How Do I Improve Baked Beans from a Can?

Amber Eberle

Baked beans are often served as a side dish. Several commercial varieties can be purchased at supermarkets. The flavor of baked beans from a can is often easy to improve and enhance by slow cooking and adding ingredients. Bacon can give baked beans from a can a better, more homemade taste, as can the use of onions, bell peppers, brown sugar, vinegar, and various sauces. Baked beans may be cooked on a stove top, simmered in a slow cooker, or baked in the oven.

Chili powder can make baked beans spicier.
Chili powder can make baked beans spicier.

Bacon can give canned baked beans a rich, smoky flavor. Thick-cut bacon is usually the best variety to use because it will not fall apart during simmering. The bacon should be pre-cooked until all of the fat is rendered, but the meat is not crispy. This soft bacon will cook further when it is simmered or baked with the beans. Several tablespoons of the bacon grease should be reserved for later use in this dish.

Diced bell peppers can be added to baked beans from a can to improve the flavor.
Diced bell peppers can be added to baked beans from a can to improve the flavor.

Adding vegetables to baked beans from a can typically gives this side dish depth of flavor and extra texture. For best results, the vegetables can be sauteed in the grease reserved from cooking the bacon. Vegetables that pair well with baked beans include onions and bell peppers. These should be chopped into small pieces before being cooked.

Canned baked beans are generally mild in flavor, with a slightly sweet taste. A variety of spices and seasonings can be used to give them a more interesting taste. Mustard powder can make the beans tangy, while chili powder may be used for a spicier dish. Many people add brown sugar to their baked beans to make them sweeter. For many people, this sweetness is a good contrast to the savory flavor of the bacon.

The addition of sauces can make baked beans from a can taste more like a homemade dish. Barbecue sauce is a popular option, although plain ketchup can also be used. For a Tex-Mex flavor, a jar of salsa could be mixed in. Care should be taken not to add to much extra liquid, however, as this can result in a dish that is soupy.

For the best results, the beans should be cooked slowly to combine all of the flavors. They may be cooked in a pot on a stove top, baked in a hot oven, or simmered in a slow cooker. The bacon can be left whole or can be cut into pieces, but it should be layered on top of the beans so it can become crispy while the dish cooks.

For a Tex-Mex flavor, add spicy salsa to a can of baked beans.
For a Tex-Mex flavor, add spicy salsa to a can of baked beans.

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Discussion Comments


@Pippinwhite -- Word! Yes, starting the baked beans from dry beans is authentic, and very homey, but it also literally takes three days to make baked beans from scratch.

Every lady at my church starts her baked beans from a can of pork and beans. Actually, the cheaper they are, the better. They don't have as much flavoring, which is a plus when you're adding your own.

My secret additions? Chili sauce and a small can of chopped green chiles, drained well. I generally use molasses instead of brown sugar, and always, always top with bacon, regardless. I like tangy beans, as opposed to sweet. And a couple of kicks of Louisiana Hot Sauce never hurt anybody.


@Phaedrus -- You can start with a can of cheap pork and beans, and just add according to your particular tastes. I always add ketchup, prepared yellow mustard, barbecue sauce, hot sauce, garlic, maybe some brown sugar, low-sodium soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. I don't add much, but a little really kicks up the flavor profile.

I like cowboy beans, too. They're easy to make, and did you know that browned ground turkey works about as well in the recipe as ground beef? You just have to make sure it's good and browned, so you get the flavor.


I have found a few brands of canned baked beans that need no doctoring at all, but they're usually on the high end of my food budget. If I'm dealing with standard baked beans, I'll add mustard powder and ketchup at least. Brown sugar is a good idea, too, but I try not to add too many sweet ingredients without using a few tangy or savory ones, too.

My favorite way to serve canned baked beans is sometimes called "cowboy style". I'll add cooked ground beef to the beans and top them with bacon strips while they heat up in a casserole dish.

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