Vegetarian (Vegan) Crock Pot Spicy Barbecue Baked Beans for the Slow Cooker with Bourbon



All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

First of all, let me say – these could NOT POSSIBLY be easier to make.  The only thing you need is three days notice.  So – if you want beans on Saturday night – get this recipe out Thursday morning & get going.  Or – use canned beans.

OK – the recipe is going to be an approximation of what I did to create my beans.  DO NOT be intimidated by this recipe.  You will have days – perhaps literally – to get the flavors right.  This was my first attempt at baked beans & I made them at the request of my boyfriend who listed them as a key element to his traditional, Southern Thanksgiving day meal.  I made them from dry Great Northern beans but if you want an easy short cut – use canned.  Dry beans are just so crazy inexpensive & there is something very satisfying about really making something from scratch.  The only catch to the recipe I used was the time involved. Not time for YOU to be doing anything – just time for the beans to soak & cook for a few days.  I soaked the beans overnight on the Monday before Thanksgiving & cooked them in my slow cooker from Tuesday – Thursday – without ever turning them off.  I varied the temperature from high to low too warm (for overnight) but they were never allowed to cool for three days.  And still – after 4 days of soaking & cooking – the beans still had more snap (al dente) to them than my boyfriend was comfortable with.  He was raised on beans made from a canned beginning & therefore expected a mushier quality.  He wouldn’t eat mine.  That was a huge bummer for me as 1) I liked the texture BETTER and 2) I had cooked them for four fucking days in an effort to blow his socks off and 3) because I made four pounds of the damned things!   I will be defrosting & eating beans well into Christmas.


One thing I especially liked about this recipe was that – for three days – my house smelled like a Kansas City BBQ shack.  And I know some Kansas City BBQ!  Here I am in Kansas City in 2004 – at the song’s famous intersection – 12th St & Vine – on my way to Arthur Bryant’s.  There is nothing at this intersection – BTW.  It isn’t even an intersection.  They just put the signs up where the intersection would be if it existed.  Oh, well.


Oddly – I took no pictures at Arthur Bryant’s but it was a pretty cool spot.  Nothing on the menu for ME – but it smelled & looked amazing!

And here I am in KC again this year with Miles.  There are ridiculously few images of Miles & me together – and this self portrait will have to suffice.


We were there for the Kansas City Filmmakers’ Jubilee.  I was a panelist & juror there in April this year – and Miles’ film Pillow was programmed there.  At any rate – we did a truncated BBQ joynt tour & stopped at Oklahoma Joe’s (which is attached to a gas station)


That’s Miles in the white shirt by the orange post.  We also stopped into Jack Stack Barbecue – which was huge & very dark.  There was this evil pig statue by the fireplace & he is about all I photographed there.


I did little more than stick my pinky into the bbq sauce at each spot but I watched, jealous & salivating, as others indulged.  Kansas City is a pretty cool place.  Go if you can.  Lots to see & lots to eat – if you are a carnivore.  Look at this spot:


Anyway – while I slow cooked the bejesus outta those beans – my house smelled like Arthur Bryant’s for three days & I loved it!  The recipe is basically beans, a homemade barbecue sauce, water & then lots & lots of patience.  As I said – I made a BOAT LOAD of these beans & tweaked the sugar & spice in it as it cooked.  I regret to say that I did not track my measurements of each item well but I repeat, you will have hours (using canned beans) if not days (using dry beans) to get the flavors right.  It is really like a basic tomato pasta sauce in that everyone likes it a bit differently but no recipe is wrong.  So – try these beans & flavor them up as you will & enjoy!!!!

As to the soaking of the dry beans- soak AT LEAST overnight – a day or more is even better. This helps them cook more evenly & – it seems – helps break down something called phytic acid which (it also seems) is the culprit behind “Beans, beans – good for your heart. The more you eat the more you fart.”  Read more HERE.   I only soaked mine overnight but I cooked them for so long – I think I achieved a maximized fart-free recipe! Of course – I never fart. No women do. Just that nasty dog – and the boys in the house. Right, ladies? 🙂

Also – one of the more satisfying elements in the process of making these beans was watching as the white beans took on that traditional chocolate color over days of cooking.  Canned white beans might not stew in the sauce long enough to truly absorb all that rich pigment.  Just an FYI.



Vegetarian Crock Pot Spicy Barbecue Baked Beans for the Slow Cooker


1 LB dry Great Northern Beans (or canned equivalent – likely about 2 lbs or more)

1 TBS butter (or olive oil if you are vegan)

1 large sweet onion – diced (reserve the butt ends of the onion – unpeeled)

3 cloves garlic – minced

1 6 oz can tomato paste

1/2 cup good quality maple syrup

2 TBS Worcestershire sauce (use vegetarian if anchovies are off your diet)

1 TBS Dijon mustard

2 TBS ground mustard

1/4 cup molasses

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 TBS Kosher salt

10 whole cloves

Hot sauce (like Tabasco) to taste (I used a LOT & my beans are SPICY!)

1 cup Bourbon (optional) OR Jack Daniels Whiskey with Tennessee Honey (optional – I did NOT use any)

Honey (optional)

Ketchup (optional)

Barbecue Sauce (optional – but not recommended – as I want you to create a BBQ sauce truly from scratch)

S&P to taste


If using dry beans – cover them in water two or three inches over the beans.  Soak overnight – at least.  A day or more – if you can.

Pick out any stones or other debris & rinse the beans well when you are ready to start cooking them.  Set aside.

Take the butt end of your onion & spice 5 whole cloves into each one – from the outside (thru the onion paper).  Set aside.

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Melt the butter in a sauce pan & saute the onions until they become caramely and soft.  Add garlic for thirty seconds & remove from heat scrape into your slow cooker.

In a large bowl – whisk together every other ingredient except the bourbon or whiskey (if using) & the beans.  Taste this barbecue sauce.   Play with the flavor by adding a little more of this or that.  Try to avoid the cheat of using pre-made BBQ sauce – but if you love a smokier flavor (for example) and you have a smokey BBQ sauce on hand – feel free to dump some in there.  Once you think this flavor is about right – put the beans in the slow cooker over the onions.  Stir in your sauce & the bourbon/whiskey (if using) & blend it all well.  Add enough water so that the beans have about 1/2 inch cover or more.  Drop the two cloved onion butts on top. Cover & cook.  And cook & cook & cook.  I cooked on high 12 hours & then left it on warm overnight & repeated this the next day.  If I left the house during the day – I lowered it to low & put it back on high when I returned.  Stir these beans often.  They should thicken very nicely over time.  The longer they cook – the better they will be.  If they get too thick – just add a little water & mix it in.  The flavor can continually be adjusted as these beans cook – so – if you want them sweeter – add more brown sugar.  Or add more spice.  Whatever you want.  When you are ready to serve them – toss the two onion ends.

I found that the al dente point on the beans was reached after 36 hours of cooking & that they did not soften measurably with an additional 36 hours of stewing in the sauce.

If you are using canned beans – this can all be done stove top in a heavy bottomed stock pot & the beans could be done in a few hours.  I haven’t tried this shortcut yet – but I imagine the beans will retain their paler color unless you give them a day or two in the sauce.

Also know – these can be made way in advance & reheated or frozen for another time.  Feel free to double, triple or quadruple the recipe & freeze a whole bunch.  I know I did!

Serve as a side or with hotdogs or over cornbread – whatever!  ENJOY!