This side dish staple of backyard barbecues is usually made with corn syrup and pork, but our recipe brings all the flavors reminiscent of southern traditions with none of the allergy concerns.
There's plenty of anecdotal evidence to support multiple origin theories for baked beans, all of which agree that they began somewhere in the U.S. of A. (Sorry Britain, this is one of those American dishes you adapted). Several theories purport the dish to be converted from Indigenous American cuisine in which the bear grease used was substituted with bacon fat or lard and the maple syrup was replaced with molasses or brown sugar. There’s also a theory that suggests it’s an adaptation of the French dish cassoulet which involves beans cooked with duck and mutton. Since the white beans used for traditional baked beans are native to South America we’re willing to believe this is a dish made by combining several cuisines into one - a practice we do often here in the States.
In any case, our version of barbecue baked beans leans more toward southern tradition, something reminiscent of Cowboy Beans as native Texans might recognize - that is, sweet and savory with some heat and tang, almost like chili.
As you may not know, baked beans aren’t always baked - they can be stewed on the stove, baked in the oven or slow cooked (our personal favorite way to cook ‘em). We call them ‘maple’ for the syrup that sweetens them, ‘bbq’ because they can be served at barbecues (and because of the sauce we add to them), and delicious because we just can’t get enough.
You can eat these beans New England-style with dark bread like our Hearty Garlic Thyme Bread, spread on toast as they do across the pond, or, our own favorite way, as a side dish at a backyard barbecue style meal with Creamy Herbed Potato Salad (coming soon!) and Smack Yo Lips Collard Greens.
Recipe Tips & Variations:
We use canned beans and tomatoes to cut down on prep and cook time but you can go for dried beans and fresh tomatoes if you want.
Dried beans should be soaked overnight, or for at least 8 hours, after rinsing and sorting to remove any stones. You should also add at least one extra hour to cooking to make sure the beans cook all the way through. Cooking them altogether with other ingredients in a slow cooker should be fine but if you're cooking them on the stove top be aware that unless you cook them for at least 45 minutes before adding the acidic ingredients (tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce, vinegar), they're going to remain hard.
As for using fresh tomatoes, you're probably going to need about 5 lbs or so. You will want to parboil them (slice an x on the bottom of each tomato, dip in boiling water for about 1 minute, and then rinse in cold water and peel off the skins) before adding them to the dish. You can also oven-roast them before adding to the beans but that'll add on extra cooking time.
Our favorite barbecue sauce for this recipe is Stubbs' Sweet Heat, because it's free of high fructose corn syrup, and certified gluten-free and kosher - and because it tastes fantastic. However, you can definitely use any brand of barbecue sauce that you prefer.
If you're not a fan of a little heat in your beans you can substitute yellow mustard for the Dijon, and omit the crushed red pepper. You should also make sure that you use a barbecue sauce that isn't spicy - go with original over bourbon or sweet heat.
Smoked salt contributes to the almost smoked-meat flavor and we don't suggest replacing it with regular salt. We've used both alder smoked salt and applewood smoked salt and we think the applewood works best here.
When using Worcestershire sauce you have to be very careful to find a sauce labelled vegetarian (otherwise the ingredients sometimes contain anchovies) as well as gluten-free (sometimes it's processed using wheat). Your best bet is going to be online because it's virtually impossible to find an allergy-friendly bottle on a grocery store shelf. This recipe might survive without Worcestershire but since we like adding this sauce into other recipes we suggest ordering it online - that way you've got it handy.
If you're short on time we suggest prepping all your ingredients the night before and adding them altogether to your slow cooker before work in the morning. It should be ready by the time you're back in the evening. If you're up for it you can try the stove top/oven cooking method, although that obviously requires more active participation as the beans cook. Stove top and oven cooking gets this dish finished at about 4 hours; slow cooking gets this dish finished in about 10 hours.
If you do decide to cook on the stove and in the oven we suggest using a Dutch oven, or a cast iron or ceramic deep dish pot. This is not only for the depth of flavor and the pot's oven-safe characteristics but also because the beans won't burn when cooked in a pot like this (as long as they're stirred every so often) and they should cook more thoroughly than they would in other types of cookware.
Recipe: Southern-Style Maple BBQ Baked Beans - Allergy-Friendly, Gluten-Free, Soy Free, Vegan
Cuisine: American South
Course: Side Dish
Skill Level: Intermediate
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 hours (in a slow cooker) or 4 hours (on the stove and in the oven)
Total Time: 10 hours and 30 minutes (slow cooker) or 4 hours and 30 minutes (stove/oven)
Serves: 8 (1 cup servings)
15oz can small white beans (or 1 ½ cups soaked dry white beans)
15oz can navy beans (or 1 ½ cups soaked dry navy beans)
15oz can fire roasted tomatoes (other can of tomatoes not fire roasted okay too)
2 Tbsp coconut or avocado oil
1 large red onion (about 2 cups chopped)
3 large carrots (about 1 ¼ cup chopped)
6 cloves garlic (about 1-1 ½ Tbsp diced)
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked salt (alder is good, applewood is better)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
1 large bay leaf
½ tsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
½ cup BBQ sauce
½ cup dark maple syrup
½ cup water
If using dry beans, rinse and sort to make sure there aren’t any stones. Soak in cold water, covered, overnight or about 8 hours. Drain and rinse soaked or canned beans thoroughly before using in recipe.
If using stove and oven:
Peel, rinse and chop onion into large chunks.
Heat oil over medium heat until melted in large oven safe pot, then add onions and saute until starting to caramelize, about 15 minutes. This is the base of the seasoning and one of the most important components - too many onions is not a thing.
While onions are caramelizing, peel, rinse and chop carrots into ½ inch chunks.
Peel, rinse and dice garlic.
Combine all dry seasonings into small bowl (smoked salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, bay leaf) and mix until thoroughly combined.
Combine all wet ingredients in liquid measuring cup (Worcestershire sauce, Dijon, vinegar, BBQ sauce, maple syrup, water).
Once onions have been cooking for approximately 15 minutes and are more than halfway caramelized, add chopped carrots for about 5 minutes.
Then add diced garlic for about 2 minutes.
Add dry seasonings, making sure to coat onion mixture thoroughly, and toast for about 1 minute.
Add drained and rinsed beans and mix thoroughly to coat with dry seasoning.
Add canned tomatoes and mix to incorporate thoroughly.
Add wet ingredients (Worcestershire sauce, Dijon, vinegar, BBQ sauce, maple syrup, water) and mix thoroughly.
Let pot cook on medium-high until boiling for approximately 10 minutes, then stir to make sure nothing sticks too badly to bottom and cover and reduce heat to simmer for about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325F (300F if your oven runs hot).
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (to avoid any spillage from the beans getting on your oven bottom) and place oven safe pot filled with partially cooked beans in center. Place in oven and cook for about 2-3 hours, checking every hour to stir and make sure beans aren’t overcooking. The beans should be bubbling but not so much that they’re completely boiling over the sides of the pot or sticking too much to the sides and bottom of the pot. When beans are cooked to your satisfaction, remove from oven and let sit for 20 minutes before serving (So no burnt tongues).
Leftover beans can be refrigerated for about a week and frozen for several months.
If using slow cooker:
Turn slow cooker on high heat while preparing all ingredients. Add oil to melt.
Peel, rinse and roughly chop onion and immediately add to slow cooker.
Peel, rinse and dice garlic and add to slow cooker.
Peel, rinse and chop carrots into ½ inch pieces and add to slow cooker.
Add all dry seasonings (smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, smoked salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, bay leaf) and mix to coat all vegetables.
Add drained and rinsed beans and coat with seasoning.
Add canned tomatoes and mix in thoroughly.
Add all wet ingredients (Dijon, Worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce, vinegar, maple sugar, water) and mix to incorporate fully.
Cover slow cooker and cook on high heat for 10 hours, until beans have softened almost completely and sauce has thickened considerably. Make sure to turn off slow cooker and allow beans to cool at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving (so no burnt tongues).
Leftover beans can be refrigerated for about a week and frozen for several months.
Tried our recipe? Let us know how it went in the comments below!