An easy recipe for making the best slow cooker black beans you’ll ever taste!
I’ve been told I make the best slow cooker black beans ever, but I can’t take all the credit. When we were still dating, my husband taught me how his family made Brazilian-style black beans when he was growing up. His aunt showed me how to make black beans in the slow cooker. Before that, I thought beans had to cook them in a pressure cooker to get them soft like the canned beans we bought. (I still remember trying to chew on the crunchy beans we’d try to cook at my house when I was growing up! Ha!)
Over the past 16+ years, I’ve perfected it. (High five!) It’s not too difficult, but because I make slow cooker black beans about once a week or so, it was important for me to get it right and I had ample opportunity for practice. We eat them throughout the week either as a side on top of rice, in soup, or one of my favorite ways, mixed with quinoa and salsa for breakfast.
There are a few secrets to making awesome slow cooker black beans, and it applies to other types of beans and legumes too.
Let’s get started!
Flavoring Slow Cooker Black Beans is Important
The difference between the beans I make and other recipes is that I rely heavily on aromatics to flavor the beans as they cook. It truly does make all the difference.
The aromatics I use:
- Yellow, white, or red onion – chopped or halved, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s in there. If you don’t want chopped onion in the cooked beans, use larger pieces so they are easy to remove after cooking. I like to use onion halves while cooking, then add sautéed chopped onion to the beans before we eat them.
- Whole garlic cloves – remove after cooking; add fresh garlic when using the beans in a recipe (same as above)
- Bay leaves – these are integral!!! Don’t be tempted to bypass the bay leaves. The flavor they add is unmatched and really make these the best beans ever. Promise.
- Salt – ADDED AT THE END OF COOKING TIME!
In the comments below, you can read what other readers have added to make the recipe their own. Totally add cumin, oregano, paprika, chili powder, or other chopped veggies like celery, chilies or bell peppers. I prefer to make a large plain batch of beans and add those other spices and ingredients when I’m making a recipe with the cooked beans. I think of them and use them the same way I do canned beans. But by all means, spice it up!
One of the best things we do is add a ham bone to the pot. (Yes, there’s salt in that, but it hasn’t made too much of a difference like adding plain salt has.) It becomes the base of Brazilian feijoada (black bean and meat stew) to which we add other meats and sausages.
But, what if you add salt to beans at the beginning of the cooking time?!
I get this question often. The reason the salt is added at the end is because it can inhibit the beans from softening. Will the beans turn out okay if you didn’t wait until the end? Probably. Hopefully! Other things can also prevent the beans from softening as they cook too. (See further below for the answer to that question!)
Do Beans Have to Be Washed Before Cooking?
Yes! It’s VERY important to sort the dried beans and give them a good rinse before before cooking them.
Before you rinse the beans, sort out any small stones, broken, wrinkled, or otherwise misshaped beans.
I will place the dry beans into a large bowl or on a large plate and go through them. I find that black beans are more notorious for stones than other varieties of beans; probably because they are smaller. Dried beans aren’t usually washed before they are packaged up. I’ve bought dried beans from a local farmer’s market that were covered in dust from the field, tons of small rocks, and even bits of grass, weeds, or grain. I don’t like eating dirt…I don’t know about you!
To rinse the beans, you can do one of two things: 1) place them in a large colander (with small holes) or a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under running water, or 2) my preferred way, place the sorted beans in a large bowl of cool water. Agitate the beans with your hands to loosen any dirt, drain through a sieve or colander; repeat until the dirt is gone. The black beans will color the water, so it won’t ever “run clear.” But you should be able to see that there is no longer dirt at the bottom of the bowl.
Do You Have To Soak Beans Before Cooking? What About Boiling Beans First?
Ah, the most frequently asked question! I used to think you HAD to soak beans before cooking until I didn’t one time and they cooked in the same amount of time as when I soaked them. This got me to thinking that it probably wasn’t an issue when using a slow cooker. I’m not sure how much it cuts down on cooking time on the stovetop.
Soaking is thought to help remove anti-nutrients or the extra starches that can cause gas and bloating commonly associated with beans. Personally, I don’t believe soaking them makes them all that more digestible, nor do I believe the part of anti-nutrients. Eating beans often will help your body become accustomed to the fiber and starches in the beans and you’ll probably end up with less gas and bloating.
This advice (remember I’m not an expert per se), does not pertain to kidney beans. They should be boiled first in water, drained and rinsed, then placed in the slow cooker with fresh water. I’ve never been sick from eating beans that weren’t soaked or boiled, but some may have more sensitivities than I do.
My advice: Do what you think is best for YOU and your family. The slow cooker I use is a high end one and I know that it heats properly and cooks at a high enough temperature. I also use HIGH rather than LOW most often. Like I said, we have never been sick from a pot of beans – not even once. I’ve cooked hundreds of batches of slow cooker beans with no problem at all.
Read this article from LaTimes.com for more info.
That being said, please read the comments below and inform yourself based on the experiences of others.
Now We Put The Beans, Water, and Aromatics in the Slow Cooker
Everything goes into the slow cooker, except the salt, and is covered with water.
My slow cooker is very large (affiliate link), so I can make 2 pounds or more at a time. I use around 6 cups of water for each pound of beans. That is more than enough water. It may seem like too much water, but if too little water is added, the beans might absorb what water there is and burn. (This may or may not have happened to me a few times.)
You can always drain them later. We like to ladle a bit of the cooking liquid with the beans onto rice – it’s very flavorful. If I make black bean soup, I will also reserve some of the cooking liquid to flavor the broth.
How Long Do You Cook Slow Cooker Beans?
- For my particular slow cooker(s) I cook the beans on HIGH for 3 hours, or LOW for 6+ hours.
- This varies a little if the beans are older or if I am cooking more than one pound at a time.
- Different brands, sizes, and shapes of slow cookers may vary slightly. Use my directions as a guide and take notes the first few times until you get it just right.
When Do You Add the Salt to Slow Cooker Black Beans?
About 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time, remove the lid of the slow cooker and remove a few beans with a spoon and blow on them. If the skins peel back, the beans are done. They may still be a little firm. Taste one to be sure. If it’s still a little crunchy, the beans need more time. Another hour on HIGH, or a few hours on LOW.
How Much Salt Do You Add To Beans?
I use 1 TABLESPOON per 1 POUND of dry beans. That sounds like a lot of salt, I know! But that salt will absorb into the beans and be just the right amount. Now, if you are on a salt restricted diet, of course you can omit the salt completely or use less. We’ve found we like the 1 Tablespoon per pound and that the beans are well-seasoned and ready to eat or use in a recipe.
After stirring in the salt, replace the lid and let them continue cooking for the additional 30 minutes, or longer. If the beans cooked more quickly, I will remove the insert, add the salt and put the lid back and let the beans absorb the salt off the heat.
How To Store Slow Cooker Black Beans
The beauty of making a big batch of slow cooker beans is that you can use some now and save some for later.
After cooking the beans and seasoning them, I let them cool completely before transferring to containers or resealable freezer bags for storage.
The beans freeze very well separated into quart or gallon-sized bags. Freezing them in flat layers helps with both storage and thawing. They stack nicely and are easy to slip into a bowl of warm water when you’re ready to use them.
The slow cooker black beans will keep for about a week in an airtight container in the fridge. They will keep several months in a normal freezer, or even up to a year in a deep freeze.
How Many Cups Does One Pound of Dry Beans Equal?
One pound of dry beans yields about 5 cups of beans (minus the liquid), which is the equivalent of about 3 (15-ounce) cans of beans, give or take.
Recipes Made With Slow Cooker Black Beans
These are some of my very favorite recipes that I make over and over again using slow cooker black beans:
- Cilantro Citrus Chicken with Beans and Rice
- Vegetarian Smoky Black Bean Soup
- Homemade Chorizo and Black Bean Chili (with links to my recipe for homemade chorizo)
- Vegan Pumpkin Black Bean Lentil Chili
- Pan Seared Cumin-Lime Barramundi Rice Bowls
- Tempeh Black Bean Vegan Taco Salad
And from some of my favorite bloggers:
- Sweet Potato Enchiladas with Sweet Corn Crema from Sweet Basil
- Baked Mexican Eggs with Black Beans from Kalyn’s Kitchen
- Spiced Black Bean, Grilled Avocado and Goat Cheese Tacos from Naturally Ella
- Black Bean Patties with Avocado and Tomato Salsa from Cookin’ Canuck
- Chicken and Black Bean Burritos with Avocado Pineapple Salsa from Taste and Tell
- Quinoa Corn and Black Bean Quesadillas from Nosh and Nourish
Which Slow Cooker Should I Buy?
I have owned a few different slow cookers over the years. I started with a CrockPot given to me by a good friend. I loved that slow cooker and used it often until it stopped working. Boo! I then purchased an All-Clad 6.5 Quart Slow Cooker with a non-stick metal oven- and stovetop-safe insert. I loved that slow cooker dearly, but unfortunately the non-stick coating bubbled and peeled and I believe it became hazardous to keep using it. It also stopped working shortly thereafter or I would have replaced the insert. (Or it might have been our wonky old house and it’s crazy electrical system that did it…)
Next, not wanting to give up completely on All-Clad, I bought another All-Clad 6.5 Quart Slow Cooker, but this time with a ceramic inserts. I ADORE THIS SLOW COOKER. But it is a bit more expensive and not always practical for everyone. It’s huge, basically. As far as price goes, they have come down a lot. They used to sell for around $300 and now you can find them under $150.
Because I use my slow cooker numerous times a week, and because I sometimes photograph cookbooks and recipes for clients, I needed an extra slow cooker to keep up with all the slow cooker recipes I photograph. Ha! I added a CrockPot 7-quart slow cooker because they are affordable and work well. (Not as well as my All-Clad, but a decent second place.)
I have yet to purchase an InstantPot or pressure cooker. I have used one in the past, but I have an irrational fear of both pressure cooking and deep frying. I’m trying to overcome both. ;) This year (2018) I will buy an InstantPot and add directions for those that have asked.
Troubleshooting: My Slow Cooker Black Beans Aren’t Soft! What Did I Do Wrong?!
First thing, take a deep breath and before you leave a nasty comment, a few things: 1) it’s not the recipe. I’ve literally made this hundreds of times successfully, as have numerous readers and friends. 2) it’s probably not you! I’ll explain more below.
Here are common reasons your slow cooker beans didn’t turn out:
- The beans were old. This is a tough one because you never really know how long a bag of beans has been hanging out on that grocery store shelf or in that bulk bin. My advice is to purchase beans from somewhere that has a decent turn over of their products. Dust on a bag is a good clue it’s been there for awhile. And still, you may get a back of old beans despite your best efforts. They may never get soft even if you cook them for three days. Sorry, it’s not you or me, it’s the beans.
- Your slow cooker may not be cooking at the proper temperature or there may be something else going on. (Raise your hand if you’ve forgotten to turn it on or plug it in…just me? Ahem.) Slow cookers wear out. You may have bought a lemon. Your electrical circuit may not be functioning properly. Who knows? If it’s not bubbling under the lid when it’s on HIGH, you’ve got a problem.
- You added salt at the beginning and weren’t one of the lucky ones for whom it didn’t make a difference. Boo! I’m sorry. You can try draining off the water and starting with some fresh water and try again. Or you can cut your losses and remember to save that salt for the end next time.
- Um, it’s not any of those things above!!! Yeah, well, I’m so sorry I can’t be of more help. Sometimes recipes flop. Don’t throw your slow cooker out the window or sent me hate mail just yet. Give it another try with another bag of beans and see if that helps.
One Last Thing…
If you have made this recipe for slow cooker black beans and you enjoyed it (or maybe you didn’t!) please leave a comment below so other readers can gain from your insight. And if you feel inclined, please rate the recipe as well. Thank you!
How To: Slow Cooker Black BeansPrep timeCook timeTotal timeThe easiest way to cook black beans is in a slow cooker. It's easy and budget-friendly.Author: Lindsey JohnsonRecipe type: side dishCuisine: Brazilian, Mexican, AmericanServes: 4-5 cupsIngredients
- 1 lb. black beans, picked over to remove broken or wrinkled beans or small stones
- 6 cups water
- 1 onion, halved or diced
- 2-3 whole garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon salt (this seems like a lot, but is fine with this much water, you can use less)
- Place the beans in a big bowl, cover with water, agitate the beans a few times to remove any dirt, drain in a colander and rinse again.
- Place black beans, onion, garlic cloves, and bay leaf in a slow cooker. Add water.
- Cook on high for about 3-4 hours, testing after 3 hours. To test doneness, spoon out a few beans and blow on them. If the skins peel back, they beans are ready. Taste just to make sure. If all of the water has been absorbed, add more. Beans must stay completely covered to prevent them from burning. If cooking on low for 6-8 hours, test the beans at the 6 hour point.
- Add the salt and let cook, or sit with heat off for another 20-30 minutes, to absorb the salt. Remove the bay leaf, garlic cloves, and onion before using, if desired.
- Use immediately, or allow to cool before transferring beans and some of the cooking liquid to a zipper-lock freezer bag or airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze up to 3 months. If freezing, flatten bag in freezer--it makes for easier defrosting. Defrost in warm water.
White beans (Great Northern, Cannelini, navy, black eyed peas)
-add to the slow cooker: chopped vegetables (carrots, fennel, celery), rosemary, sage, thyme, garlic, onion.
-use in salads, soups, purees, braised (side dish)
-add to the slow cooker: a few sprigs fresh cilantro, dried oregano, a diced chile (serrano, jalapeno, etc), ground cumin, onion, garlic, bay leaf.
-use in chili and soups, salads, refried, etc.
-cook the same way for pinto or black beans
-for use in Italian soups--proceed as for the white beans3.2.2265
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