Cozy BBQ Buddy: Smoky Bourbon “Baked” Beans, and Busting Out Those Vinyl Tablecloths

BBQ Baked Beans

When I think back upon the year, I can hardly believe that the pages of time — the days of the previous seasons — have turned so very quickly, and that we are now about to embark on that warm, breezy and bright time of year again. Sure, the “official” date that marks the beginning of the summer season is still a few days away, but I’ve already felt the vibrant and active energy of summer’s enthusiasm for quite some time. For weeks now, students have been anticipating the finish of another school year, counting down the days until they taste “freedom” once again. Some are finishing their high school or college career and are about to embark on a brand new chapter in life after graduation; and others, like my son, who still have a couple more years ahead of them, look forward to a break from the regimentation of classes and course work, of early rising and of necessary self-discipline, for at least a couple of months. A sigh of relief is expelled for so many as the beginning of summer marks the end of a period of time of rather grueling work, keeping schedules and being “holed up” during the previous cooler months; and for the rest of us whose life will continue pretty much in the same vein that it has been, we can’t help but feel ourselves become pulled into the joviality and lightness of summertime’s contagious buzz. Graduation parties, family get-togethers, BBQ’s and neighborhood block gatherings are the fun and freeing festivities that the summertime gives us permission to enjoy; and if good food, good company and a free spirit is a generous part of the equation, then enjoying this time of year is something that we most certainly will do with gusto.

BBQ Baked Beans

BBQ Baked Beans

BBQ Baked Beans

In the summertime, food tastes better, somehow, when enjoyed in the backyard sitting on a big umbrella-protected patio, or on a sunny and warm wooden deck where fold-up chairs are scattered around a big table covered with a checkered vinyl tablecloth that holds delicious morsels. It tastes better in flip-flops as opposed to laced-up shoes; in T-shirts as opposed to office button-ups; and perhaps on paper plates with plastic cutlery as opposed to porcelain plates with metal forks and knives. Summertime provides a sense of “casualness” that other seasons just don’t. We relish the time we spend leisurely standing around a smoking grill, sharing and chatting about the latest happenings or changes in our lives, as we revel in catching up a bit with folks we haven’t seen a quite a while. We become mesmerized by the meats that sizzle and sputter as the grill smokes and hisses, and we gleefully spoon onto our plates healthy portions of warm-weather favorites such as sweet, smoky baked beans with bourbon and apple-smoked bacon, finished with a drizzle of maple and a twist of cracked pepper, and other BBQ-friendly sides that perfectly accompany the familiar flavor of the summer and that particular vibe that goes with it. Summer is a time of bliss and a time filled with simple, home-cooked food; it’s a season that reminds us that we can play a little again, and take the time to enjoy one another’s company and get lost in the taste of things and the warmth of a moment.

BBQ Baked Beans

With the summer season ahead of us, chock-full of opportunities for merry connectivity and breezy casualness, I sense my appetite for the smoky-sweetness of it all open like a flower and increase. May the time we spend together chatting and laughing over good food set on long, fold-up tables in the backyard dressed with vinyl tablecloths and punctuated with paper cups be meaningful and memorable enough to keep us going through the rest of our year; and may we lose ourselves in the sunny breeze and in the smoky atmosphere, and enjoy each delicious bite that the summertime provides us with, in each warm, sweet gathering we that attend.

Taste what’s good and pass it on.


BBQ Baked Beans

Sweet ‘n Smokey Bourbon “Baked” Beans with Thick-cut Apple Smoked Bacon, Maple & Cracked Black Pepper
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(Serves about 8)


1 lb dry great northern beans (or small white beans or navy beans) soaked overnight in water and drained of excess
5 cups chicken stock (*see note below)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
• Salt
• Cracked black pepper
¾ cup ketchup
¾ cup BBQ sauce
1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
• Pinch or two ground cumin
• Pinch or two smoked paprika
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
• Olive oil
12 oz apple smoked bacon, crisped and chopped
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons bourbon

(*Start with the 5 cups of chicken stock; as the beans cook, you may need to add additional water in small increments if the beans are still a bit hard but are absorbing the liquid.)


-Add the soaked beans to a large pot; next, add in the chicken stock, the diced onion, the garlic, a few generous pinches of salt and of cracked black pepper, the ketchup, BBQ sauce, tomato paste, ground cumin and paprika, plus the brown sugar, molasses and a generous drizzle of olive oil, and stir the ingredients together; place the pot over high heat, uncovered, and once the contents begin to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low or low, partially cover with a lid, and simmer the beans for about 4 hours, stirring occasionally (you may need to add the additional water during the latter part of the cooking process once the beans begin to absorb the liquid), or until the beans are tender and the sauce is rich and thick.

-Once the beans are tender, turn off the heat; add in the crisped and chopped bacon, the maple syrup and the bourbon, and stir to incorporate; finally, check your seasoning to make sure that there is enough salty/sweet flavor, and adjust if necessary; serve the beans warm alongside your favorite grilled meats, hot dogs or other favorite BBQ items.

{ 37 comments… add one }

  • LaNeshe September 27, 2013, 1:51 pm

    Think this could work in the crockpot?

  • Michael March 26, 2014, 3:40 pm

    Absolutely the best baked beans ever….thanks for sharing your personal recipe. Way better than the BBQ restaurants in the area!

    I only required about 3 of chicken stock cause I left the lid on, but added more Whiskey!….I wasn’t able to watch the beans…but it turned out amazing. Thanks so much again, they were the hit of the party.

    • The Cozy Apron March 26, 2014, 6:50 pm

      Thanks so much for your comments, Michael! I’m so glad that this recipe was a hit for you, and that you adjusted levels according to your needs (the more whiskey the better, right?) I appreciate you stopping by to share with me!

  • Todd April 27, 2014, 6:03 am

    The flavor was tasty but I had some issues when I made this the other day. Despite soaking the beans overnight, simmering for four hours and then cooking another 2 hours or so the next day as they sat in a crockpot, the beans were still quite under-cooked.

    • The Cozy Apron April 27, 2014, 2:07 pm

      Hi Todd, I’m sorry to read that the beans were still undercooked, even after all the time you described. The only thing I can think to offer is a longer cooking time, unfortunately—sometimes the dry beans just take a long time. If you REALLY want to cut down on time, however, you can certainly always use canned beans (probably about 4 cans), and use about 2 cups or so of stock, but keep all the rest of the ingredients as they are. Done in a flash—maybe just let ’em simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until onion is nice and tender, and the beans/sauce are thickened.

    • Jennifer July 13, 2014, 9:22 pm

      I had the same problem. Flavor delish but beans were not soft, they were firm after 7 hours of cooking.

  • Michelle April 29, 2014, 10:50 am

    I made these yesterday, and they were soooo good! Even my picky fiancé and 2 & 3yr old kids loved them! Definitely will be making these more often now. Thanks so much for your recipe. (Btw, I left out the bourbon, but was still delicious)

    • The Cozy Apron April 29, 2014, 11:57 am

      Hi Michelle! So happy these turned out for you, and that even the kiddos enjoyed them! :-) Thank you for taking a moment to share with me your experience with this recipe, and I’m glad you’ll be making these again.

      • Judy December 11, 2014, 7:19 pm

        I haven’t made these beans yet, and it is really a coincidence that I find a recipe tonight that calls for bourbon because I just bought some bourbon today for the first time in my life, and I just turned 67! I’ve been on Pinterest and have found several baked goods and desserts calling for bourbon, so you can imagine how happy I was to see this recipe! However, I’m not really commenting because I bought some bourbon!

  • C-L May 26, 2014, 3:16 pm

    I currently have a batch cooking right now in the slow cooker. I used canned beans (drained) and doubled the sauce because it is so out of this world. I failed to mention this is currently the second batch I am making in 72 hours. Yeah, that is how amazeballs this recipe is! You hit it out of the park, really fantastic. Thanks!

    • Mara May 26, 2014, 7:59 pm

      How many cans did you use? I’m planning on making this recipe tomorrow and bought 4 cans

    • The Cozy Apron May 27, 2014, 5:43 am

      Hi C-L, so happy to read your comments! I really appreciate you taking some time to share your thoughts on the recipe with me, and I’m thrilled that it was a part of your holiday meal! :-)

  • Joe May 29, 2014, 4:55 am

    I’ve been looking for a good recipe to make smoked baked beans. I’m starting a barbecue place soon and the same old beans keep showing up when I check out other barbecue joints. This may be the one I use and if so, I’ll give you all the credit. Thanks for posting this!

    • The Cozy Apron May 29, 2014, 4:36 pm

      Hi Joe, how fun! Hope you enjoy the recipe, and best wishes on opening up your own BBQ place! :-)

  • Kelly June 10, 2014, 4:24 am

    I would like to make these in a slow cooker. I have read the above comments using ‘4 cans’ – what size cans? Also, how long do you recommend cooking in a slow cooker and at what temp? I am planning on making these for Father’s Day this next weekend. It looks like a super recipe, and I like the idea of skipping the soaking/longer cooking steps involved with raw beans….Thanks!

    • The Cozy Apron June 10, 2014, 6:44 pm

      Hi Kelly, how exciting that you’d like to make these for Father’s Day next weekend! The size of the cans are approximately 15 ounces (sometimes they’re 14.5 or so); and as far as how long/temp, since the canned beans are already soft and cooked, you really just need to simmer to mary the flavors, and thicken. I’d say a lower setting since you don’t want to over-cook the beans and make them mushy, and just long enough to thicken. (I haven’t used a slow-cooker for this, so unfortunately, I don’t have exact settings/time.) I know on the stove-top it wouldn’t take much longer than about 40 minutes or so. Hope you enjoy!!

  • Lydia July 3, 2014, 8:35 am

    Any recommendations on a brand of canned beans to use for the quicker method of cooking?

    • The Cozy Apron July 3, 2014, 5:36 pm

      Hi Lydia, I really don’t have a preferred brand—just whatever looks best. If you don’t mind spending a little more, you could go with the organic variety; otherwise, just make sure they’re the small, white beans (navy beans).

  • Amy July 3, 2014, 3:04 pm

    I am making these beans right now! So far they are delicious! (I keep sneaking tastes!) I added a couple of tablespoons of dijon mustard and love that tangy addition. I haven’t added the bourbon or syrup yet, but I’m sure they will taste even better! BTW… I started this recipe with veggie stock instead of chicken stock, because one of my girls is a vegetarian. Then I just took out several ladle-fulls for her before adding the bacon. We are also stirring in grilled pork sausage links to make it into a meal “Beanie Weenies” at the request of my 2nd daughter. Just wanted to share other options!

    • The Cozy Apron July 3, 2014, 5:38 pm

      Amy, I love it—”beanie weenies”! I’m already excited for you, haha! You did great with using the veggie stock—smart. And adding in some grilled pork sausage? Wow! Now you’ll all be celebrating, for sure! Thanks for your comments, and happy eating!

  • Lynda July 22, 2014, 6:30 am

    There were several people who commented that the beans would simply not soften. I’ve had that problem before, and I found out that when that happens, the problem often is that the beans had gone stale (meaning they had been in the bin at the store too long). I’ve learned now, to buy the beans in packages that have the date on them. To be fresh enough to absorb the liquid in cooking, beans should not be older than one year. At least that’s my understanding about the issue, and since I’ve been more careful about the age of the beans, I haven’t had that problem of the beans not softening with cooking. Just thought your readers might like to try this as a remedy.

    • The Cozy Apron July 22, 2014, 11:40 am

      Hi Lynda, I really appreciated your comment! I hope this info helps folks out—if the beans are pre-soaked, then it really shouldn’t be taking over 7 hours for them to soften (or not even soften, in some cases) so I think you may be on to something with “old” beans. Thanks!

  • Sheralee March 15, 2015, 10:52 am

    These were fabulous. Made them to serve with a smoked brisket and decided to do them a day ahead (but only made 1/2 recipe). Thank goodness I had another day to make more! A couple of notes: if you’re concerned about undercooked beans, the simplest solution is to make the recipe in the pressure cooker. After 3 or so hours of soaking the beans, 30 minutes or so in the pressure cooker and they’re done. Can’t beat that with a stick. Additionally, I found them sweet enough that I omitted the maple syrup at the end, but will likely add the bourbon to the second batch. I also used smoked paprika, ground and roasted cumin, and a dash of liquid smoke. Thanks so much for a great base!

    • The Cozy Apron March 18, 2015, 5:51 pm

      Hi Sheralee, so glad you enjoyed! And the pressure cooker tip is wonderful; definitely will cut the cooking time by lots. Thank you for your comments!

  • Taina April 12, 2015, 9:31 am

    These are on my stove right now. HOLY AWESOMENESS. I love this recipe! I did not use dry beans but 3 cans of organic pinto beans. It made the cooking time less and it worked perfectly! I’m about to add the syrup and bacon…I don’t have any bourbon tho but I don’t think it’ll be missed. Good job! :)

    • The Cozy Apron April 12, 2015, 1:28 pm

      Taina, I’m thrilled to read that! So glad you’re enjoying this recipe, and the canned beans most definitely make a great shortcut. Hope you continue to enjoy! :-)

  • Katherine Johnson July 26, 2015, 8:29 am

    The flavor on these beans is incredible, and they fill your house with the most amazing smell. Unfortunately, I had similar results with the dried beans as some others. I soaked them for approximately 14 hours, and then cooked them for a whopping 9 hours. I watched them carefully, and added additional liquid as needed. I couldn’t believe they weren’t cooked through! Could the pan be the culprit? I used a Le Creuset coated cast iron pot. I’m going to make them again today with canned beans. That flavor is too good to pass on!

    • The Cozy Apron July 26, 2015, 12:08 pm

      Hi Katherine, it can be tough (no pun intended) with the dry beans. I sometimes wonder if they’re already old when we buy them? Not sure. However, I’m glad you’ll just sub in the canned beans next time. So glad you enjoyed the flavor, and I appreciate your comments!

  • Amanda August 3, 2015, 7:27 am

    Good morning friends! I am starting a batch with this recipe early today and read your comments about undercooked beans. Altitude has loads to do with bean cooking too. If you’ve never lived in a high altitude, you probably wouldn’t have known that stove cooking beans is a chore all in itself. We have to change cooking times and temps for just about everything. My mother never could make a pot of beans (pinto) up here without a pressure cooker- I managed once but it did take simmering almost 18 hours! So, easy fix is either a “Power Cooker”, ™ or a pressure cooker. But do for sure watch for the outdated beans- they’ll throw a rock in your pot- literally! :)

    • The Cozy Apron August 4, 2015, 3:18 pm

      Hi Amanda, I appreciated your comments so much! Thank you for sharing that with everyone. Wonderful advice & tips!! :-)

  • Ani August 24, 2015, 4:11 pm

    Hi, do we cook the beans in the chicken stock? If so, do we add all other ingredients once beans are cooked?

    • The Cozy Apron August 25, 2015, 8:17 am

      HI Ani, as per the recipe, you will cook the pre-soaked beans in the stock, along with all of the rest of the ingredients up to and including the drizzle of olive oil; once they are cooked/tender, finish by adding in the crisp bacon, maple syrup and bourbon. Hope that clarifies! :-)

  • Ina August 27, 2015, 7:05 pm

    So just to clarify..if using canned need to use any chicken stock at all? Just drain the canned beans? Then add in all the other ingredients? Or..I thought I read somewhere that at least 2 cups of chicken stock with canned, drained beans before adding in all the other ingredients..? And for how long before adding all the other ingredients? Sorry I just got really confused with the whole back and forth between canned and dry :/ I am planning to make this Saturday and probably with canned beans, so just want to make sure if a) 4 cans is still the amount that would serve 8 people b) the canned means should or shouldn’t be drained and c) if chicken stock is still needed and if so how much. Sorry you’re probably repeating yourself a lot and I’m too confused by going back up to all the comments! I’m really excited to try this though!

  • The Cozy Apron August 27, 2015, 7:27 pm

    Hi Ina, thanks for your question! If you’d like to go the “canned beans” route, then what you will do is drain (and rinse) the beans, then add them to a large pot with about 2 cups of chicken stock (start with this and watch to see if that’s enough or if you’d like to add more), along with the diced onion and the rest if the ingredients up to and including the drizzle of olive oil; bring the beans up to a good simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low or low, and allow the beans to gently simmer, partly covered, for maybe 30-40 minutes, or until everything is soft (onion, etc.) and thickened up. (Finish the beans as is directed in the recipe.) Hope you enjoy, and that this helps!

  • Dale Wurts September 22, 2015, 4:56 pm

    My wife is an old time cook and a very good cook, if I may say so. She says the beans stay hard because you put in salt. Leave the salt out until the beans are done.

    • The Cozy Apron September 26, 2015, 12:07 pm

      HI Dale! Tell your wife thanks for the advice! I’ll take a good tip from an “old time cook” any day. :-)

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