Whatever Happened to Boston Baked Beans?

baked beans

Ask Chef Phyllis:

Many years ago, my mother and grandmother made what they called “Boston baked” beans that cooked in a large brown bean pot overnight in the oven. The beans didn’t have BBQ sauce or, for that matter, a red tomato sauce at all. I haven’t found a good recipe and would prefer to make Boston baked beans in my slow cooker instead of the oven. Any ideas for a true recipe?
—Mary Louise Cassidy from Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Boston baked bean is a story in itself, cooked long and slow so that the beans literally caramelize in their juices—and you’re right—without the use of BBQ sauce.

A slow cooker is my favorite carefree method for cooking this dish, but in years past, a heavy casserole with a tight-fitting lid or a large “bean pot” was all that was available. I have to admit that overnight cooking, which you mention in your letter, really appeals to me. As you probably know, beans done right are a thing of beauty!

Boston Baked Beans 

You’ll need a 4-quart slow cooker for this recipe. It makes about 2½–3 quarts of finished beans and serves 8. It’s also easy to double if you have a 6-quart or larger slow cooker or crock pot, and the cooking time is the same.

6–8 oz. of salt pork or ½ lb. thick-sliced bacon
2–2½ cups white beans, washed and picked over
6–7 cups water
2 teaspoons sea salt
1½ cups red or yellow onions, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons organic, unsulfured blackstrap molasses
2 tablespoons Dijon style mustard
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger or ½ teaspoon dried ginger
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)


  1. Turn the slow cooker on high.
  2. Cut the salt pork into cubes or slice each piece of bacon into 6 pieces.
  3. Add salt pork or bacon to the cooker and cook for 15 minutes while you assemble the other ingredients.
  4. Add remaining ingredients in the order given, stirring well.
  5. Set slow cooker to lowest setting and cook for 10–12 hours. The beans should be completely covered and barely simmering after one hour. They should be a dark reddish-brown when they’re done.
  6. Stir the beans. Remove bay leaves, then taste beans before correcting seasonings.
  7. Freeze in airtight quart-size containers with at least one inch of head room for up to 6 months.


To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Phyllis Quinn

Phyllis Quinn is a chef, food writer, and founder of Udderly Cultured, a class that teaches how to make homemade fresh mozzarella, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cultured products. Private lessons are available. For a reservation, call Phyllis at 970-221-5556 or email her at phyllisquinn2@gmail.com. Rediscover nearly lost cooking methods and get one-of-a-kind recipes in her books The Slow Cook Gourmet and Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation.

Products by Phyllis Quinn

Leave a Reply