9 Regional Styles Of Baked Beans

Baked beans are a staple dish in American cuisine made with navy beans, a type of white bean that is slow-cooked with a sweet and savory sauce. Their history can be traced all the way back to Native Americans, who shared this staple food with the first European settlers, who also incorporated beans into their diets. However, since the settlers came from very different backgrounds, they all brought their own twist to the recipe, which means you can get a very different serving of baked beans depending on where you try them.

Baked beans are also quite nutritious, as they provide lots of healthy carbs, fiber, and plant-based protein. In fact, since they were inexpensive and provided a good source of nutrients, they became a popular food for factory workers and loggers. Yet, their sauce usually contains ingredients such as molasses and brown sugar, which significantly elevates their added sugar content (although this is something you can control if you make them at home) (via Healthline).

While baked beans were particularly popular in the northeastern U.S., where they were often served as a breakfast dish alongside brown bread and scrambled eggs, you may now find baked beans across the country, from the northeast coast to the south and the pacific northwest. Here are some of the different regional styles of baked beans served throughout the U.S.

1. New England-Style Baked Beans

To this day, many people automatically think of baked beans when thinking about New England, especially Boston and Maine, seeing that, as the story goes, the northeastern U.S. is the birthplace of the dish as we know it today. Still, each state within the New England region has its own way of making the dish.

For starters, Boston baked beans are made by simmering navy beans on the stove for several hours, and their sauce includes ingredients such as molasses, brown sugar, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce, as well as onion and garlic for added flavor. Furthermore, traditional Boston baked beans are made with salt pork, a type of cured pork that adds a salty taste. Yet, some modern recipes use bacon or ham as a substitute. Once the beans are cooked and the sauce is ready, they're mixed and baked in a beanpot for a couple more hours. In contrast, Maine baked beans are commonly made using yellow-eye beans and a sauce with similar ingredients. However, Maine baked beans are typically placed in a large pot along with the other ingredients, and the mixture is covered with water or stock and slowly baked together, allowing the beans to absorb the flavors of the other ingredients and become tender and creamy. Lastly, if you travel to Vermont, you'll find a sauce prepared with maple syrup instead of molasses.

Either way, the result is a hearty and satisfying dish that has become a beloved part of the region's culinary heritage and that's enjoyed on its own or served alongside other traditional New England dishes at cookouts, family gatherings, and other special occasions.

2. Southern-Style Baked Beans

Southern-style baked beans are known for their rich and smoky flavor, courtesy of their star ingredient: barbeque sauce. Unlike other regions' baked beans, which are sweetened with brown sugar or maple syrup, Southern-style baked beans include a fair amount of barbeque sauce in addition to the recipe's molasses for a thick and stickier feel. Plus, aside from cooking the beans with pork, these get an extra salty element from fried bacon bits, which are tossed on top of the beans before baking.

Moreover, while Southern-style baked beans favor dry navy beans, you can swap them for their canned version if you're short on time or forgot to soak them overnight in water. However, keep in mind that canned beans contain more salt, so you might have to adjust your recipe accordingly. Southern-style baked beans are often served with cornbread, fried chicken, or other classic southern dishes at barbecues, picnics, and other outdoor gatherings. The combination of smoky flavor, tender beans, and rich sauce makes this dish a true southern classic.

3. Tex-Mex Baked Beans

Considering that Tex-Mex was initially a term used to describe Mexican-style food, it is no surprise that Tex-Mex baked beans or cowboy baked beans are a flavorful and spicy variation of the classic baked beans popular in the rest of the country. This version of the dish is typically made with pinto beans (also known as cowboy beans, hence the name), according to Harvard Health Publishing the most popular type of bean in the U.S., which is known for its distinctive brown spots when raw. Nevertheless, the main difference between Tex-Mex baked beans and other variations isn't the choice of beans but rather their sauce, which is significantly spicier and somewhat less sweet.

Tex-Mex baked beans are baked with a sauce prepared using bold and savory ingredients such as chili powder, onion, garlic, and tomato sauce. Some recipes may also include ingredients such as bacon or jalapenos to add more of Tex-Mex cuisine's traditional flavors. Lastly, once served, they are often topped with crumbled cheese. These baked beans can be enjoyed on their own, as a side dish for your eggs at breakfast, or with other Tex-Mex specialties such as tacos, enchiladas, or fajitas for lunch or dinner.

4. Kansas City Baked Beans

Kansas City has a rich and well-known BBQ culture with an emphasis on its signature BBQ sauce, which is a thick and sweet tomato-based sauce with a tangy flavor. As you can imagine, their staple sauce isn't only reserved for their slow-cooked meats; it has also made its way into the city's version of baked beans. In addition, Kansas City-style BBQ is famous for the use of dry rubs that help add more flavor to the meats, which also became a key ingredient of the city's baked beans. The rub typically consists of a combination of brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, and onion, garlic, mustard, and chili powders. To make this version of the dish, you'd have to mix your canned or pre-cooked beans with the BBQ sauce and dry rub before baking.

Moreover, another difference between Kansas City-style baked beans and other versions of the dish is the addition of the city's famous burnt ends, which are literally the crispy, caramelized, and burnt pieces from the ends of a brisket that are cut off before serving. Thus, adding the burnt ends gives the beans a smoky flavor that is characteristic of the region's BBQ cuisine. Overall, Kansas City baked beans are a flavorful dish enjoyed by BBQ enthusiasts and home cooks alike. They are the perfect complement to grilled meats, sandwiches, and other classic BBQ dishes.

5. Memphis-Style Baked Beans

Memphis-style barbecue is world-famous for its emphasis on pork, dry rubs, and tangy sauces, and what better way to enjoy some ribs or pulled pork than with a side of Memphis-style baked beans? Given the city's eagerness for dry rubs, it is no surprise that they play an essential role in their baked beans recipe. Thus, the city's baked beans commonly contain their signature rub, which has a spicy yet herbal flavor. Memphis-style BBQ rub often consists of brown and white sugar, paprika, salt, black pepper, chili, garlic and onion powders, as well as ground thyme, oregano, allspice, and ginger.

Memphis-style baked beans are often cooked with bacon, pork shoulder, or other types of smoked meat, which adds an extra layer of flavor to the dish. Alternatively, you may add a bit of liquid smoke, which gives the beans a smoky flavor without the need for a smoker or grill. As you can see, the combination of sweet and savory flavors, along with the smoky aroma, make Memphis-style baked beans a perfect complement to grilled meats and other classic BBQ dishes.

6. Carolina Baked Beans

Carolina-style baked beans also pay homage to the region's BBQ style. They're known for their sweet and smoky flavor, which is typically made with a combination of ingredients that create a unique version of the dish. For starters, Carolina baked beans include a mix of different types of beans, such as pinto, butter, great northern, navy, and red kidney beans. This provides a distinctively rich sensorial experience by subtly combining multiple flavors and textures. Plus, the beans are mixed with caramelized onions and crispy bacon before baking, which adds an extra sweet and salty flavor to the dish. Finally, some recipes also call for the addition of barbecue sauce (which you can also swap for ketchup) and even hot sauce to give the beans a deeper smoky and spicy flavor characteristic of Carolina-style BBQ.

Overall, Carolina-style baked beans are a unique and delicious twist to the dish that is perfect for any summer cookout. The tangy sauce, combined with the smoky flavor, makes them a perfect complement to grilled meats and other classic barbecue dishes, like coleslaw macaroni salad, cornbread, and collard greens.

7. Santa Maria Baked Beans

Santa Maria-style baked beans are a popular dish in the Central Coast region of California, particularly in the city of Santa Maria (as suggested by their name). The dish is known for its simplicity and its use of local ingredients, like Anaheim chile and pinquito beans. Pinquito beans are a type of bean that grows exclusively in California's Central Coast. They are related to kidney beans, yet, they have a very small size compared to other bean varieties and have a light pinkish color, which indicates the presence of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant compound with anti-diabetic and anti-obesity properties, per a 2017 review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

Santa Maria-style baked beans are cooked in a sauce made with Anaheim chile and ancho chile powder, onion, garlic, brown sugar, paprika, dry mustard, and tomato puree. Like most baked beans recipes, these are also mixed with smoked bacon and ham for added meatiness and flavor. Santa Maria-style beans are often served with tri-tip, a popular cut of beef that is also associated with the region. The combination of the flavorful beans and the tender, juicy beef is a hallmark of Santa Maria-style cuisine.

8. Hawaiian-Style Baked Beans

Hawaiian-style baked beans are a tasty variation of the classic baked beans dish that features unique tropical flavors. For instance, since Hawaii is the lead pineapple producer in the country, their baked beans typically incorporate this local ingredient, giving it a sweet and savory taste that is perfect for any Hawaiian-style meal. These baked beans' sauce is prepared using pineapple chunks, bell pepper, onions, brown sugar, ketchup or tomato sauce, and mustard. And for those who don't have any fresh pineapple at hand or are too lazy to cut it (no judgment, we know it's quite the hustle!), you can always use some canned pineapple. Furthermore, as in most baked bean recipes, some cooks may still include ingredients such as bacon or diced ham for added flavor.

Hawaiian-style baked beans are a versatile and flavorful dish that is perfect for luaus or any island-style gathering. The use of staple ingredients, along with classic cooking techniques, make it a true regional gem that is beloved by many, especially when served alongside other traditional dishes like Hawaiian coleslaw or grilled pork or seafood.

9. Louisiana-Style Baked Beans

Louisiana-style baked beans are another southern variation of the dish known for their bold and spicy flavor, which is achieved through the use of ingredients typical of the state's Cajun cuisine, a unique and flavorful blend of French, African, and Native American influences that are a significant part of Louisiana's heritage. Thus, making Louisiana-style baked beans includes the use of local ingredients such as andouille sausage (a smoked pork-based sausage), a mix of garlic and onion powders, kosher salt, and cayenne and ground black peppers. Plus, these baked beans wouldn't be considered Louisiana-style without their staple mix of chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery, also known as the Holy Trinity of Cajun cuisine, due to their widespread use in most Cajun dishes.

Louisiana-style baked beans are usually served as a side dish with other Cajun specialties such as jambalaya or gumbo. The combination of spicy flavors, along with the tender texture of the beans, makes it a perfect complement to any southern-style meal.