Easy BBQ Baked Beans that are comforting, slightly sweet, mildly smoky, rich, meaty, and totally indulgent. Serve these beans at your next barbecue and they’re sure to be a hit!
One of the very first recipes we served to our friends at the inauguration of our first smoker was BBQ Baked Beans. At the time I didn’t really know what I was doing. I followed a few recipes and picked the items that sounded good, then threw a bunch of stuff in a pot and hoped it would turn out okay. And you know what? It wasn’t too shabby. But much like my first BBQ sauce I made a huge rookie mistake. I used liquid smoke to achieve that smoky flavor. That’s something we do not use anymore, ever.
Why we never use liquid smoke
Why? Because the flavor of most store bought liquid smokes is, frankly, terrible. Especially when adding to something like baked beans. It gives an artificial smoky flavor, rather than something that can be achieved naturally, from your smoker. I didn’t realize this until we started experimenting and comparing the differences.
What to use as an alternative to liquid smoke?
- Molasses. Or even better, cook the beans ON your smoker. Adding molasses to the dish brings a rich, sweet flavor. As it reduces, it tends to get a smoky characteristic mimicking liquid smoke.
What beans to use for BBQ Baked Beans
I like a combination of three different kinds of beans — kidney, white (great northern beans to be specific), and pinto. But black beans work well too. You can mix and match 2 or 3, or go with just one.
This recipe is also made entirely without the help of store bought canned “baked beans”. I’m a little shocked to see how many recipes are out there that use canned baked beans (that are already overly sweet and high in sodium) that they just “jazz up” by adding more sweet stuff. If that’s your thing then by all means, keep it up. But I like knowing exactly what goes into my food, and I’m not a fan of overly sugary beans.
These baked beans aren’t too sweet or salty. This recipe has a nice balance of meaty, savory, sweet, and authentic smoky flavors.
How to make the BEST BBQ Baked Beans
I start our baked beans on the stove top. If you have a range on your outdoor grill or smoker you can easily do that there. But I like to cook down the bacon, onions, and garlic to get them going, then add in the other ingredients and let them all simmer. Then, I transfer the pot of BBQ beans (or pan, or dish, or whatever you want them to cook in, just as long as it’s oven safe), to the smoker to continue cooking and developing those delicious BBQ flavors, and soaking in some of that natural smoky goodness.
Today, baked beans are still a favorite that we serve at catering events, but it’s all homemade and naturally smoky. Comforting, slightly sweet, mildly smoky, rich, meaty, and indulgent. So good!
Can I adapt these Barbecued Baked Beans?
YES! The nice thing about this recipe is it’s totally adaptable! You can add or take out whatever ingredients that don’t float your boat. Don’t want to use bacon? Fine. You can use pancetta. Or if you have any leftover brisket or pulled pork lying around (don’t judge!!), then heat up some brisket in place of the bacon. These BBQ beans are so stinkin’ good with brisket! You can also use leftover pulled pork.
You can even make them vegetarian by leaving out the meat. We always cook a vegetarian batch when we serve these beans at catering events, like this batch below.
Speaking of events, this recipe is easily doubled or tripled for a crowd. We start it on the stovetop (like mentioned above) then transfer into a large aluminum baking sheet (as seen in the photo above) to cook on the smoker.
The type of beans you use are also up to you. You can even just do one type of bean if that’s all you have. Want to make it a little darker? Add a little bit of coffee to the pot. Want them a little sweeter? Add more brown sugar or a couple tablespoons of maple syrup. Want some kick? Add a few dashes of hot sauce or red pepper flakes. You can even add in a couple tablespoons of your favorite BBQ sauce to jazz the beans up. It’s up to you.
But this is how we like ours and I’m sticking to it.
Recipe for the best BBQ Baked Beans
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced diced
- 1 large red onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup beer, amber or pale ale
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup molasses
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
- 3 15-oz cans beans, drained and rinsed (a combination of pinto, white, kidney, or black beans)
- 1 cup water, as needed (or a combination of other liquids, including coffee, see notes)
- 1 cup shredded brisket or pulled pork
- 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup, for sweetness
- 1-2 tablespoons hot sauce, for heat
- ¼ cup coffee, for richness
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, for acid/tang
Pre-heat smoker to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large cast iron skillet, sauté the bacon over medium heat about 5 minutes, just to render the fat and crisp up the bacon. Remove the bacon (set aside for later) and discard most of the fat (saving about 2 tablespoons for the next step).
Add the onions and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes, add garlic and sauté another 2 minutes or until onion and garlic is soft, but not caramelized.
Add the beer and cook down for 1 minute. Add the tomato sauce, balsamic, molasses, brown sugar, Dijon, salt, pepper, beans and the cooked bacon. Mix to combine.
If adding pulled pork or brisket, do it now and mix to combine.
Transfer pot onto the smoker, uncovered, and cook for 60 minutes until they are thick, rich, and well combined. Stirring occasionally.
If they start to look a little dried out, add some water or other liquids (like coffee), in small increments (about ½ cup at a time).
What to serve BBQ Baked Beans with:
Products use for this recipe:
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*This post was originally published in October 2016, and updated in July 2019 with new photos and tips.
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