Why It's Dangerous To Make Boston Baked Beans The Traditional Way

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If you've ever pondered how Boston earned its nickname Beantown, you probably haven't tried one of the region's most famous dishes — Boston Baked Beans. While ordinary baked bean dishes are served all over the country, Boston is known for a particular version of the recipe that calls for molasses (via Taste of Home). According to Boston Magazine, many credit the dish's invention to the Native Americans who encountered the region's first Puritan settlers. It was common practice for the indigenous population to slow cook beans with venison, maple syrup, and corn to create a nutrient-dense meal. The local Puritans took to the practice themselves, and soon developed their own recipe that would later be defined by the presence of molasses.

While the molasses gives the recipe its signature flavor, it also necessitates a long cooking time. According to Shirley Corriher's book CookWise, sugar and calcium have a tendency to make beans stay hard (via Simply Recipes), and they're both found in molasses. This means two things. First, beans in molasses can be slow roasted for a very long time without devolving into a paste-like. Ultimately, this is what gives Boston baked beans their signature complexity. Second, unfortunately, the traditional practice of slow cooking them in an oven comes with a serious risk.

Slow cooking poses a fire risk

According to Serious Eats, the best way to prepare classic Boston Baked Beans is to let them cook in an oven overnight. The extended time spent in the oven's dry heat (compared to a slow cooker) allows for more evaporation, and creates a caramelized crust on the top. Some of the beans will break down slightly, but that just adds to the structure of the dish as the molasses develops a rich complexity.

Unfortunately, Serious Eats also notes that leaving an oven on overnight poses a serious fire risk. According to TD Kitchen, any unattended oven immediately becomes a safety hazard. If food or other materials are ignited inside of the oven they can start a fire which could easily spread. It's important to pay close attention to food as it's cooking so fires can be quickly extinguished before growing out of control. Carbon monoxide poisoning is another risk present if you have a gas oven. Considering that Serious Eats calls for a 13-hour bake for proper baked beans, you'll have to find a different method if safety is a priority. Martha Stewart recommends a six-hour bake, but there are also plenty of slow cooker recipes out there as well. While we all want to make the most authentic and delicious foods we possibly can, it should never be at the sacrifice of safety.