Sweet and smoky baked beans are a Southern classic and the perfect side dish for a cookout or BBQ. Simmered in a skillet in a blend of smoky bacon, molasses, and tangy barbecue sauce, they’re hard to beat. Southern baked beans also have ground beef added, which gives great flavor and heartiness to this classic side dish.
These beans couldn’t be easier to make. Brown the hamburger, dump in the rest of the ingredients, simmer and spend the rest of the time relaxing with friends and family. But boy are they tasty.
Southern baked beans only need a few pantry ingredients, which means they’re great for a last-minute side dish. I always have a pound of hamburger in case I want to make a hamburger potato casserole or smash burgers and the rest of the ingredients you can keep in your pantry.
Baked beans with ground beef were a side dish my mom served all the time, not just when we cooked out or had family gatherings, but for weeknight dinners. We had them with ham, and potato salad and with barbecue chicken alongside a creamy pea salad.
Mom didn’t have a recipe, but my sister and I were tasked with making this side dish when we were old enough to help with dinner, and between the two of us we came up with this recipe. You can adjust the brown sugar and molasses to your liking, it’s so much better using a homemade bbq sauce.
What makes these hamburger baked beans is that they have a meaty flavor from both bacon and ground beef. And instead of just brown sugar, molasses adds not only a little sweetness but depth of flavor.
Some call these Cowboy Baked Beans, which from what I can tell are similar, but since there aren’t a lot of cowboys in my neck of the woods, we just call them baked beans.
How to Serve Baked Beans with Hamburger
You might wonder whether these are a meal in themselves since they have ground beef in them. While you could make them a meal, they’re a little sweet and generally not served that way, instead they are served as a side. Since they are sweet, they compliment almost anything you would serve at a cookout.
For the perfect cookout menu, make some spiral hot dogs, pulled pork, or hamburgers or your favorite steak. On the side, serve the baked beans, this grilled corn salad with blueberries, and Southern mac and cheese. For dessert, dish out slices of this strawberry cream cheese pie for the perfect end to a beautiful summer day.
What kind of beans should I use for baked beans?
Baked beans in a can are usually made from small white beans, such as navy beans or great northern beans which have been baked in a tomato sauce. The best part of this recipe is that it calls for canned pork and beans, which eliminates the need for using dried beans. Using canned pork and beans means that so much flavor is already included in the can and makes this recipe so easy to put together.
How long do I need to cook baked beans?
Making baked beans from scratch only takes half an hour on the stove, since it calls for canned pork and beans it makes them perfect for a last-minute side dish.
While I make these in a skillet, you may need to use a Dutch oven if you’re skillet isn’t large enough. If you’re going to serve them later, you can place them in a baking dish and warm them in the oven or in a crock pot set to low.
Why You’ll Love Southern Baked Beans
- Sweet and smoky: These beans have brown sugar, molasses, and bacon, which make the perfect combination of sweet, savory, and smoky.
- Quick and simple: The beans simmer for a half hour, so they come together in the time it takes to fire up the grill and cook your hot dogs.
- Hearty and rich: Using ground beef in these beans makes them filling, hearty, and so delicious. They’re sticky, sweet, smoky, and savory. They’re just perfect to have with potato salad and a hamburger or hot dog.
Why use ground beef in baked beans?
If you’ve only had baked beans from a can, this might seem like an odd ingredient, but making baked beans with ground beef adds so much flavor to this side dish.
Baked Beans Recipe Ingredients
- Ground beef – Ground beef may seem like an unorthodox ingredient for those outside the South, but it adds a hearty richness to the beans and a lot of amazing meaty flavor.
- Onions – One of the classic flavors for this recipe.
- Bacon – You’ll only use three slices of bacon. It adds meatiness and a delicious savory smokiness. For even more flavor try an apple smoked variety.
- Brown sugar – Brown sugar adds sweetness and richness to the beans. If you don’t have brown sugar but you do have molasses, you can use a little white sugar and then add some extra molasses.
- Molasses – Molasses is made from sugar cane and is thick, syrupy, and rich. It has a very distinct flavor and is what makes brown sugar brown. If you can’t find molasses or don’t have it on hand, you can use some extra brown sugar.
- Pork and beans – You’ll need three cans of beans or 45 ounces total for this recipe. I have always used VanCamp’s Pork and Beans. Pork and beans don’t always have actual pieces of pork in it – many canned pork and beans just use pork fat. Pork and beans and baked beans are the same thing. Each brand has a different flavor profile.
- Mustard – Yellow mustard adds tanginess and brightness to an otherwise very rich and sweet dish. You can substitute 1 teaspoon of dry mustard.
- Salt – Use a light hand with the salt, as the canned beans and the bacon are both already salty. Taste the beans before you add any salt since all canned beans are different, and some may be saltier than others.
How To Make Sweet, Smoky Baked Beans
Step 1: Cook the beef and onions.
Add the ground beef, onions, and bacon to a large skillet and cook until the hamburger is fully cooked and the onions have softened.
Step 2: Add the rest of the ingredients.
Add brown sugar, molasses, and mustard, and cook for 5 minutes to let the sugar dissolve. Then, add the beans.
Step 3: Cook and serve the beans.
Simmer the beans until the sauce has thickened a little. Add salt and pepper, and serve while hot.
How to Store Baked Beans
Once they have cooled, keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. You can reheat them on the stove or microwave.
To freeze baked beans, place them in an airtight container, and they will stay good for up to five months. Let them come to room temperature before reheating them on the stove or microwave.
What else can you do with molasses?
I always keep a jar of molasses on hand for use in a lot of different recipes. There are so many ways to use it. It’s great in baked beans, making gingerbread at the holidays, used in this delicious slow cooker bourbon chicken, and mixed up in a homemade barbecue sauce for fall-off-the-bone pork ribs.
Questions about Baked Beans
Can I make this recipe in a slow cooker?
This recipe would be a great option for a make-ahead side dish. Brown the hamburger, onions, and bacon in a skillet, then transfer the mixture to a slow cooker along with the remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 3-4 hours or on high for 1-2 hours.
How can I make the baked beans sweeter?
If you prefer sweeter baked beans, increase the amount of brown sugar or molasses according to your taste preference.
Can I double the recipe for a larger gathering?
This recipe is great for serving a crowd. Simply double all the ingredients to accommodate a larger crowd.
Sides That are Great With Baked Beans
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Southern Baked Beans with Ground Beef
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 onion medium, diced
- 3 slices bacon chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 45 ounce pork and beans 3 cans
- Add hamburger, chopped onions and chopped bacon to a large skillet and cook over medium heat until the hamburger is browned and the onions have softened. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt or to taste.
- Add brown sugar, molasses and mustard and cook over medium low heat for 5 minutes,.
- Add beans and simmer for 15- 20 minutes until the liquid has absorbed and they have thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- You can add more smoky flavor by used applewood smoked bacon.
- You can use a teaspoon of dry mustard instead of regular mustard.
- You can make these in advance and just warm before serving.