Let’s Cook: Louisiana White Beans and Smoked Ham

Here’s a traditional Louisiana-style recipe for “White Beans and Smoked Ham.” Although the recipe, “Red Beans & Rice,” is commonly associated with Louisiana cuisine, white beans are served in the South, too. This dish is often found as part of “plate dinners” or on cafeteria lines. White beans are mild flavored — and combined with some seasonings the beans are quite tasty. Dried beans have many health benefits — they are high in fiber (the kind that lowers cholesterol and controls blood sugar) and protein — so I’m trying to eat them more frequently. And a pound of beans makes a large batch — enough for several meals.

Cooking Dried White Beans in a Crock Pot

I have to admit; we never ate dried beans at home when I was growing up. I learned to cook dried beans by the trial and error method after moving here to Louisiana when I was an adult. It was a learning process; I made my share of mistakes. After making many batches, I have this recipe to where I think it’s very good. I’ll share what I did. So here is: “Cooking 101 – How to Cook Dried White Beans”.

Cooking dried beans is a slow process; it can take up to 4 hours. I found that using a crock pot made the task easier. Finally, a good use for my crock pot!  The white beans cook away all afternoon in the crock pot without alot of attention — they rarely become dry as might happen if you are cooking the beans on the stove. Just find a day where you are home for several hours; add the ingredients and stir the crock pot batch occasionally.

Step 1: Purchase the beans and ingredients

You won’t find anything listed as “white beans” when you go to the grocery store. The recipe for “White Beans & Smoked Ham” can be made from several types of dried beans including most commonly — navy beans. White beans can also be made with Great Northern beans, pinto beans and cannellini beans. In this recipe, I used dried Great Northern beans. They have a nice mild taste and a creamy texture when cooked. They are larger than navy beans but cook in less time. 

This simple dish uses just a few seasonings and ingredients. Easy! It is not highly spiced like other Cajun dishes. If you prefer, you can add garlic powder and onion powder; but I don’t think it is necessary. For seasonings, I used only fresh onions and garlic; dried thyme, black pepper and salt as needed. I cooked the beans in unsalted chicken stock which adds to the flavor as well as smoked ham.

Traditionally, smoked ham hocks or salt pork are used for seasoning ingredients in Louisiana-style recipes. I like the smoked flavor of ham and decided to use center cut slices of ham. These are lower in fat than salt pork, less bones than ham hocks. You could also substitute boneless smoked turkey breast in the recipe.

Step 2: Soak the beans and rinse them

Most types of dried beans should be sorted, soaked and rinsed prior to cooking them. Don’t skip this step. Soaking the beans removes indigestible sugars that cause flatulence and gas in your intestinal tract when you eat the beans. Also, the beans may cook in a slightly shorter time when pre-soaked.

There are two methods to soak beans. First method: sort the beans and remove any small stones, grit and wrinkled beans. Add beans in a large pot and cover with two inches of cool water (for 1 lb beans use 10 cups water). Let set overnight (or at least 8 hours).

I’m never this organized to let the beans soak overnight and am ready to cook the recipe the same day. The second method is to quick-soak the beans. After sorting the beans, add the 1 lb beans and 10 cups water to large pot, bring the water to a boil, let boil 5 minutes, turn off and let beans set for an hour.

Then pour the beans into a colander, draining off the cooking liquid and rinse the beans in cold water. Don’t skip this step. Rinsing the beans thoroughly removes the indigestible sugars and compounds which cause gas. And no, you don’t rinse out all the vitamins and minerals.

Here is the 1 lb bag of Great Northern beans after soaking for an hour. Dried beans swell during the soaking process. Great Northern beans easily triple in size. That’s why you add so much water — don’t skimp on water — it is inexpensive.

Step 3: Add seasonings and cook the beans in Crock Pot

Chop up the seasonings — onion, garlic and ham.

Add the seasonings and ham to the crock pot, along with soaked and rinsed  beans, thyme and chicken stock and up to 2 to 4 additional cups of water (depends on how much chicken stock you use). The liquid should cover the beans (but no more than an inch). The beans don’t further increase in size if pre-soaked by the “quick soak method”. Turn crock pot setting to high, cover with lid and cook for three hours. Just let them cook away in the kitchen and occasional check in on their progress. You may need to turn to a low setting if the beans begin to boil. No need to keep watching the pot! Let the beans cook until tender, stirring every hour. The beans shouldn’t go dry when cooked in the crock pot.

Step 4: Adjust seasonings, add salt and pepper

After about 2-1/2 to 3 hours, taste and adjust the salt. The beans should be getting soft — if not, continue to cook another 1/2 hour. Add salt, if needed, and pepper close to the end of cooking — not at the beginning. Why? Salt makes the bean shells become hard and cooking will take longer. It is also difficult to judge how much salt you need because the ham contains salt and often chicken stock contains salt.  Add 1/2 tsp salt, if needed, and pepper and let cook 15 additional minutes, and then taste again. The salt will be absorbed into the beans. Add another 1/2 tsp salt, if needed.

So, that’s it. Serve the beans as a main course with a salad and bread — or as a side dish with perhaps something like jambalaya. And why are we cooking and eating all these beans? Healthy dietary recommendations usually include lots of fiber —  here’s an easy way to accomplish that goal.

This is a simple recipe for cooking dried white beans. One pound of Great Northern beans makes a large pot. I freeze the left-overs in small containers, then get out what I need for a meal from time to time. Enjoy!

Louisiana White Beans and Smoked Ham

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 lb dried Great Northern beans
  • 10 cups water, plus 2 to 4 more additional cups of water
  • 32 oz sodium-free or reduced sodium chicken stock
  • 1 lb smoked center cut ham, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Method and Steps:

  1. Carefully sort through dried Great Northern beans removing any small stones, grit and wrinkled beans.
  2. Add the dried beans and 10 cups of water to large pot. (The water should cover the beans by about two inches.) Place the pot on the stove on high heat, bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the pot of beans from the stove burner and let the beans set in the pot on a kitchen counter for an hour. The beans will double to triple in size.
  4. Using a large colander, pour the beans into the colander removing all the cooking liquid. Rinse the beans in the colander several times with cold water.
  5. Pour the rinsed beans into a crock pot. Add the chicken broth and enough water to just cover the beans. (The beans will not swell further).
  6. Add the diced ham, chopped onion, minced garlic and dried thyme. Stir the pot.
  7. Cover the crock pot tightly with its lid, turn the crock pot to “high” heat and let the beans cook away. Stir each hour and then remember to place the lid back on. It may take about two hours for the beans to begin to boil. At this time, turn the beans to “low”  heat.
  8. After 2-1/2 hours taste the beans. If they are soft, they are ready to adjust the salt. If not, cook for another half hour to one hour.
  9. When the beans are tender, taste and adjust the salt. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper. Cook for an additional 15 minutes and taste again, adding 1/2 tsp additional salt if needed.
  10. Remove from crock pot and serve. Refrigerate or freeze left over beans.



Leave a Reply