How to Cook Beans Without Soaking Them Overnight

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
Beans

Conventional wisdom tells you two things about cooking dried beans. First, that you must soak the beans overnight. Second, that you can only add salt at the end of the cooking process. The people who give you this advice say that this is the only way to not have your beans come out hard and inedible.

But is this really the case? I’ve been cooking beans without soaking them overnight for years — and so have some of the most trustworthy cooking authors I follow online. The beans not only come out nice and soft, but aromatic and tasty.

Through research and experimentation, I’ve come to the two best methods for cooking dried beans, along with a pretty good rule of thumb for how much water to use and how long to cook popular bean varieties.

So let’s get to it. How can you cook dried beans without soaking them overnight?

Many recipes claim that beans must be soaked before cooking, very often overnight. Contrary to popular belief, this is only partially true.

We dry beans to take the moisture out, so that we can store them for long periods of time. The beans stay just as rich in protein, fiber, carbs, and other nutrients, but lose their moisture.

To make dried beans edible, we need to restore their moisture. That can be done by soaking them in water overnight. However, the same effect can be achieved by simply cooking them for a longer time (up to 2 hours more for large beans such as kidney beans).

In fact, you should always cook beans longer instead of letting them soak overnight (when you have the time to do it). Yes, soaking rehydrates the beans and shaves a lot of cooking time. But it also produces bland and mushy beans.

Through some Internet research and experimentation in my home kitchen, I’ve found two fail-safe methods where my beans come out great without soaking every single time.

How to Cook Beans Without Soaking

Method #1. The Quick Soak

Soak the beans in cold water for 45-60 minutes. This should give them just enough rehydration before cooking and slightly shorten their cooking time.

This method is best for small bean varieties such as white beans and black beans.

Method #2. The Pre-Boil

In a large pot, add 3 cups of water to every 1 cup of beans. Bring to boil and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover it with the lid, and let the beans soak in for 45-60 minutes (or anywhere up to 4 hours) before cooking.

This method works well for larger beans like red kidney beans and cannellini beans (a.k.a. “white kidney beans”).

Cooking Times Chart for Dried Beans

To cook beans, place them in a large pot filled with water (3 cups water to 1 cup beans), stir in salt, and bring them to a boil on medium high heat.

Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pot with the lit, and let simmer gently until the beans are nice and tender, but still firm to the bite.

Follow the cooking chart below. Set a timer and start tasting the beans periodically when the cooking time reaches the lower interval.

Bean VarietyWater-to-Bean RatioCooking Time
White kidney beans3 cups water to 1 cup beans45-60 minutes
Black beans (also known as “turtle beans”)4 cups water to 1 cup beans60-90 minutes
Black-eyed peas3 cups water to 1 cup beans60-90 minutes
Great Northern Beans3 1/2 cups water to 1 cup beans60-90 minutes
Lima beans4 cups water to 1 cup beans60-90 minutes
Mung beans2 1/2 cups water to 1 cup beans60-90 minutes
Red kidney beans3 cups water to 1 cup beans90-120 minutes
Navy beans3 cups water to 1 cup beans90-120 minutes
Pinto beans3 cups water to 1 cup beans90-120 minutes
Cooking times for popular bean varieties (sorted by cooking time)

Do You Add Salt to Beans When Cooking?

Yes, when cooking beans, you can add salt to taste to the bean water.

One more myth about cooking beans that I read and hear all the time is, Don’t put salt in the bean water or they will never soften, even if you cook them for hours on end. Is this really true, though? And who likes bland beans, anyway?

As long as you’ve soaked the beans before cooking (overnight or using one of the two methods that I’ve shared in this blog post), you can add as much salt to the cooking water as you want and as early as you want after.

Food writer Katherine Sacks of Epicurius busted this myth by not following conventional wisdom — and went even further by adding salt to the cold soak or pre-boil.

Not only did her beans turn out great, but they turned out tasty. Her takeaway: to make the best beans, whether it’s for a stew, soup, or salad, salt them early and salt them often.

J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats also found that “despite absorbing more liquid, unsalted beans are actually much more prone to bursting out of their skins than salted beans are, and, more importantly, salting both the soaking water and the cooking water seems to help.”

Keep that in mind the next time you make beans. Salting both the soaking water and the cooking water will make your beans tastier and help them hold on to their shape.

Try this out and email me to tell me how it worked out for you, folks. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that the best cooking advice is often the most controversial one. It’s surprising how many professional chefs, television cooks, and bloggers often get the basics wrong.

Dried Beans vs. Canned Beans

Dry beans vs. canned beans: What's the difference?
Dry beans vs. canned beans: What’s the difference?

At this stage, some of you guys are probably thinking to yourselves, Are dried beans worth the effort?

Keep canned beans in your kitchen cabinets and use them whenever you feel like making a quick salad, burrito, or quesadilla. Store dried beans in jars and cook them to make tasty stews and soups, where you want to control the cooking process end to end.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to your taste and preferences. Yes, canned beans are great for a quick snack, but simply don’t give stews and soups that deep savory flavor and thick starchy texture you’re looking for.

Dried beans are generally more affordable compared to canned beans. As The Bean Institute found, a 1-pound bag of dry pinto beans costs, on average, $1.79 and will make 12-½ cup servings of cooked beans whereas a 15 oz. can of national brand pinto beans costs $1.69, a store brand can costs $1.19, and each provides 3.5-½ cup servings.

This means that a serving of pinto beans made from dry beans costs just $0.15 while a serving of store brand canned pinto beans costs $0.34 and the national brand costs $0.48.

Practical Tips for Storing Dried Beans

Here’s my two cents for storing dried beans and storing cooked beans at home.

Do Dried Beans Go Bad?

When stored in a cool and dry place, like a kitchen cabinet, wine cellar, larder, or the vegetable drawer in your fridge, dried beans can keep indefinitely.

The taste, texture, and nutritional value of dried beans is best within 2 to 3 years of drying. After 5 years of storage, most of the vitamins and nutrients contained in them are gone.

How Long Will Cooked Beans Last In the Fridge?

Cooked beans will last 3-5 days when stored in the fridge. To store cooked beans, let them cool down completely after cooking (storing hot or warm products will damage the fridge), transfer them to an airtight container, and store them in the fridge within 1 hour.

Don’t leave cooked beans out for more than 4 hours and never leave them out overnight. Bacteria multiplies at room temperature and can cultivate your food when left out for prolonged periods of time.

How to Make Beans Gas-Free

Beans are healthy for you because they are rich in fiber, protein, and essential nutrients such as folate, iron, potassium, and magnesium with little to no fat and cholesterol.

If you don’t normally eat as much fiber in your food, beans can give you gas. This is because the bacteria in your stomach that feed on fiber suddenly have a lot more fiber to feast on, so they end up proliferating.

To make beans gas-free, simply soak them before cooking and drain away the soaking water. Doing so should remove most of the fibers on the beans’ surface that causes the fiber-eating bacteria in your stomach to produce gas.

In Conclusion

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to soak beans overnight before cooking them, or refrain from salting the cooking water till the very end.

This advice can actually be counterproductive. In fact, the thing that’s most likely to happen is that they’ll turn mushy, burst out of their skins, and come out tasteless.

Canned beans are great for making quick salads and burritos or quesadillas, whereas dried beans are best for making bean stews and soups where you want a profound taste and thick texture.

Just use one of the two soaking methods that you learned in this blog post — and add salt early and often to make well-cooked and just as well seasoned beans.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.