cooking beans on the stove except for the longer cooking time. And that longer cooking time is to your advantage when you need dinner ready-to-eat after a long afternoon away.
Beans are one of one world’s oldest foods we still eat today. And no matter how you make your beans — on the stove, in the crockpot, or in a pressure cooker — beans cooked from scratch are tasty. When you know how to cook beans properly, there is no shortage of recipes to try.
Everything you ever wanted to know about beans:
Why eat beans?
Beans are cheap. If you want to save money by eating in, your meal planning will include beans. Canned beans are convenient, but dried beans cost less per serving — a serving of pinto beans made from dry beans costs $0.15 while a serving of canned pinto beans runs as much as $0.48.
Beans are easy. Hands-on prep time for a pot of beans is minimal. Beans are one of the simplest foods to prepare. And cooking beans in a slow cooker is the simplest method of all.
Beans are a healthy superfood. Beans are great source of protein and iron. They are high in fiber and minerals and can help fight against heart disease.
Beans are sustainable. Plant-based foods like beans are climate-friendly. Beans help to reduce the need of chemical fertilizers because they are good for the soil. They also require very little irrigation.
Beans are versatile. They are used in a wide variety of dishes: dips, soups, stews, salads, and main courses. And found in all types of cuisines: American, Mexican, Mediterranean, French, Indian, etc.
Beans are cool. Thanks to heirloom beans, beans are coveted by top chefs. If you aren’t a fan of beans, an heirloom variety will convince you otherwise.
Check for freshness. Dried beans have a long shelf life — up to two years — but they are best cooked within a year.
Inspect dried beans. Before cooking beans, you want to spread them out on a baking sheet and check for small rocks or debris. Also, remove any shriveled or discolored beans.
Soak your beans. Some resources say that soaking isn’t necessary, but it is an easy step that helps beans cook faster and more evenly. It also helps to make them more digestible. See below for how to soak beans.
Go for flavor. Yes, you can cook basic beans with water and salt, but using broth, spices, herbs, and aromatics will only up the flavor.
Know your amounts. A recommended serving size of beans for adults is considered to be 1/2-cup. A one pound bag of dry beans (or 2 cups) will make about 6 cups cooked beans, drained. Keep in mind, a “suggested serving size” is often different from “portion size” — especially for hungry teens!
Cooking variables. The freshness and size of your beans can affect the cooking time. If your beans never get soft and tender, then either the beans were too old or something acidic (vinegar, tomatoes, lemon juice, etc.) was added too early in the cooking process.
How to soak beans
Either of these two methods work to prepare your beans for cooking. Remember, a few legumes like lentils or split peas don’t require soaking.
Overnight soaking: Place the beans in a pot and cover with water by two inches, add 2 tablespoons kosher salt per pound of beans, and let them soak for 5-12 hours. Drain and rinse.
Quick soak: Place the beans in a pot on the stove, cover with water by two inches and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let them soak for an hour. Drain and rinse.
How to cook beans in a slow cooker
Check the beans for small rocks or debris. Soak. Place drained and rinsed beans in your slow cooker with enough water or broth to cover the beans by 2 inches.
Add one teaspoon salt for each pound of beans. If desired, add spices, herbs, and aromatics such as onion, garlic, a bay leaf, fresh herbs, etc. (Save acidic ingredients like tomatoes or vinegar for the end.)
If you use your slow cooker’s high setting, the beans will be tender in about 3-5+ hours. If you use the low setting, expect them to take 6-8+ hours. When the beans are tender and creamy all the way through — but still firm and intact — they are done.
Note on cooking time: Some slow cookers cook more quickly or slowly than others. If possible, begin checking beans on the early side of the cooking estimates and then every 30 minutes until they’re done. After a few batches of beans, you will know how long your crockpot takes for your favorite beans.
Size of pot: If you are cooking one pound or less of beans, then a small slow cooker (3 1/2-quart or smaller) is recommended. If you are cooking a larger amount of beans or using a recipe that calls for beans plus other ingredients, then a larger crockpot (6+ quart) will be needed.
Recipe: See a fantastic recipe for Slow Cooker White Beans.
Simmering vs Boiling
Whether on the stove or in a slow cooker, beans are cooked at a simmer versus a full boil. Why? Because boiling causes the exterior of a bean to overcook before the interior is fully cooked — meaning your beans will fall apart.
Note, stovetop recipes call for bringing beans to a boil before turning them down to a simmer as this helps to regulate cooking time. Boiling beans at the start of cooking does not affect the integrity of the bean, and it is always required for kidney beans.
Are kidney beans toxic?
Eating any undercooked bean can make you sick, but kidney beans — including both red and white kidneys (aka cannellini beans) — are the most likely to cause illness when improperly cooked. Why? Kidney beans contain a toxin called “phytohemagglutinin” (PHA) which can cause symptoms similar to food poisoning. But there is no need for panic. Boiling renders this toxin harmless.
After soaking dried kidney beans, boil them for 10 minutes before cooking. Boiling kidneys should be done whether you are cooking them on the stove or in a slow cooker. Learn more about slow cooker safety.
How long do cooked beans last?
If you have leftover beans, use them as a topping for baked potatoes or quesadillas later in the week or you can freeze the leftovers. In general, if you don’t need the cooked beans right away, they will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. Or you can freeze beans in their cooking liquid for up to six months.
Heirloom beans have been passed down through generations and aren’t grown on large scale farms. Yes, they are more expensive than your standard supermarket beans, but even at double the price, they are still an inexpensive food option.
“Bean Counterculture” (The New York Times Magazine)
“Heirloom Beans Are a Thing, But Do They Really Taste Better Than Bulk Beans?” (National Geographic)
“The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans” (The New Yorker)
The Splendid Table talks with Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando about his heirloom beans.
Need slow cooker inspiration? See the collection of 6-8+ hour longer-cooking slow cooker dinner recipes.