How To Doctor Up A Can Of Baked Beans For Deep Barbecue Flavor

When it comes to a barbecue, what are your must-have sides? Potato salad, coleslaw, roasted corn, and baked beans are often high on the list. And, of course, save for fresh corn, these items can all be purchased prepared and packaged if you're in a rush. Canned baked beans, in particular, offer a simple option: Just open the can, empty it into a pot, and warm the beans up. But canned beans can be a bit one note. A few additions, though, can help bring your beans more in line with your meal.

Simply adding some smoky flavors can really bring pronounced umami and barbecue notes to canned baked beans. Bacon, sautéd in a pan until crisp then chopped up (or vice-versa), is a great option. Just make sure to drain off some of the fat first, reserving a bit to lend its characteristic richness to the dish. For a vegetarian option, caramelized onions and a dash of something full-bodied — think a teaspoon of espresso powder or a dark cocoa powder — will add an earthy depth to canned beans.

If you're cooking your canned baked beans alongside proper barbecue, consider adding some of your grilled meat to the beans. Pulled pork, beef brisket, and chicken thighs make a welcome addition to baked beans. Smokiness and additional sweetness and tang can also be obtained, obviously, from adding barbecue sauce: Just mix a few tablespoons of your favorite version into the dish. 

Spice is nice

Speaking of heat, you can kick things up a notch (or three) by adding diced jalapeños or even spicier peppers, chipotles in adobo, or just red pepper flakes to your canned beans. For a more complex spiciness, reach for Thai-style hot sauce Sriracha, a teaspoon or two of which will contribute a hint of smoky sweetness with some considerable heat and a garlic bite. And, if you want a depth of flavor without heat, consider adding cumin, smoked paprika, and chili powder. These spices will emphasize the smokiness and contribute earthy flavor to the canned beans.

When doctoring up canned baked beans with barbecue flavor, the most important thing to keep in mind is what you like in barbecue. Sweet, smoky, spicy, and earthy flavors can be added in a number of ways. Let your tastes be your guide. If you have trouble finding an option that satisfies your palate, it could be that a good slow-cooker baked beans recipe is for you: it's not as fast, but the low-and-slow method is great for overcoming the highly processed, tinny notes found in canned beans.