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Southern Butter Beans Recipe

Today, we’re shining a spotlight on a true Southern classic: creamy butter beans. These soupy, tender beans are a staple in Southern kitchens, offering a delicious and comforting side dish to any meal, or as a one-pot main dish for cold, rainy nights.

Whether you remember them from your grandmother’s table served with a slice of cornbread, or are discovering them for the first time, our butter beans recipe will surely bring a taste of home to your kitchen. 

a dutch oven of delicious butter beans

What Are Butter Beans?

Butter beans are a colloquial name for large lima beans. In Texas and the Southern United States, they are made into a loose and saucy bean soup, that is commonly referred to as butter beans.

They can be served with cornbread or a slice of crusty bread and a green vegetable like green beans, as a simple dinner. 

Ham Hocks vs. Bacon Fat: The Great Southern Debate

Among chefs and gifted home cooks, the debate continues over what salty fat is best to enhance that creamy richness in every pot of beans. The choice usually comes down to chopped bacon or ham hocks, as beans pair well with the meatiness and richness of pork.

Among southern families it seems like whatever your grandmother and mother did, you will surely do as we gravitate to what ingredients were used in our dishes as children. 

As a chef, I obsessively taste test and prefer bacon fat, but a ham bone can be substituted in this recipe if that’s how you were raised. 

Whether it’s lard or bacon fat in our pinto beans, coconut oil in our black beans, or olive oil in cannellini beans, you’ll find that the flavor and creaminess of bean soup is greatly enhanced with the richness a bit of fat provides. 

Why Do We Soak Dried Beans & Should You?

Before we whip up a batch of beans it’s important to know that some people choose to presoak their beans. Although your grandparents may have done this, it’s not necessary and certainly doesn’t mean you can’t cook beans unless they have been soaked. 

All dried beans have an optional process involving presoaking your beans in anticipation of cooking them. This is done for two reasons:

  • To cut down on the cooking time.
  • To reduce the amount of compounds that cause digestive distress, by discarding the first soaking water and replacing it with fresh water.

The Cons

Great cooks agree that flavor is lost when the quick soak method is done. Butter beans do not have as many irritating digestive compounds as pinto beans, so I would argue that with this particular bean, the presoak is unnecessary.

 The total cooking time without soaking is about 2 hours from dried beans to fully cooked beans, so it’s a lot of extra work for not much payoff (unless your family has a sensitive digestive system) or your meal plans would be improved by a shorter cooking time.

Instructions For Presoaking Butter Beans

  1. Rinse and Soak the Beans:
    • Rinse the dried butter beans under cold water to remove any dust or debris.
    • Place the beans in a large bowl and cover them with at least 3 inches of cold water.
    • Let the beans soak overnight or for at least 8 hours. Alternatively, you can use the quick soak method: bring the beans and water to a boil, let them boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let them soak for 1 hour.
  2. Drain and Rinse:
    • After soaking, drain the beans and rinse them under cold water. Reserve the beans and cook as desired.

How To Cook Butter Beans

  • You’ll want to start with a Dutch oven or large stock pot with a lid for cooking any beans 
  • Then we will add fat in the form of bacon fat (from our strips of bacon) and cook a bit of garlic for flavor 
  • Add fresh herbs like bay, thyme, or parsley
  • Add the beans and water or broth which should cover them by 1-2 inches at all times. Cook covered over medium heat, stirring occasionally for approximately 2 hours, or until the beans are soft 
  • Add water or broth as needed to keep the beans submerged by about an inch of liquid. Creamy beans have lots of broth thickened with beans as they break down and soften.

What Substitutions Can Be Made To The Butter Beans?

  • ​Vegetable broth or vegetable stock may be used in place of chicken broth
  • Vegetarian eaters can replace the bacon and bacon fat with vegan butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or coconut cream
  • A ham hock may be placed in the beans for flavor during the simmering step. This is removed after cooking.
  • Garlic powder can be substituted for fresh garlic in a pinch
  • For extra heat, red pepper flakes can be added in the beginning with the other seasonings
  • After cooking you may garnish the bowls with chopped fresh parsley for a bit of freshness
A favorite butter bean recipe in a brown bowl

Canned Butter Beans Recipe

Yes, you can make this recipe using canned butter beans, which are already cooked, for an easy butter beans recipe. 

You’ll want to use the bacon fat, garlic, and spices to flavor 2 cans of butter beans, add in the crumbled bacon and simmer 15 minutes to bring all of the flavors together.

You may add a splash of water or broth to thin the canned beans out, providing a more soupy broth. For best results, add fresh ingredients like fresh herbs, bacon fat or butter, and garlic to enhance a can of butter beans and create a flavorful creamy sauce.

How To Store Leftover Butter Beans

Leftovers can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-4 days. The humble butter bean can be paired with just about anything for a nice leftover meal. 

A slice of sourdough bread and a green salad is a nice meal for busy weeknights when you find yourself with leftover beans.

Crock Pot Butter Beans

After cooking the bacon in a large skillet, you can assemble this easy recipe in the crock pot. The beans will cook for 4-6 hours over medium.

Make sure they have enough water or broth to cover the beans fully and replace with more as needed. 

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a dutch oven of delicious butter beans
Yield: Serves 8

Southern Butter Beans Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

These creamy, tender butter beans are a staple in Southern kitchens, offering a delicious and nutritious addition to any meal. Whether you remember them from your grandmother's table or are discovering them for the first time, our butter beans recipe is sure to bring a taste of home to your kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound butter beans (dried in a bag)
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 32 oz. chicken broth
  • 32 oz. water (plus more throughout cooking if needed)
  • 1-2 teaspoons vinegar or hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
  • Additional salt and pepper if needed (see note)

Instructions

To prep the butter beans, rinse the beans in a colander removing any rocks or debri. Reserve.

In a large pot or dutch oven with a lid, over medium heat cook the 4 pieces of bacon until crisp, remove and reserve the bacon for later. Do not drain the bacon fat.

Lower the heat to low and add in the fresh garlic, cook just until fragrant.

Pour in the 32 oz. chicken broth and water, bay leaf, and dried butter beans.

Season with the black pepper and onion powder.

Chop the bacon finely and add back into the pot.

Place the lid on the pot and increase the heat to a low boil.

Cook the beans for 1 ½ to 2 hours, adding additional water as needed to keep the beans covered with water. Extra water is desirable as it makes a soupy broth for beans.

Taste the beans for softness, when they are cooked fully and creamy in texture, remove from the heat or turn the heat down to low. Season with the vinegar or hot pepper sauce, and additional salt and pepper if needed.

Notes

The bacon fat in this recipe provides the salt in the dish, but all brands of bacon enjoy different degrees of saltiness. You may need additional salt to finish the dish.

This recipe was created using American bacon which is heavily salted, while bacon from other cultures is not. Adjust the salt in this recipe to suit your tastes and if you feel your bacon is not salty, add 1 teaspoon of salt to the pot when you begin boiling the beans.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 104Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 618mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 4gSugar: 2gProtein: 7g

This nutritional information is provided as a courtesy as an estimate only. Consult with a dietician for precise estimates. This website makes no claims that the nutritional values listed are accurate.

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