The Four Best Ways to Thicken up Baked Beans


Dried beans and peas are not only among the best sources of protein available but they are some of the best staple food items for long-term storage. Baked beans are one of the most popular and versatile dishes made from dried beans. But what if you are running short on time and don’t have enough time for the beans to thicken naturally during the baking or cooking process?

There are four good ways to thicken baked beans quickly. They are: (1) by mashing 1 to 2 cups of the beans and adding them back to the pot, (2) by making a slurry from cornstarch, (3) by making a slurry from flour, or (4) by draining some of the liquid from the beans before adding the other ingredients.

Each of these methods will thicken baked beans quickly.

1. Bean Mashing

The first method for thickening baked beans more quickly is by removing 1 to 2 cups of beans from the pot, mashing them with a potato masher, and then returning them to the pot. Be sure the beans are hot when you mash them and return them to the pot because when hot, they will act as a naturally starchy thickening agent.

2. Make a Cornstarch Slurry

Method number two involves making a slurry of 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of cool water or juice from the beans, mixing it well, and adding it back to the pot of beans.

If using juice from the beans, be sure to cool it before adding the cornstarch or the cornstarch will not mix well and there could be lumps in the slurry. Whisking the cornstarch and cool liquid together should make the slurry combine with the beans in the pot more easily and completely.

Cook the beans a little longer and stir well and the cornstarch should thicken the beans.

3. Make a Flour Slurry

Method number three is similar to using the prior method and instead of making a slurry of cornstarch and water, make a slurry of flour and water.

For every cup of liquid to be thickened, mix 2 tablespoons of flour with ¼ cup of cold water, mix well, and add back to the pot. Whisking the flour and water together will help to make sure there are no lumps of flour in the slurry.

Stir the beans well to incorporate the slurry and cook for at least 10-15 more minutes to thicken.

4. Drain Some Juice

If you know you are not going to have time to thicken the beans by baking them for an extended period of time, pour off some of the juice from the beans before adding the other ingredients. This will prevent the beans from being too runny, and the addition of the other ingredients should help to thicken the baked beans right away.

4 Alternative Thickening Agents

If you cannot use either cornstarch or flour as thickening agents, here are a few alternatives that you can use:

Arrowroot

Arrowroot flour is a gluten-free thickening agent that can be used to thicken gravies, sauces, soups, stews, puddings, and more. This thickener contains only one ingredient in most cases: arrowroot, which is tasteless and odorless and will not affect the flavor or smell of the dish you are preparing. In some cases, potato starch may be added to the arrowroot, but the ingredients list on the label will indicate if potato starch has been added to your product. 

To use arrowroot as a thickener, start by adding a slurry made from 1 tablespoon of arrowroot and 2 tablespoons of liquid, but increase the amount of arrowroot if necessary.

Rice Flour

Rice flour is naturally gluten-free and can be used to replace flour or cornstarch as a thickener. It can be mixed with hot or cold water or bean juice to form a colorless slurry that can thicken soups, sauces, stews, gravies, and, in this case, baked beans.

To use rice flour as a thickener, replace cornstarch on a 2:1 basis by using 2 tablespoons of rice flour for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

Tapioca Flour

Tapioca flour is made from the starchy pulp of the root of the cassava plant and can be used in baking and as a thickening agent in sauces, soups, puddings, and pies. Tapioca flour, which is the same thing as tapioca starch, is now used in gluten-free and paleo diets.

Tapioca flour can replace cornstarch at the rate of 2:1 by replacing 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of tapioca flour. Tapioca flour can replace regular all-purpose flour on a 1:1 basis.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan Gum is another flavorless alternative thickener that is Vegan friendly and can be used to thicken soups, sauces, ice cream, and certain dairy products. However, Xanthan gum is made from fermented corn, soy, wheat, or cabbage, so would not be suitable for a gluten-free diet or anyone allergic to corn.

To use Xanthan Gum as a thickener, combine 1/8th teaspoon with 1 cup of water in a blender, not by hand, to make a slurry that can be added as a thickener to the pot of baked beans.

How Do I Cook Dry Beans From Scratch for Baked Beans?

Here are the steps to cooking perfect dry beans:

  1. Wash and pick beans of your choice to remove any foreign matter like dirt and small pebbles.
  2. Soak beans overnight by covering them with at least 2 inches of water above the beans.
  3. Add a small amount of baking soda (1/8th teaspoon) to the water.
  4. After soaking, drain water from the beans and place them in a Dutch oven or other large pot.
  5. Add fresh water and place the pot on the stove over medium heat.
  6. Bring beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow to cook from 1 to 3 hours until tender. Type of beans used and the age of the beans will determine cooking time.
  7. Do not add salt until the beans are done.
  8. For baked beans, follow your favorite recipe to add additional ingredients, pour into a baking dish, and bake according to your recipe directions.

How to Make Baked Beans From Canned Beans

The best way to make baked beans is to follow the directions above and cook the beans from scratch. This is the long version. But, to make a quick but good version of baked beans, use canned beans, add additional ingredients of your choice, pour into a baking dish, and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. These beans are really good without all the fuss.

How to Fix Beans That Are Too Dry

If you inadvertently overcook the baked beans and they are too dry, they can be salvaged by adding either a little water or chicken broth. Better yet, if you reserved some of the liquid from cooking the dry beans, that would be the best liquid to use to fix overcooked baked beans.

To fix the dry beans, add just a small amount of liquid at a time until you get the consistency you are looking for.

Why Didn’t My Beans Get Tender?

If you soaked the dry beans overnight or burped them by using the quick method and then cooked them for hours and they never got tender, their failure to become tender could be caused by at least two different things.

  1. One cause would be if you added salt during the cooking process. Adding salt at the beginning of the cooking process can make the beans tough and not allow them to become tender. Salt should be added at the very end of the cooking process.
  2. The second cause for tough beans that never get tender is that the beans were old and were not stored properly. Even though dry beans can be stored for extended periods of time, if they are not stored properly, they will not become tender when cooked.

Are Baked Beans Good for You?

Any dry beans, including baked beans, are an excellent source of protein and fiber. Fiber is important in lowering cholesterol levels; protein is important in building muscle strength. But, those are not their only benefits. Dry beans also contain high antioxidant levels and provide more vitamins and minerals than do red meat.

If you are on a high fiber or protein diet, dry beans are among the healthiest foods to support your dietary efforts.

What Is the Best Way to Store Dry Beans?

The best way to store dry beans so that they remain good for the maximum amount of time is under the following conditions:

  1. In a cool area with no major fluctuations in temperature, the cooler the better.
  2. In a dry area not subject to excessive humidity.
  3. In an airtight container with oxygen removed.
  4. In a dark area with little or no exposure to natural or artificial light.
  5. In a mylar-type bag which is one of the best containers for bean storage.
  6. In canning jars, if they are stored in a dark area.

How Long Do Dry Beans Last if Stored Properly?

The length of time that dry beans will remain good depends on the conditions under which they are stored. For example:

  • Dry beans stored in food-grade polyethylene bags have a shelf life of one year.
  • Dry beans stored in mylar bags have a shelf life of up to 10 years or more.
  • Dry beans stored under the best possible condition will remain good for 30 or more years.

Final Thoughts

Baked beans are made by cooking one of many types of beans like red beans, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, great northerns, or even pinto beans until they are tender and then adding such ingredients as bacon or salt pork, ground sausage, molasses, honey or brown sugar, ketchup, ground mustard, and onions, and even such spices as cumin, cayenne pepper, and paprika, and baking them until the beans are thick, sweet, and delicious!

Everyone has their own favorite baked bean recipe, whether it is a “from scratch” recipe or whether it is the quicker version made from canned beans. So, at some point when you don’t have the time needed to cook your baked beans the length of time need to make them thick and delicious, just try one of the suggestions in this article to make sure you don’t have to serve your family or guests watery baked beans.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page.

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