The Possible Downside Of Using A Slow Cooker To Make Baked Beans

Is there any better accompaniment to cookout foods than a scoop of warm, rich, comforting baked beans? A popular dish in the United States, particularly the New England region, since at least the 1800s (via Serious Eats), baked beans, as we know them today, are typically dried, soaked white beans that are simmered and then slow-baked in a rich sauce of their cooking liquid plus molasses, mustard, onion, and cured pork, usually in the form of salt pork or slab bacon (via Serious Eats).

As anyone who's made baked beans at home knows, the traditional and most effective cooking method of baking them in a pot in a moderate oven can take quite a while — about four hours — even when using par-cooked beans, according to Serious Eats. It takes longer when using recipes that are cooked in the oven from start to finish. Understandably, some home cooks might prefer a method that doesn't heat up the kitchen so much or burn as much gas. That's where the many recipes for set-it-and-forget-it slow cooker baked beans come in. But beware: Slow cooker baked beans often turn out a bit thin and watery, and here's why.

There's no way for excess liquid to evaporate

Preparing baked beans in the oven — whether starting with soaked or soaked and par-cooked beans — is the most traditional way to prepare this favorite side dish (hence the name "baked"). And even though the beans are baked inside a lidded, heavy-duty pot such as a Dutch oven, the dry heat of an oven allows any excess cooking liquid to evaporate, ideally leaving tender beans suspended in a naturally thickened sauce (via Serious Eats). But home cooks who don't want to leave the oven on all day (or overnight) might turn to one of the many recipes for slow cooker baked beans, which can be left unattended during the workday or overnight.

The problem there, according to Baking Kneads, is that slow cooker baked beans tend to turn out a bit thin, and that's because the appliance's moist heat doesn't allow for a sufficient amount of evaporation. You might get some tender beans, but the sauce will likely be too watery, and you most certainly won't achieve the rich, brown crust that characterizes an excellent pot of oven-baked beans (via Serious Eats).

Ideally, any baked beans you make at home will be oven-baked. But if you have opted for slow cooker baked beans — or even a can of baked beans that's too liquidy — Lacademie suggests using a cornstarch, arrowroot, or flour-and-butter slurry to thicken the beans right up.