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Homemade baked beans are a great tradition and addition to a cookout

Baked Beans

Cookout season is upon us, and that means people everywhere are firing up their grills and dining al fresco. Picnic tables are laden with a vast assortment of barbecued meats, veggies, and of course, an array of sides that are as traditional and comforting as a Thanksgiving feast.

Among these side dishes, we often find one deeply rooted in American history, baked beans. Today, convenience seems to rule as most people opt for the simple route -- premade, canned baked beans (often served cold), or pork and beans doctored with a little sugar and spice. There’s nothing wrong with either of these methods, both can be a fine accompaniment to your hot dogs, hamburgers, and grilled chicken; however, sometimes it’s nice to embrace tradition and go back to something a little more homemade.

In the colonial tradition, baked beans were made with molasses and salt pork. It’s a dish that became a staple on Sundays because it could be prepared Saturday evening and kept in the hot hearth, enabling people whose faith forbade activities, including cooking, to have hot food on their Sabbath. Historians believe it’s likely that the colonists copied the practice of baking beans from the Native Americans, who would flavor them with maple syrup. 

My homemade baked beans take cues from both of these traditions. Sweetened with real maple syrup and cooked with bacon in lieu of salt pork, the end product is rich and delicious and will certainly wow the guests at your next cookout. Leftovers, in the unlikely event that you have them, make great beans and weenies -- or you can skip the wait and just put some on your hotdog.

Maple Bacon Baked Beans

½ pound thick bacon, roughly chopped

1 small onion, finely diced

1 c. pure maple syrup

3/4 c. dark brown sugar

2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

½ tsp, apple cider vinegar

4 15-oz cans navy beans, drained and rinsed (or dried beans soaked overnight and simmered until tender)

Water

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 300.
  2. In a large, ovenproof pot, like a Dutch oven, render bacon until golden and crisp. Set aside, leaving rendered fat in the pot.
  3. Add onions and cook until they start to caramelize. Add remaining ingredients, including the bacon, plus enough water to be level with the beans, and bring to a simmer.
  4. Cover with lid or aluminum foil and place in the oven. Bake, stirring occasionally, 1 ½ hours.
  5. Season to taste and bake uncovered until thickened, about an hour.

This dish can be cooked over indirect heat on a grill if you can maintain the temperature on your grill. Additionally, if you prefer to use dry beans, soak them overnight, and simmer until just tender before preparing as directed.

By Margret Durkin for the Courier-Post

Margret Durkin, of Mount Laurel, is a Rowan College at Burlington County culinary arts alumna and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s in food service management from Johnson & Wales University. rcbc.edu/culinary