British Baked Beans

A pot of British style baked beans

Originally, Heinz baked beans were prepared in the traditional United States manner for sales in Ireland and Great Britain. Over time, the recipe was altered to a less sweet tomato sauce without maple syrup, molasses, or brown sugar in order to appeal to the tastes of the United Kingdom. It is this version of baked beans which is most commonly used outside of the United States. Baked beans are commonly eaten on toast or as part of a full English, Scottish, or Irish breakfast.

Commercial canning of baked beans began in the US around 1895, by the H.J. Heinz company and they soon began exporting their beans to the UK and elsewhere. However, over time they altered the recipe to appeal to the tastes of their British customers, so if you buy a can of baked beans in Great Britain today it will be in a tomato based sauce that is less sweet than the molasses based sauce Americans are used to. Now the British version is actually imported back to the USA for sale in specialty shops and to British expats.

Now I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted the commercial version of this dish, so I can’t really say how my recipe measures up. However I based it on a bunch of copycat versions, most of which had rave reviews from British baked bean lovers.

While I’m sure they are also served in much the same ways we serve baked beans here in America, as a side dish, there are two very quintessentially British meals that involve baked beans. The first is beans on toast. Yes, that’s pretty much what it sounds like, baked beans on a piece of toast, maybe with some cheese melted over the top or other additions if you’re feeling fancy.

The second meal is the full English breakfast (or Irish, Scottish, etc, depending where in the Isles you are), or “fry up”, which is a plate of bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, and vegetables, usually including baked beans.

Canned “baked” beans, of any provenance, are not actually baked, but steamed or cooked during the canning process. As such, most of the recipes I looked just called for cooking on the stove top, although enough called for baking that I included that as an option in the recipe.

British Baked Beans

Serves: 8 or more
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 2-2 ½ hours
Total: 2 ½ hours, plus soaking time

2 ¾ cups dry great northern beans
8 cups water
1 teaspoons salt, 

2 ¾ Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 ½ 14 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
¼ cup ketchup
2 ⅔ Tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups chicken stock
½ cup water
3 ¼ Tablespoons brown sugar
7 teaspoons white sugar
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
⅛ teaspoon black pepper 
1 teaspoon salt

5 ⅔ teaspoons cornstarch
¼ cup water

4 Tablespoons molasses
4 bay leaves
3 ¾ cups tomato puree, in place of crushed tomato.
Sourdough bread, for beans on toast
Parsley, to garnish. 

Pick over beans and remove any broken beans or foreign objects. Cover with several inches of cold water and leave to soak overnight.

Drain beans and place in a large pot with 8 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until beans are just tender 45-90 minutes, depending how old your beans are. 

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large or heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and sauté for 10-15 minutes, until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes longer until fragrant. (If using onion and garlic powders save them to add with salt and pepper in the next step.)

Add tomatoes, ketchup, tomato paste, stock, water, sugars, Worcestershire, vinegar, pepper and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or so. Transfer to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and puree until smooth. Return to pot. 

When beans are tender, drain and add to sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 50-55 minutes, until sauce is thickened slightly and beans are cooked. Combine cornstarch with ¼ cup cold water and stir to dissolve any lumps. Pour slurry into the beans and stir until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and serve.


Add the cornstarch slurry when you add the beans and bake in a 300F oven for 50-55 minutes. 

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