posted September 13, 2023
These pit beans are a hearty, filling, crowd-pleasing bean dish that is perfect as a BBQ side or standalone meal with a good slice of cornbread. Pit beans are slow cooked with sausage and a hint of maple syrup for a flavor combo that totally satisfies.
What are Pit Beans?
Pit beans are a traditional Native American style of bean cooking and were around for centuries before the earliest Europeans ever arrived on the continent. Most in the BBQ community today think that the “pit” part of pit beans comes from the beans cooking on the BBQ pit. However, the origin story for this style of bean cooking is slightly different.
The original pit beans got their name from the process of cooking the beans in special clay bean pots while buried in small dugout holes called bean pits with hot coals. In both cases, the beans are slow baked in a low temperature fire with a thick cooking vessel to distribute the heat.
This style of bean cooking was generational, with each wave of family members adding new flavors. During my research, I found that most articles suggested the original pit beans were most common in the northeastern portion of the United States. Earlier recipes included bear fat, minced bear meat, maple syrup for sweetness, and seaweed for salinity.
Pit Beans vs Baked Beans
Pit beans have a distinctly Native American origin, where baked beans are heavily influenced by the traditional dish with various swaps and additions. One of the key ingredients in a baked bean is molasses, which was brought to the Americas via the Caribbean during the slave trade. The original Native version of these beans tend to lean more towards savory flavors with a good amount of fatty meat (like bear or venison). Baked beans lean heavily on a thick and sweet molasses sauce to make the beans almost creamy. Both utilize a low simmer to develop flavors and improve consistency and both are huge heritage pieces of American cuisine.
Can you make these as Smoked Beans?
Now for the question I know you’re going to ask. Can I smoke these beans?
The recipe includes a low temperature simmer or an oven bake to achieve the right consistency. I would swap that last step for an hour in a 225 degree F smoker to add a lovely hint of smoke flavor.
How to Make Pit Beans
- Brown the sausage and vegetables. Preheat a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork sausage to the pan and cook, breaking apart into small pieces, until just starting to brown. Add the diced onion and jalapenos and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes.
- Incorporate the beans and sauce. Add white and black beans (including the liquid from the cans), BBQ sauce, beef stock, and maple syrup to the pan. Season with the Sweet Rub. Stir to combine all ingredients.
- Low temperature simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring every few minutes, for 30 minutes, or until the beans thicken to your desired consistency. These beans can also be smoked for 1 hour at 225 degrees F or covered and baked in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes to reach a similar consistency.
Other BBQ Bean Recipes
If you’re a lover of the humble bean, I’ve got a few additional recipes for you to try!
Pit Beans Recipe
My version of pit beans include more accessible ingredients for today’s home cook, but hopefully represent some of the flavors and textures of those traditional pit beans. Sauteed pork sausage, peppers, and onions create the base layer of flavor. The beans are also simmered with my Texas Style BBQ Sauce and a healthy drizzle of maple syrup. If you’ve got your hands on some bear or venison sausage, swap that out for the pork. You can also try using seaweed in place of the salt!
- Cook sausage and aromatics. Preheat a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage to the pan and cook, breaking apart into small pieces, until just starting to brown. Add the diced onion and jalapenos and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes.1 pound pork sausage, 1 cup yellow onion, 3 jalapenos, 4 cloves garlic
- Incorporate beans and seasonings. Add the beans (including the liquid from the cans), BBQ sauce, beef stock, and maple syrup to the pan. Season with the Sweet Rub. Stir to combine all ingredients.2 15.5 oz cans great northern beans, 1 15.5 oz can black beans, 1 ½ cups Hey Grill Hey Texas Style BBQ sauce, ½ cup beef stock, ¼ cup maple syrup, 2 Tablespoons Hey Grill Hey Sweet Rub
- Slow cook. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring every few minutes, for 30 minutes, or until the beans thicken to your desired consistency. These beans can also be covered and baked in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes to reach a similar consistency.
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