Battle Beans: Canned versus Cooked

Sodium is just part of the story
TH Team

Some recipes call for canned beans and others call for “cooked” beans. I’ve heard that cooked beans are healthier. Is that true? And also, if I want to cook them, how do I do it? Megan O.

As far as health goes, canned beans tend to be high in sodium, so—if you’re going canned—make sure they’re low-sodium.

That said, canned beans are better than none at all, but you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted beans you’ve cooked yourself. Seriously. Home-cooked beans completely embarrass canned ones in flavor, texture, and looks. And then there’s the liquid. The stuff that canned beans live in is starchy and gloppy. It’s pretty much good for one thing only: pouring down the drain. The liquid in your own bean pot is a different story. It’s light and flavorful, and you can use it to create a nice soup or stew.

What about the soaking thing? Fuhgeddaboudit! You don’t have to pre-soak beans. Just pick over them to make sure they’re free of rocks, place in a strainer, rinse, and transfer to a pot. Add water (+/– a chopped onion or a head of garlic with the top sliced off), and you’re good to go. Unsoaked beans take longer to cook, but we think they taste better and they’re easier to digest.

Beans are nutritious, filling, and cheap. For $2, you can get a pound of organic beans that will yield 6 cups cooked. In a covered container, they’ll keep up to a week in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer. (To freeze: submerge them in liquid and leave ½ inch of expansion room at the top.) Use them in salads, soups, stews, burritos and tacos, and even burgers and meatloaves.

A few tips: Cooking time depends on the age of the beans. If they’re very fresh, they might be done in 1 hour; if not so fresh, they may take twice that long. Since you can’t tell age by appearance, it’s best to start checking them after the first hour of cooking. When you can mash one or two easily between your thumb and index finger (rinse it in cold water first so you don’t burn yourself), they’re done. Also, beans have a tendency to boil over, particularly in the absence of oil, so make sure you use a large pot. Ours holds 10 quarts and we’ve never had a problem. However, if your pot is smaller than that, add a teaspoon of oil at the outset to decrease the risk of a boil-over.

Plain Black Beans


  • 1 pound black beans, picked over and rinsed
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped (1 cup)

    1. Place beans and water in a large soup pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat.

    2. Add salt, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 1 to 2 hours, depending on age of beans. Start checking tenderness after 1 hour of cooking. Beans are done when you can mash one easily between your thumb and index finger. (Rinse under cold water first so you don’t burn yourself.).

    Makes 12 (½-cup) servings

    6 comments Add a comment

    1. Tracey

      Why do you divide the salt if you’re just going to dump in all into the pot?

      • TH Team

        Thanks so much for pointing out the problem. There was actually a typo in the recipe. We really appreciate your acute observation!

    2. P WARREN

      I find it discouraging that almost all the canned beans I find on the shelves of supermarkets have sugar added. This is so ridiculous and unnecessary. I live alone and cook for one. I really don’t like having large quantities of left-overs. It would be nice to have several varieties of beans in the pantry for quick meals with only one or two servings left to keep.

      • TH Team

        Have you ever considered making 1/2 pound of beans (which yields about 3 cups) and freezing some of them in plastic containers? They defrost well in the microwave. That way you can have the best of both worlds.

    3. Alida

      I love your recipe. It is similar to the way I do beans too, I just use garlic instead of onion. It is worth the effort as they taste delicious.

      • TH Team

        Sorry it took us so long to respond: Sometimes we use garlic too. We take a whole head, slice off the top 1/2 inch or so, and throw it into the bean pot. Then we remove it after cooking. If we want a more intense garlic flavor, we cook minced garlic in olive oil and throw the drained cooked beans into it. Yummy!

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