Smoky BBQ Baked Beans
Sometimes you get what you pay for. As an example, last night I stopped by one of our local discount grocery stores to buy some comestibles for dinner. There, with the ‘weekly specials’ sticker, I spied two fat, delicious looking 1.5″ thick rib eye steaks….for $5.22? For both? Are you KIDDING me? The heart healthy fish that I was going to make went right out the window, and it was all steak and baked onion rings for dinner.
At least the onion rings were good.
I have never had such tough steak in my life. Mike cooked me a beautiful, bloody rare steak (just how I like it!) and I kept trying vainly to saw through it with a steak knife, but to no avail. I know, you’re laughing, right? I mean, what did I expect in a 14 oz steak that cost $2.61? Sigh. I never learn. You know the expression, “There’s a fool born every minute”? I am that fool, and it’s coming up to my birthday (no, not really, but I’m turning thirty this year and I can’t figure out where that *tick* *tick* *tick* sound is coming from). Or maybe I meant, “A fool and her money are easily parted”, because that’s equally true. All that I know for sure is that the $5.22 that I spent on those steaks SEEMED like a bargain, but it really wasn’t worth it.
Now then, lets talk about a classic baked bean. This is not the case at all. Baked beans are actually more than the sum of their parts, and the rewards are definitely worth the meagre cost. They’re like the cultish investment seminars that promise you a return of 2x what you put in, except that they mean it. Beans don’t lie. Beans tell it like it is. Beans say, “I’m sweet and I’m smoky. Deal with it. Uhhhh, please….because I think you’re awfully swell, you know….” The total cost to make this a pot luck dish, which serves almost 20 people a goodly sized scoop, is about $10. Most of that cost comes from the price of the smoked pork hock. If you were to halve the recipe, like the first set of measurements that I’ve given here, it still serves about 8 at your next bbq…for roughly the same price. Again, that’s thanks to the pork hock which isn’t so amenable to being halved, but is so smoky, flavorful, and utterly worth it.
The downside to these beans, and there is always a downside, is the 6 hours of cooking time. However, it’s not really like that’s effort time. I mean, you stick some beans in the oven and leave them be for 4 hours. You check on them, add more liquid as need be, and wait for glorious baked beans to emerge from their infernal baking place. The worst part of the six hour wait, if truth be told, is that tense and trying time of waiting until you can eat them. After all, they’re smoky but sweet, with richer and deeper flavors than good ol’ Heinz is willing to provide. Thank you, chipotle. You’ve come through again. And what the chipotle doesn’t provide, the cumin and allspice more than make up for.
So, in honour of Labour Day, our last official holiday of the summer, I offer you one more barbecue staple: classic Smoky BBQ Baked Beans.
Smoky BBQ Baked Beans
Serves 8 as a side? I don’t know.
(making a big batch for a potluck? Use the measurements in brackets and double your fun)
- 1 lb dried navy beans (2 lb navy beans), soaked in three times as much water for 8 hours or overnight.
- 1 smoked pork hock, about 1 lb (same, use all meat) *
- 2 bay leaves (3 bay leaves)
- 14 oz can of crushed or pureed tomatoes (28 oz can crushed tomatoes)
- 2 tbsp yellow mustard (1/4 cup yellow mustard)
- 2 tbsp blackstrap molasses (1/4 cup molasses)
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (1/4 cup vinegar)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup (1/2 cup maple syrup)
- 1.5 tbsp worcestershire sauce ( 3 tbsp wooster)
- 1.5 tbsp packed brown sugar (3 tbsp brown sugar)
- 3 cloves garlic (6 cloves garlic)
- 1 large chipotle chili pepper + 1 tsp adobo sauce (2 chipotle + 2 tsp adobo sauce)
- 1 tsp cumin powder (2 tsp cumin)
- 1/2 tsp allspice (1 tsp allspice)
- 2 cup chicken stock (plus 1 – 1.5 cups more as needed) (4 cups chicken stock + 2-3 more cups as needed)
- kosher salt to taste
* If you wanted to make this vegetarian, omit the pork hock. Instead, drop 2 tbsp of butter into the bottom of your Dutch oven before the beans go in, and add 6-8 drops of liquid smoke (or 1/4 tsp if you’re making enough for a potluck) to the wet and stickies before it goes in the oven.
Preheat your oven to 325ºF with your racks near the bottom.
In a fairly large Dutch oven (particularly if you’re making the potluck amount) nestle the pork hock and pour the soaked beans around it. Add the bay leaves.
In a medium-large mixing bowl, pour the tomatoes, mustard, molasses, red wine vinegar, maple syrup and worcestershire sauce. Measure in the brown sugar, cumin and allspice.
Finely mince (or grate) the cloves of garlic and add them to the mix. Take your chipotle out of their deliciously spicy adobo sauce and chop very, very finely. Add the chipotle and dollop in your adobo sauce. Season with salt (1-2 tsp for the regular amount, and up to 1 tbsp, depending on taste, for the potluck size).
Give the sauce a good whisk to make sure that everything is combined, and pour it over the beans. Stir until the beans are evenly coated. The pork hock gets in the way a little bit, but just work around it. Believe me, it’s much easier than lifting the pork hock out and then trying to sandwich it back in and even things out.
Pour 2 cups of chicken stock overtop. It should look rather soupy at this point. Don’t you love how the pork hock is just peeping out at us like a smoked meat crocodile in his beany bayou? I certainly do. This is also why I’m glad that they no longer use the Rorschach test for employment pre-screening.
Cover the Dutch oven and tuck it in to bake for at least 4 hours before checking to see the condition of your beans. They will have absorbed quite a bit of the flavorful sauce at this point, and started to thicken up.
The beans should be very tender and soft, but not falling apart into mush. Remove the pork hock from the pot.
Add more stock to the pot until it starts to look thin and saucy but not overly soupy. Does that make sense? Tuck the beans back in the oven to continue cooking while you let the pork hock cool until it’s easy to handle. At that point, separate the meat from the skin/fat and bones. Discard the gristle and bones before tearing the meat into relatively small chunks. Reserve the big fatty skin chunk (appetizing? No. Delicious flavor inducing? Yes) that was on the exterior of your pork hock.
Mix about half of the chopped pork back in with the beans (or all of it if you were making the larger amount, or if you just happen to have a fondness for smoked pork…which is entirely understandable), and add more stock if they aren’t looking loose enough. Casually drape the skin/fat on top of the beans like a first date at a movie theater. Try to lay it fat side up if you can. Put the lid back on and tuck the beans back, yet again, in your oven for another 1 – 1.5 hours. The texture of the beans should be saucy but not soupy. You know, fairly thick but not goopy. Sloppy? Can I describe them as sloppily thick beans? Because that’s how I like them. It’s up to you, though. If you like a saucier bean, add more stock. If you like a thicker bean, let it cook for the last half hour uncovered. There are ways to give you what you want, the beans say so.
Remove the fat cap from the beans and give them a good stir before serving.
I do adore baked beans. Lately we’ve been watching rerun episodes of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. Johnny’s favorite meal, which Janet often makes when she’s feeling particularly domestic, is beans on toast. Yes, literally canned beans on toast. Sounds awful? It’s not, and every time they say “beans on toast” (which is often) I actually start to drool with craving. Sometimes I swear that I was born a Brit, and my poor parents didn’t know it. Honestly, just boil my dinner and call it a day.
Baked beans are fabulour picnic and outdoor BBQ fare. For one thing, these beans taste great warm or at room temperature. For another thing, it’s not cheap to feed a crowd! If you can make a side dish that costs $0.50 per serving? I say do it. Just another reason that my broke-ass soul is devoted to our friends, the legumes.
Slightly sweet, smoky and with a spicy chipotle kick, these are some of my favorite baked beans. I say, “some of” because I do adore simple Boston baked beans, vinegary Texas baked bean, sweet and simple Canadian baked beans…the list goes on and on. But for picnic fare? It’s smoky BBQ baked beans all the way. Chicken, steak, burgers – the beans don’t care. And neither do I, because by the time the entree is served I’m full of beans. Literally.