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Jan 23, 2013 09:50 AM

Beans won't cook.

It all started with a pound of Goya "small red beans."

I soaked them overnight. I changed the water, and soaked them for about 6 more hours. I then proceeded to prepare to make a pot of chili, including browning some meat, draining, sweating onions, garlic, peppers, spices, etc. During this time the beans sat in a colander for maybe 30 minutes or so. Then I put them in the pot with some crushed tomatoes, some stock, salt, black pepper, etc.

Then they went into a very slow oven (220F maybe?) in my Le Creuset for no less than four hours. I had some errands to run, and I wanted to take advantage of my MLK Day off. I discovered to my disappointment after taking them out that the beans were still mostly raw--edible, but VERY "al dente." I put them on the stove at a moderate simmer for about 30-45 minutes, but still it didn't seem to help much.

I know some people say salt toughens beans, but these weren't just tough. Is there anything that will prevent beans from cooking? Was my oven too low? I don't like leaving home for very long with something in a hot oven.

Thoughts? Advice?

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  1. I just made pinto beans from scratch for the first time last week; I cooked them on the stovetop for three hours after soaking close to 24 hours. Al dente is a good description, I just assumed that was the difference when cooked gently and not "canned". I was thinking to try pressure cooking next time, or else to get it out of my head that canned bean consistancy is the only way.

    1. If the environment is too acidic the beans can also be tough...brine the beans when you soak overnight to prevent toughness.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jchulley

        How much salt are we talking here?

      2. Tomatoes are the problem. Cook your chili beans almost done before putting the tomatoes in.

        4 Replies
        1. re: sparrowgrass

          I only added ham and greens to mine, and of course a few herbs. I'm just wondering now how soft beans should be when cooked from scratch? They're not inedible or crunchy, just very firm.

          1. re: coll

            depends on the type of beans, too. Some (split peas and lentils) all but become a paste -- others (garbanzos) will always retain some bite.

            It should take 3-5 hours for most beans (not lentils or peas) to soften.

            1. re: sunshine842

              These were pintos, I'm just now experimenting with pots of real beans. I've been cooking legumes like split peas and lentils forever, and expected the beans to fall apart like they do. Or I should say, I was imagining a canned consistancy but that might be going too far. I do make Great Northern bean soup every year and that does fall apart easily by the 2 or 3 hour mark.

              The Goya pinto bag recomended 2 hours but I gave it 3, didn't think to go any further. Guess I should write all this down, next time will probably be cranberry beans or garbanzos, which is what I have on hand. Guess I'll just give it all afternoon and check every half hour.

          2. re: sparrowgrass

            Precisely. Been there, done that, then learned about acid's effect on bean cooking. They will NEVER get tender. I salvaged the chili by pureeing it and adding broth to create a soup.

            There's a wider lesson to keep in mind, which is that acid slows the softening of other vegetables as well. So if you are making a fairly long-cooking dish and don't want the vegetables to be mush, add wine or canned tomato when you add the vegetables.

          3. This happened to me a couple of years ago. After researching, I figured out that I probably had really old beans. Grocery stores will have beans on the shelf that were packaged up to 7 years ago. Since then I have only bought beans online at They have quite a variety to experiment favorite being rio zape. Use as you would a pinto bean.

            6 Replies
            1. re: pagesinthesun

              Where do you get that '7 years ago' data? A plastic bag that age would be deteriorating (sticky, cloudy, etc).

              Bean growers are aware of an issue of hard difficult to cook beans. It's not simply age, but improper storage that is the problem, namely warm humid conditions. A tropical attic, for example, or warehouse without climate control; not modern supermarket shelves.


              1. re: paulj

                Packaged was the wrong description. I meant beans are often harvested, dried, and stored some where in a warehouse for years before they are packaged and sit on grocery store shelves. The fact is that old beans (who knows how old) may be sitting on a grocery store shelf and this could be a reason that beans won't cook. I was simply offering my opinion and stating that I have never had this problem since switching to Rancho Gordo.

                1. re: pagesinthesun

                  do have a source that you can cite for this?

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    maybe that's what Rancho Gordo is claiming?

                2. re: paulj

                  "pages" is right. often beans are stored for years before being presented in the store for sale. Rancho Gordo beans are not only fresh, they are heirloom beans, and make every bean dish taste way better.

                  Rio Zape are also my favorites, and I use them in place of red kidney beans, which (fwiw) are very hard on most people's digestive systems.

                3. re: pagesinthesun

                  Without fail, the dry beans I have to cook the longest come from my CSA and have been harvested only a few months before. The variety doesn't seem to matter--they all take longer to cook than supermarket dried beans.