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Healthier Alternative to Smoked Meats in Beans?

I love beans, especially cooked with bacon or ham hocks, but I'm thinking I should seek out some sort of non-smoked/cured meat as my default bean flavoring agent since there's some research that suggests pickled/smoked foods aren't good for you. Anyone have any suggestions for a tasty meat (or even some other creative ingredient) that can provide a warm/meaty flavor to a pot of beans that hasn't been smoked or cured? Do you think naturally stronger tasting meats like duck, goat or turkey dark meat would work well?

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  1. greetings, I think there are many variations of beans in (southern?) French cooking in which duck or goose are featured. Where I live, the meat shops have prepared leg of duck confit, which I have browned and put into a pot of beans, turnips et cetera to good effect, I've also incorporated oddsn'edds from a chinese-style roast goose. Part of the problem with the processed cured meats might be the chemicals used to suppress bacterial growth as well as the carcinogens that develop with charred/smoked proteins and fats. For ranch style beans I now lightly/briefly smoke a spice-rubbed chunk of fresh pork on a covered grill to throw into the bean pot. have fun

    1 Reply
    1. re: moto

      Toss a dried chipotle chile in the pot while the beans are cooking. You get smoke and heat. Perfect.

    2. I just add some pork belly, cut into cubes. If you simmer the beans long enough (and my recipe uses lots of garlic, molasses, and tomato sauce), the pork absorbs a ton of flavour.

      1. A non-meat idea: Grind up some Lapsang Souchong tea & use to flavor the beans. Gives a nice hearty, smokey flavor.

        1. One alternative might be to use some organic smoked meat product that presumably doesn't have any questionable chemicals in it. If there is such a thing.

          We would like to hear from any food scientists or others knowledgeable persons about the compounds in 'liquid smoke'. The bottle of Wright's that I have lists water and 'natural hickory smoke concentrate', whatever that is. It smells fabulous, but what is its composition?

          Unfortunately, the current owner B&G foods http://www.bgfoods.com/brand_wrights.asp recommends 'To determine individual nutritional information, please check the label on the back of your product.' My older bottle is silent. The site also says 'Best of all, it's all natural—no sodium, preservatives, sugars or artificial colors.' Whatever that means, or omits.

          To be perfectly safe, use Robb Walsh's recipe for beans:
          Soak beans in 3x water overnight.
          Drain. Add water to pot, 3/4 inch over top of beans.
          Simmer under low heat until tender.

          1. you can also use a bit of smoked paprika or smoked sea salt to get that depth without using cured meats.

            or you could use roasted beef or chicken bones to make your base stock.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ctl98

              Second the smoked paprika. It's amazing how much smoky flavor that brings to a dish. I had a heck of a time finding it when I first heard of it a few years ago, but I think it's pretty common now. Penzey's has it if you're looking.

            2. If you have the equipment to smoke meats yourself (one of those bullet-shaped metal water smokers, which I got on sale at Lowe's for about $40), you can smoke your own without all the chemicals and risk. I find that smoked turkey breast leftovers go nicely in a pot of beans. I also second the smoked paprika. Penzey's also has a "ham" soup base. I've never tried it, but I've been very curious. Haven't checked the ingredient list - hope it's not too full of sodium!

              1 Reply
              1. re: dcandohio

                Here's the ingredient list:
                It does have a goodly portion of salt, unlike most of Penzey's spice mixes.

                Who makes those bullet-shaped smokers?

              2. I often use ham flavored soup base with good results. I prefer the Better than Bullion brand.

                1. I made a pot of beans started them on Friday, and finished them on Saturday. I used pinto beans, seasonings, Californian chili powder lots of onion (lots) fresh garlic and 2 thick lean boneless pork chops from Costco. I made them for my best friend who loves my beans with toppings, and they never last. So to answer your question yes indeed you can make a very tasty pot of beans, without the smoked products. Oh and no I didn't use any soup bases either everything was fresh except the dried products. I think the trick, is the two days of cooking and lots of onion.

                  1. A friend of mine stirs a big spoonful of dark red miso into her beans as they are almost done. The first time I tried them, I swore that they had pork in them.

                    1. I halve Roma tomatoes when they're in season, smoke for 15 minutes in my stove-top smoker, slow-roast until almost dried, pack in freezer bags and freeze. They add delicious smokiness to dishes all winter long.

                      1. Black beans, cooked in plain water taste great. Mash them for a Mexican-style side dish with your chops, steaks, BBQ, tacos or tamales.

                        Have a bottle of Tapatio salsa picante handy to liven things up.