The Ingredient That Will Forever Change Your Canned Baked Beans

It's weird that baked beans are a summer food. Cold potato salad and coleslaw make sense, as do burgers, bratwursts, and ears of corn hot off the grill. But baked beans? They're hearty and heavy, sweet and smoky, spicy, and often include chunks of rich, fatty meat, like bacon or the burnt ends of brisket. Alas, they are a summer staple. Of course, they're also great in the fall, winter, and spring because they are, in a word, delicious. Baked beans are to the summer grill-out — what the bass line is to Yes' "Roundabout" — a steady player holding down the low end.

What's more — they're about as American as foodstuffs get. According to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, Native Americans were larding bean pots with bear fat and flavoring them with maple syrup before Europeans came sailing in from the east. They'd bury these pots in earth ovens lined with rocks hot from the fire. The beans would slowly braise and tenderize, soaking in the sweet syrup and unctuous bear fat as they thickened the broth with starch.

What the rooster can do for you

If you're ever invited to a summer soirée, and the host asks you to bring baked beans, you may only have time to grab a can of baked beans. But if you still want to make your mark and elevate the beans beyond what was put in the can at the factory, you have plenty of options. This is evidenced by the suggestions Epicurious raises — from honey to espresso powder. But for all of the baked bean additions, there's one easy-to-find ingredient — heck, you might even have it in your kitchen right now — that can add layers of complexity to your beans.  

Sriracha is a Thai-style chili sauce that packs tangy, sweet, spicy, and garlicky flavors into one convenient condiment. Some people even use it in place of ketchup, which is a usual suspect in baked beans. Adding Sriracha to canned baked beans provides a welcome punch that helps accentuate other flavors present. Just remember that a little bit of Sriracha goes a long way; don't completely sub out ketchup or barbecue sauce for Sriracha unless you know your dining companions are bonafide heat seekers. A tablespoon or two — as in this baked bean recipe from The Speckled Palate — should suffice.