BBQ Beans Disaster ... a request for help ...
I am not a great cook. I try hard. As I've gotten older, I've learned to really love the whole process: shopping for ingredients, reading recipes, preparing the food.
I tried to make BBQ beans in the slow cooker last weekend. I read a few recipes just to get an idea of what to do, then made them my own.
I decided to make two pounds of beans. I bought Great Northern Beans. I should have made just one pound but that package of dried beans looked so small. So I doubled my recipe.
As instructed, I soaked the beans overnight, at least 12 hours from the time I put them in water to the time I started cooking. My recipe included brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, a chopped onion, salt and pepper. Also some ketchup and yellow mustard.
The recipes were all a little different on cooking times, so I approximated. I cooked them for six hours on high (the recipes said "four on high" or "eight on low). Then I let them sit on "warm" for hours more.
At dinner time, yuck, beans were hard as pebbles. I put the high heat back on for a few hours ... no improvement. I transferred the beans to a big pot, brought the mix to a boil and simmered for hours more. The beans did get softer, but some were still sort of hard.
Stuck the pot in the refrigerator (because it was bed time) and the next evening added water and boiled/simmered for hours more. The beans were improved, but some were still sort of hard, though to look at them, a few were split apart. Tried the same thing the next not to no avail.
This morning I tossed the whole batch in the trash.
For the record, the beans tasted good. They just never got soft enough to enjoy.
I have two theories as to what might have happened but would truly love the opinion of the real cooks on this board.
(1) The recipe said "salt and pepper to taste." I added salt and pepper and it wasn't until I was having the consistency problems that I recalled once reading that salted beans never get done. So, it could have been the salt. I did do some online research and there really is no conclusive view on salting beans before cooking. Most sites said there was no real evidence that salted beans won't get done, just that they might take longer. (It also occurs to me that you could add bacon to the mix and bacon is salted -- so how could it be the salt? I'm not sure.)
(2) This is where I think I went wrong: The night before, I put the beans in the crock pot and covered them with water. When I woke up the next day, a quarter to a third of the beans were no longer covered in water, as the beans had absorbed some of the water and gotten bigger. The combination of larger beans and less water left some of the beans no longer soaking. I figured it was no big deal, but now I think I didn't add enough water to soak the beans and the whole thing was doomed from that point forward.
That said, I really don't know what happened. I'm determined to try again and would love some opinions. I really like to eat beans and want to make red beans for red beans and rice and black beans and so on, in addition to BBQ beans.
The lack of water is surely part of the problem. Did you add any acidic ingredients before the beans were already cooked most of the way to tender? Acids toughen the skin of the beans and keep them from softening. Salt is nowhere near the culprit it's sometimes made out to be.
In fact, brining the dry beans - that is, soaking them in salted water - helps them hydrate and taste good. Pour off the brine, then proceed with your recipe but do not add more salt until you taste them at the end of cooking. You may not need it.
I'm with MrsJonesey – probably old beans. If you get them from a store that probably sells a lot of beans they're likely to be fairly fresh. As for your having some beans high and dry, that hurts too. Salt is NOT a problem, as Harold McGee has confirmed; in fact, he says that salting the soaking water will cut down on the total amount of salt they'll need.
I'd get one pound of beans, and look on the package to see if there's a packing date or "best by" date. Soak them in water several inches above the top layer, and some salt (= sea water). Proceed with whatever recipe you want. I've not had much success with crockpot beans myself, probably because the one I was using is ancient and doesn't heat evenly, but stovetop is dead easy if you're not needing to spend a lot of time out of the house. I like doing them in the oven, myself, though what that does to the electric bill limits the number of times I do it …
I make beans in the crock pot all the time. Almost daily. I never soak them at all.
In the morning I put the beans and water into the crock pot at a ration of 1:2. I put it on high for three hours. By the end of the three hours they are "al dente", just tender enough to eat.
Then, I add whatever ingredients the recipe I am making calls for. That is when I would add the ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper, etc. I find that the beans need some alone time with the water without anything else interfering. After I add the ingredients I would cook for another 3-4 hours, usually on high, sometimes on low, it doesn't usually make a difference to beans, depends on what I have added.
Hope that helps!
ETA: I also add a bit more water or broth with the other ingredients. They need to stay at least coated in liquid, though not covered, to stay tender.
I think you pretty much stated the biggest problem. You were trying to make two lbs of beans in your first attempt. Start with 1/2 that amount.
I'm a great cook and have been cooking for 30 years, and dry beans are still hit or miss. As some people stated, the beans might have been old to start with.