Your summer barbecue party isn’t complete without a side of these smoked baked beans! After cooking low and slow in the most incredible BBQ sauce with loads of bacon, these baked beans balance just the right spicy, sweet and smoky notes. You’ll never go back to canned baked beans after one bite.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
That sweet and spicy sauce: Most baked bean recipes call for BBQ sauce, so a lot of people default to a store-bought version, which isn’t nearly as good as homemade. Instead, we make our own BBQ sauce for these beans, and it takes very little time and effort for vastly superior results.
The perfect touch of smoke: Between the bacon, optional bourbon and cooking method, the smoky notes add a complex, deep flavor that will make you declare these the best baked beans of all time.
Serves a huge crowd: Summer barbecue parties usually mean big crowds, and this recipe can comfortably serve 12 people. If you don’t need quite that much, you can either enjoy plenty of leftovers or cut the recipe in half. Plus, this is one easy side dish.
Doubles as an oven recipe: Don’t have a smoker or maybe it’s too full with other meat? You can bake these beans in the oven like the traditional method. They won’t be quite as smoky, but they’re still delicious, especially with the homemade sauce.
To set you up for success, let’s chat about a few ingredient notes.
Navy beans: This is the type of bean traditionally used. If you can’t find them, white cannellini beans make a nice substitute. Some people also like to add black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans. Using a variety of beans is totally fine.
Bacon: Get a thick-cut bacon. It’s more substantial to better hold up to smoking. I often get classic applewood-smoked bacon, but other flavors, like a black pepper bacon, would also work nicely.
Coffee: This may seem weird, but the homemade barbecue sauce we make is based on my coffee-bourbon BBQ sauce. Coffee is the main liquid we use for the sauce, and it adds some roasted notes. I prefer a medium or dark roast, but a light roast also works.
Spice mixture: For our spice mixture, we use a combination of chipotle chili powder, mustard powder, smoked paprika and cumin. It gives it just the right kick. However, if you’d like a spicier sauce, feel free to add more chili powder or even cayenne pepper to taste.
Bourbon: This is optional, but I love the flavor it adds. It’s not over the top — it just gives it a little something extra. Make sure you use something you’d actually drink.
Step 1: We begin by setting the smoker to 225 degrees with a water pan if it isn’t already smoking some meat. As the smoker heats up, we cut the slices of bacon into 2-inch pieces and cook them in a large cast-iron skillet until the fat renders. The edges will start to crisp up, but the middle of the bacon will remain mostly translucent (photo 1).
Step 2: Once the bacon fat renders, we remove it from the cast-iron pan with a slotted spoon to reserve on a paper towel-lined plate and cook the diced onion and garlic in the bacon grease over medium heat (photo 2).
Step 3: After the onions soften, we turn off the heat and stir in the tomato sauce and tomato paste to make one cohesive mixture. We then stir in the other liquid ingredients, sweeteners and spices (photo 3). This includes apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, dark brown sugar, molasses, coffee and Worcestershire sauce.
Step 4: With the sauce prepared, now we stir in the drained navy beans until they’re well-coated and place the bacon pieces on top of the beans (photo 4). We want the bacon on top for more smoke exposure, which is why we don’t simply stir in the pieces with the beans.
Step 5: Now we’re ready to smoke. We put the beans in a 225-degree smoker for a three-hour cooking time (photo 5). This cooks beautifully alongside another smoked meat.
Step 6: After smoking, we stir the bourbon into the bean mixture (photo 6). If the beans finish before your main dish, you can keep it warm in a 200-degree oven or even a slow cooker on the warm setting.
There you have it — the most perfect smoked baked beans! You'll love the depth and complexity the smoke flavor gives this delicious side dish.
Related: Need accompaniments? Start with this smoked queso and serve with some pellet grill ribs, smoked whole chicken, smoked burgers or smoked beef brisket and you have yourself the ultimate summer dinner. For even more ideas, see this guide on what to eat with baked beans.
For easy entertaining, you can certainly prepare the beans a few hours ahead of time and store in the refrigerator with the bacon in a separate container. It should be saucy enough that the beans won’t absorb too much liquid. However, if it does, you can always add a little more liquid to loosen the sauce.
I recommend pulling the beans and bacon from the refrigerator an hour before smoking. This allows everything to come down to room temperature for more even cooking.
I love this dish with a lighter wood, such as applewood, cherrywood or pecan. These woods complement the bacon nicely and are favorites with pork.
That said, you might be smoking a brisket, which calls for a heavier, bolder wood, like mesquite. In that case, I recommend smoking it for a shorter time and taste test it every half hour. If you’re happy with the smoke infusion, you can move it to the oven to finish cooking.
You bet — whether you have a pellet grill, electric smoker, propane smoker or charcoal smoker, you can use this recipe. I use a vertical pellet smoker from Pit Boss, but Traeger, Weber and Masterbuilt are also popular options for electric and pellet smokers. The Green Egg is a favorite for a charcoal smoker. Depending on the type of smoker you have, you can use wood pellets, wood chips or wood chunks.
After the beans cool, keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. These beans keep beautifully, and the leftovers are just as delicious. When you’re ready to reheat them, simply pop them in the microwave or bring to a simmer on the stove.
No smoker? No problem. You can bake the beans at 325 degrees for an hour or up to two hours if you prefer a thicker sauce.
If you’d like to replicate that smoky flavor, you can add a little liquid smoke to the beans. Liquid smoke is potent, so start conservatively and add to taste. Of course, that’s totally optional. You’ll still get some amazing baked beans if you simply cook them in the oven.
Don’t add the bourbon before smoking: We don’t want the bourbon to cook out. Adding the bourbon at the end gives us a stronger flavor for the perfect finishing touch.
Drain the canned beans: Let’s not dilute our sauce with bean juice. Make sure to drain well before adding the beans to the sauce.
Don’t fully cook the bacon before smoking: We want the bacon to render off some fat but still be uncooked to allow the smoke to penetrate the meat and avoid overcooking.
Use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet: Because this is an acidic dish, your cast-iron skillet should be well-seasoned to protect it. Alternatively, you can use a 9-inch-by13-inch disposable aluminum pan.
Keep the beans uncovered: We want that wonderful smoke infusion, so covering our baked beans would inhibit that. Skip the foil covering for the entire smoke time. These beans are saucy enough that they won’t dry out.
Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind the main meat of the meal. With a heavier meat, such as a brisket, a porter or stout will stand up to the bold, rich flavor, and you’ll love how the roasted notes match the smoke. For a lighter meat, such as a chicken, an amber ale isn’t as heavy on the palate, and you’ll savor the caramel-like malt with the brown sugar, molasses and maple syrup.
For a wine, I love a syrah for your bigger meats, and an earthy pinot noir is perfect with a lighter dish. Both show off rich berry flavors that complement the bean’s sauce and have some nice acidity. The syrah comes with a bigger mouthfeel, which makes it better suited for a bold meat.
If you prefer a cocktail, there’s a reason I add bourbon to this recipe, and it’s because those caramel, smoky notes pair perfectly with the sauce. Try my peach mint julep, cherry bourbon smash or blueberry bourbon smash.
When you need the perfect side dish for your summer barbecue, I hope you try this smoked baked beans recipe. Everyone will rave about these beans.
Enjoy More Summer Side Dishes
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Smoked Baked Beans (With Optional Bourbon)
- 12-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch-by-13-inch disposable aluminum pan
- Smoker any type
- Wood pellets, chips or chunks preferably a lighter wood, such as applewood, cherrywood or pecan
- 12 ounces bacon cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 sweet yellow onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves grated or minced
- 1 (15-ounce) can of tomato sauce
- 1 (6-ounce) can of tomato paste
- 1 cup coffee
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup unsulphured molasses not blackstrap
- ¼ cup real maple syrup
- ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 (15-ounce) cans of navy beans drained, can substitute white cannellini beans or your favorite variety
- ¼ cup bourbon optional
- Prepare the smoker with a water pan and heat to 225 degrees. Place bacon pieces in a cold cast-iron skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook until the bacon grease renders, and it starts to crisp up on the edge while the center remains mostly translucent. The bacon will be about halfway cooked. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate.
- Add the diced onion to the rendered bacon grease. Cook until softened, about four to five minutes. In the last 30 seconds, add the garlic, stirring constantly.
- Pour in the tomato sauce and tomato paste, stirring to make one cohesive mixture. Stir in the coffee, apple cider vinegar, molasses, maple syrup, dark brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and spices until combined. Turn off heat.
- Stir the drained beans into the sauce. Lay the bacon pieces directly on top of the beans.
- Place the beans in the smoker uncovered. Smoke for three hours, maintaining the temperature.
- After smoking, pour in the bourbon if desired. Enjoy!
- If you need to use the oven instead of the smoker, you can bake the beans at 325 degrees for an hour or up to two hours if you prefer a thicker sauce.
- If you have to use a heavier, bolder wood, like mesquite, you may want to smoke the beans for a shorter time and taste test it every half hour. If you’re happy with the smoke infusion, you can move it to the oven to finish cooking.
- Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for three to four days in the refrigerator.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.