How to Make the Best Boston Baked Beans

I’ve been cooking these since I was a little girl, and still remember my mom buying me my first real brown and tan bean pot. We got it at Marlowe’s department store, and paid $1.22. I know the price because it’s still scrawled in permanent marker on the bottom. Marlowe’s is no longer in business, but I still own and use that pot.

Baked beans have been eaten in North America since before the Pilgrims landed. It is believed that the Narragansett, Penobscot, and Iroquois Indians created the first baked bean recipes using maple syrup, cooking them in earthenware pots that were placed in pits and covered with hot rocks. The Pilgrims evidently learned how to make baked beans from the Native Americans, although they began substituting molasses and pork fat for the maple syrup and bear fat. This dish was perfect for the Pilgrim household. Pilgrim women were not allowed to cook on Sunday, because of their religious beliefs, and the baked beans could be cooked over Saturday night, ready to be consumed after the endless Puritan services.

During colonial days, the city of Boston became famous for baked beans, received the nickname of “Beantown.” Molasses was in great supply due to the Triangular Trade, one of the bastions of American slavery: Caribbean slaves grew sugar cane, the sugar cane was sent to Boston and made into rum, the rum was sent to West Africa to buy more slaves to send to the Caribbean to work in the sugar cane fields. Molasses not used for rum was used in cooking, and the molasses-based Boston Baked Beans tradition was on its way.

There are many different recipes for baked beans, but genuine Boston Baked Beans contain 6 ingredients, and tomato in any form whatsoever is never, ever one of them. Here’s my own favorite recipe (or, to be historically correct, receipt), an often requested classic in my family:

1 lb dry navy beans

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1 tsp dry mustard

1 medium onion, cut in thin rings or slices

optional: salt pork cubes or slices

Soak beans overnight in a medium sized kettle, using about 2 quarts of water.

Simmer for 1 hour. Drain, reserving liquid.

Pour beans into bean pot or another casserole dish with a cover. Add onion slices.

Measure 2 cups of the reserved liquid, adding water if needed. Mix with brown sugar, molasses, and mustard. Add to bean pot, combine with beans and onion. Salt pork can be added, if desired.

Cover and bake in oven at 300 degrees, 5 to 7 hours. Stir frequently, adding water or reserved liquid as needed. Do not allow the beans to become dry.

Enjoy the wonderful aroma filling your house, and for a warming traditional supper, serve with ham or hot dogs and brown bread.


12 thoughts on “How to Make the Best Boston Baked Beans

  1. Marion Depp says:

    Here’s the recipe I’ve been trying to find. It’s the way my mother always made baked beans for our family — and ,in my opinion, can’t equal other versions. This was served every Saturday night with home made rolls and
    cabbage salad. I am now 86 years old and still do a lot of cooking.

  2. Gail Benson Ryan says:

    I too have fond memories of Boston baked beans. It was a staple in our house and a feature of our every Saturday lunch along with franks and home made picalilli. I grew up outside of Boston in Brockton, Massachusetts……it has taken some effort to replace my original bean pot but that accomplished I am back to baking my own beans again for my family. I am anxious to introduce my new “southern” friends to yankee baked beans!!!!!
    so glad to see this recipe as it mirrors my mothers.
    Thank you!

  3. Thank you so much. I have searched for several years for this particular recipe. I remember it from my younger years and am excited to share it with my children. It is truly the real Boston baked bean recipe.

  4. Jay says:

    This is just what I was looking for. I’ll try it later in the year when hours of oven-time won’t add to my air conditioning bill. I don’t see why it won’t work well in a slow cooker so I’ll try that the first chance I get in July. Have you ever tried your recipe (receipt) in a crock pot?

    Thanks for posting this.


    • katknit says:

      No, I’ve rarely used my crock pot, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. Let us know, if you try it, how the beans turn out.

  5. Alan says:

    I suppose it is polite not to answer question about crock pots as your recipe is so pure that using new technology may seem unadvisable. However, I would really like to know about that crock pot question as well as microwave slow cooking and maybe even outside solar oven for summer cooking and BBQs.

    So many questions; does it amount to a hill of beans?

  6. Searching the net. Live in OZ and this is it. Thank you! Was able to buy everything except the beans today. Will get them tomorrow and cook away. Can’t wait!!!!1

  7. Warren R (Rick) Ramsey says:

    Making baked beans is almost a religion in my family… this recipe will result in near-perfect beans. You mgiht want to tweak it a little re: the dry mustard, to add a little more zip; try out the salt pork( soak iin hot water to render out the salt) as otherwise the beans might turn out too salty. Also, a 1/4 tsp. of black pepper is good to add. A crockpot can be used to good advantage, also an electric beanpot (we rec’d. one for wedding present 46 yrs. ago) which can be found on e-bay. The technique is a little different but with practice you will get it right. However, that being said, nothing produces the wonderful crust and perfectly-browned salt pork that oven baking does!

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