Baked beans are a sweet, salty, and smoky dish that makes me feel nostalgic for summer barbecues. When I think baked beans, I think Boston-style. Thicker and less tomatoey than the common English breakfast staple, they were adopted by British colonists from Indigenous Americans of the northeastern woodlands, who cooked beans soaked with bear fat and maple syrup in buried pots, warmed by a rotation of hot rocks.
This recipe doesn’t call for bear fat—unless you happen to have some on hand, of course, in which case feel free!—but it does rely on bacon to start the flavor-building process. (For a meatless option, omit the bacon and use 2 tablespoons of butter, and use vegetable broth instead of chicken.) I use a mix of chicken broth and lager to as a flavor-enhancing cooking liquid, but you can use all broth if you don’t want to cook with beer.
Another element integral to the flavor here is black garlic, which is regular garlic that’s been cooked for weeks at a very low temperature, transforming the cloves to earthy-sweet in flavor, black in color, and paste-like in texture. Though not a traditional ingredient in Boston-style baked beans, the sticky, caramelized black garlic’s deep umami bolsters the sweet and savory aspects of the beans. You can find it at organic grocery stores or online. (Substitute a tablespoon of tomato paste and 2 additional fresh garlic cloves if you can’t find it.)
Use whatever dried beans you may have: white, red, or black beans, kidney, pinto, or chickpeas. Just try to choose varieties close in size if you decide to mix them. My favorite was a combination of chickpeas and kidney beans.
This recipe technically uses the Instant Pot four times. Though the recipe isn’t super-speedy, it allows the beans to get completely infused with flavor, cook all the way through, and create a thick, salty-sweet sauce. (Plus: no soaking your beans or turning on the oven.)
If you don’t finish the whole batch, store the beans in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week, or in the freezer for 4 to 6 months. To reheat, thaw first in the fridge overnight if frozen, then add a little beer or broth to a saucepan with your beans and cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until hot and steamy, or place in a foil-covered baking dish or Dutch oven and bake at 375°F until heated through. —Jessica Romanowski
- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 2 hours 25 minutes
- Serves 8 to 12
(2 heaping cups) dried beans, such as white, red, black, kidney, or pinto beans
bacon, sliced into lardons (short pieces, cut crosswise)
medium to large onion, finely diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
garlic cloves, minced
black garlic cloves, smashed (or 1 tablespoon tomato paste plus 2 more garlic cloves, minced)
kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons
black peppercorns, coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle (or freshly ground from a pepper mill), plus more to taste
yellow, Dijon, or grainy mustard
1 1/2 cups
chicken or vegetable broth
balsamic vinegar, divided
(packed) brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey
chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
- Rinse the beans well, removing any dirt or stones. Add the rinsed beans to the Instant Pot and cover with water by 2 inches (about 2 quarts in an 8-quart Instant Pot Duo).
- Cover the Instant Pot with its lid and set to the pressure setting on high for 15 minutes. Once the pressure cooking is completed, let the pressure release naturally for 20 minutes. (It’s helpful to set a separate timer for 35 minutes in addition to the 15 minutes running on the Instant Pot.) Once the pressure has released, turn off the Instant Pot and very carefully open the valve to manually release any remaining pressure before opening. (Use a towel or oven mitt to protect you from the steam.)
- Carefully drain the beans into a colander or sieve (discarding the water) and rinse well. Set aside.
- Set the Instant Pot to the sauté setting on high. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon, leaving the rendered fat in the Instant Pot.
- Add the olive oil and onions to the Instant Pot and keep stirring, scraping up any browned bits with a spoon. Cook until the onions are slightly translucent, around 3 minutes.
- Add the fresh and black garlic, onion and garlic powders, salt, black pepper, and thyme to the Instant Pot. Stir constantly, smashing the black garlic into the pot, and cook until the fresh garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the ketchup and mustard to the Instant Pot. Stir constantly and cook until well incorporated, around 2 to 3 minutes.
- Pour the beer into the Instant Pot to deglaze the bottom of the pot and use a spoon to scrape up anything stuck to the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off the Instant Pot.
- Return the cooked beans and bacon to the Instant pot along with the broth, brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar. Stir.
- Cover the Instant Pot with its lid and set to the pressure setting on high for 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 20 minutes, as in step 1. When the 35-minute timer goes off, turn off the Instant Pot, then manually release whatever pressure remains before unlocking and removing the lid. The beans will be cooked but still a bit liquidy at this point.
- Set the Instant Pot to the sauté setting on high. Stir in the chopped cilantro and remaining balsamic. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
- To create caramelization on the bottom of the pot while reducing the sauce, cook without stirring in 3- to 5-minute increments until the desired consistency is reached. Turn off the Instant Pot and remove the inner pot from the machine to stop the residual heat from further thickening beans. Serve hot.