Healthy Holiday Recipes Savory

Root Beer Baked Beans

Here’s a thought that might have just popped into you mind re: baked beans – You know they come in a can right?


My most embarrassing dinner that I enjoy on the regular and that I also swore I’d never ever tell a soul about is (here I go breaking my rule) a can of baked beans and… nothing more.  The worst part is that I don’t even care if the beans are hot.  Like… I maybe sometimes eat them straight out of the can like an old timey western dude sitting around a campfire, spitting at mosquitos and eatin’ beans.  

That can’t be right, but I’m going to let it stand. 

Can I preach the gospel of making beans from scratch?  It’s a meditation on softening and absorbing.  From hard dried beans to totally tender and flavorful. And if we’ re going to do all the work of softening our beans, why not surround them in just about every sweet and savory flavor our condiment drawer has to offer?  Plus root beer. 

Follow me.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your bean dreams come true.  And no, can opener is not on the list. 

•  I started these beans from dried which makes them a little more labor intensive (there’s soaking and a long slow cook).  

•  4 thick slices of bacon cooked to crisp, fat rendered and left in the pan. 

•  onions and green bell pepper and garlic too.  

•  and for our baked bean sauce, a mixture of sweet and savory ingredients including but not limited to:  ketchup, barbecue sauce, maple syrup, molasses, worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard, brown sugar, chili powder and ROOT BEER.   

First we’ll cook the onion, bell pepper, and garlic down in the bacon fat rendered from crisping up those lovely slices.

Cooked until the onions are just translucent and the peppers look like they’ve touched some heat and the garlic is fragrant and amiable – about five good minutes.  

While the vegetables cook, we’ll chop the bacon and try not to snack on all of it before it hits the beans.

The onions, bell pepper, garlic and bacon will all hang out together to the side while we hit up the next step in bean-work:  the sauce. 

The sauce starts with: ketchup, barbecue sauce, and maple syrup.

Now brace yourself while you add the rest of the condiment shelf to this mixture starting with dijon mustard. 

Say yes to worcestershire, brown sugar, molasses, and why not a little chili powder too. 

And our secret ingredient (whose name is in the title of the recipe):  Root Beer!  Adding root beer is akin to adding a whole other world of spice flavor.  Think:  vanilla, nutmeg, licorice, and or course sarsaparilla root (the most distinguishing flavor of root beer and also the most fun to say).  

We’ll use one cup in our beans and the flavor will bake down and concentrate with the beans, complimenting but not overpowering. 

Let’s get ready for everything to come together!

Bacon meets onions and peppers.  

I’ve really got soooooome nerve simmering a pot of brown liquids while wearing a white skirt. 

Living on the edge.  Living with really good stain remover in my laundry closet. 

Essentially our big ol’ oven proof pots (whether they’re cast iron or not) will serve as slow cooking Dutch(type) Ovens when they’re lidded and in the oven at a low temperature for so long.  

I cook the beans both covered (to soften those suckers) and uncovered (to thicken the sauce) in a rotation that’s both intentional and experimental.  The intention over the course of several hours in the oven is to soften the beans to tender and amiable and to thicken the sauce to coat the beans.  

If anytime along the way the sauce becomes too thick and the beans still have a little bite, add a bit of chicken stock or water to loosen the mixture to continue cooking.  

It’s bean-work.

Tender and so loaded with flavor.  It’s like we could back this mixture into cans, gather round the fire, and spit at the mosquitos like the old timers do.  This is the kind of pot you bring to a summer barbecue potluck and you sit back and wait and see who approaches the beans with appreciation.  Those are your people. Take note. 

Photos with my friend: Jon Melendez

Root Beer Baked Beans


  • 2 cups dried navy beans
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water (plus more if the sauce feels dry)
  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, cooked to crisp and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 green bell pepper (cored and diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup good-quality root beer
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup bbq sauce
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper


  1. Place navy beans in a large pot or bowl and cover with water. Enough water that covers about 3-inches over the beans. Allow to soak overnight then drain. Alternately, if you don't have time, place beans in a large pot and cover the beans with several inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water boils, remove from heat and allow the beans to soak for 1 hour then drain.
  2. Heat a large, oven-safe pot over medium heat. Add soaked and drained beans and 6 cups of broth or water. Bring to a simmer and simmer uncovered for 1 hour.
  3. In a separate saucepan, over medium heat cook bacon slices until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp.
  4. Remove from the pan (leaving the fat in the pan), and place on a plate and set aside.
  5. Add the onions, bell pepper, and garlic to the pot with the bacon fat. Cook until softened and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  6. While the beans simmer and the bacon and onions cook, stir together the bean sauce. In a medium bowl whisk together root beer, ketchup, bbq sauce, brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, dijon, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and chili powder. Set aside.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  8. In the large saucepan combine simmered beans and their liquid, cooked onion mixture, the chopped bacon, and sauce.
  9. Cover the pot with an oven-safe lid and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir. Reduce heat to 300 degrees F, uncover and return to the oven and cook for 1 hour. Replace the lid reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees F and cook for an additional 2 hours or until the beans are cooked through. Add more salt or pepper to taste. Add more chicken stock or water to thin the mixture if it reduces too much. Enjoy warm and summer long!