14 Ways To Boost The Flavor Of Canned Baked Beans

While main courses are the central part of a meal for a reason, that doesn't mean that sides should be neglected. What's the point of serving up a big, juicy, delicious burger with all the fixin's if you're going to add a mediocre dish of baked beans on the side?

There's no reason to be thinking of baked beans as the same sort of side that your grandmother served. You know the ones, the beans that were kind of bland, maybe a little too sweet, and poured right out of a can. That, however, doesn't mean you should be throwing those cans away — exactly the opposite!

Canned baked beans can easily be turned into a very respectable option with just a few additions. The great thing about canned baked beans is not only their convenience but their versatility: Next time you're looking for something to serve alongside some BBQ chicken, a burger right off the grill, or some of your favorite sausage, reach for the canned baked beans and use one of these super-easy tricks to elevate them into a side that will have everyone lining up for seconds.

Take inspiration from the flavor of Boston baked beans

All baked beans might be delicious, but that doesn't mean they're all created equal — and there's something extra-special about pulling a tray of homemade, from-scratch, Boston baked beans out of the oven. But who has time for that?

Fortunately, it's entirely possible to elevate a can of baked beans into an approximation of those sweet Boston baked beans. While that can start with adding some of the traditional flavors like garlic, rosemary, and thyme, one thing is key in kicking the sweetness up a notch. Boston baked beans do that with the help of a very specific ingredient: molasses.

Molasses adds a deeper and richer sweetness than sugar can manage, and it actually does something else, too. Since molasses is high in calcium, it works to help keep those beans firm. Canned baked beans can be a little questionable in texture, and when the texture's iffy, it doesn't matter how good the flavor is. Reinforce them both with molasses!

Turn up the heat

If you've never added some spicy heat to your baked beans, what are you doing with your life? While most canned baked beans might be just a little too sweet, that can be easily rectified by adding some heat.

And to be clear, we're not talking about heat just for heat's sake; we're talking about flavor, too. The thing that so many dishes get wrong is adding the discomfort without the taste, and unless you're on one of those sorts of dare-you-to reality shows, what's the point? We recommend you reach for one of the most flavorful, complex hot sauces out there: Sriracha will change your canned beans for good. It's hot, sure, but it also brings a distinctive, tangy garlic flavor to whatever it's added to — and in this case, it doesn't take much.

Alternately, there's another incredible option out there, Tobasco — in particular, Buffalo Tabasco. Add just a few dashes of this sauce to your canned baked beans, and you'll develop an almost buttery, vinegary tang of heat that comes to the forefront and masks the bland dullness that comes out of the can.

You can't go wrong with pork and beans

Pork and beans are one of those food duos that just go hand-in-hand, so why not use some to improve on what comes out of that can? Let's talk again about Boston baked beans, a complex dish that might take a while to make from scratch. Adding just one of the key ingredients — salted pork — to your canned beans can elevate them with a deliciously salty flavor.

Salt pork might not be something that you keep on hand, and that's all right. There's another pork option that's downright delicious when added to canned baked beans, and since we're huge fans of going no-waste, we're huge fans of this.

Pulled pork is another one of those time-intensive dishes that's worth the wait, but it's also one of those meals where you probably made more than you can eat in a single day. That's where pulled pork baked beans come in. Adding some leftover pulled pork to your beans and letting it cook down a bit will impart all of that fatty, sweet, and smoky flavor from the pork and turn those leftovers into something entirely fresh. It's a win all around.

Add some sweet freshness with citrus

Citrus? With baked beans? Absolutely! There's a major advantage to this one, too. Baked beans can be surprisingly sugary, and that might mean they're a no-go for anyone who's keeping an eye on their blood sugar. However, oranges and orange juice are low glycemic index (GI) foods. That means they're not going to cause spikes in blood sugar levels the way other sweet foods can. So, if you're looking to add sweetness without the spike, reach for the orange juice.

Similarly, maple syrup has also been found to raise blood sugar slower than other types of sugar, and when it comes to canned baked beans, that's great news. Why? Because adding both — as this diabetic-friendly baked beans recipe does — can sweeten up an otherwise drab can of beans without the side effects of other types of sugars. Even if that's not something you're concerned about, the unique, tangy citrus flavor is sure to be unique!

Everything's better with bacon

Baked beans can be a great option for any meal where you're looking to please the carnivores but also provide something substantial for the vegetarians ... because, let's be honest, vegetarian dishes can sort of get overlooked. If that's not a concern, though, you can definitely opt for improving the quality of canned baked beans with the help of some bacon.

It's not an exaggeration: Everything really is better with bacon, and it's entirely possible that your family will just be so excited to see bacon in their beans that they won't even care if it came out of a can. As this BBQ baked beans recipe says, the trick is to cook the bacon first and then incorporate the beans into the skillet with the bacon, bacon fat, and any other ingredients you might want to add, like a dash of brown sugar or some chopped onions and peppers. You might even experiment with different kinds of bacon.

Serving alongside some BBQ? Consider using applewood smoked bacon. Looking for something with an extra kick? Try piquant black pepper bacon. Rest assured, this is one idea where the possibilities are endless, and you're never, ever going to regret giving something new a try.

Dijon mustard is very doable

Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon? Yellow mustard is fine for many things, from hot dogs to pretzels. If you're looking for something with an unparalleled depth of flavor, though, reach for the Dijon mustard ... and somewhere, somehow, you'll get a few life bonus points if you quote that famous Grey Poupon commercial along the way.

In all seriousness, just a dash of Dijon mustard will go a long way in adding some serious flavor to canned baked beans; as we all know, the canned version of this long-time favorite can be a little lacking in the flavor department. As with this super-easy baked beans recipe, Dijon mustard works even better when it goes hand-in-hand with another pantry staple: brown sugar.

There's another option here, too, and that's to add honey in lieu of sugar. Honey mustard is, of course, amazing with everything from chicken tenders to a salad, so it's not entirely surprising that it can turn canned baked beans from something bland to something sweet and a little bit spicy.

Whip up an easy version of Tex-Mex beans

Boston baked beans might be the most famous of the varieties of baked beans, but there's another one that you can use as some serious inspiration for turning canned baked beans from something so-so to something delicious. We're talking about Tex-Mex baked beans, and although they're traditionally made with pinto instead of white beans, you can definitely channel their spirit when you're looking for a creative way to overhaul a boring can of beans.

This works particularly well with those beans that are just too overwhelmingly sweet. Tex-Mex beans are, as their name suggests, more on the spicy side than the saccharine, so adding ingredients like chili powder, tomato sauce or paste, and onion powder will go a long way toward getting rid of any cloying sweetness.

If your family is a family that loves things hot and spicy, you could also go one step further here. Grab that jar of jalapeños, and add some fine-diced peppers. Feel like adding a few tablespoons of the juice they're in? Go for it — the tomato paste will help keep the thickness of the beans right where you want them to be, and don't forget to add some cheese or cilantro when you plate!

Turn to Worcestershire sauce

It's everyone's favorite unpronounceable ingredient; You don't have to know how to say something to love it, and that's a good thing. Worcestershire sauce has been getting people tongue-tied for a good long time, but it still deserves a spot in the kitchen. It's famously — or infamously — made from ingredients that just don't seem like they go together, like molasses and anchovies. That, however, might be why it just works.

Add just a dash to your canned baked beans, and you'll find that it brings an incredible, salty-sweet umami flavor that humans have loved for hundreds and hundreds of years — and that's not an exaggeration. Garum is an ancient Roman equivalent to Worcestershire sauce, and just like every household should have a bottle of Worcestershire, every Roman household had garum. 

It doesn't take much to dress up those baked beans, and Worcestershire is a condiment that you definitely don't want to go overboard with. If you'd like to take it a bit further, take a page from Full Moon Bar-B-Que: add a dash of garlic salt, mustard, and some brown sugar along with Worcestershire, and you're on your way to a winning side.

Introduce liquid smoke

Anyone who's ever made and then tasted real barbecue — meat cooked low and slow in a smoker — knows it's nothing like some less time-intensive imitations. There's just something about that smoky flavor ... right? There is, and it's actually a fascinating bit of culinary history. Humans have been cooking things over open fires for a long, long time, and it's only when we switched to electric and gas that we realized we crave the flavor. It taps into something ancient and primal in our psyches, and there's something almost poetic about that. 

Now, what does that mean when it comes to canned baked beans? Liquid smoke is an ingredient everyone should have in the kitchen because it can add some deliciously smoky flavors to almost anything. It doesn't take much, either — this is one ingredient where less is more — and it'll help turn those boring old canned beans into something reminiscent of Memphis-style baked beans.

That particular kind of baked bean is typically made with some kind of smoked meat, but we don't always have that sort of thing on hand. A bottle of liquid smoke won't be exactly the same, but add in a little paprika, pepper, onion powder, and even a dash of chili powder with that liquid smoke, and while you might not believe you're in a legit southern BBQ joint, it'll be close enough that you can dream. Channel this ancient flavor into a modern obsession.

Sliced sausage makes baked beans into a Cajun classic

Real, authentic, honest-to-gosh Louisiana-style baked beans aren't just a side. They're an experience. They're filled with things like peppers, onion, and celery, but they also come with a healthy helping of all the seasonings that make Cajun cuisine one of America's most unique regional cuisines. While it might seem like a bit much to try to turn a can of baked beans into something that might be served in the French Quarter, you can still take a page out of their playbook.

Adding sliced sausage to your canned baked beans and letting them simmer for a bit is a great way to infuse those beans with fat and flavor. Louisiana-style baked beans typically use andouille sausage, but if you don't happen to have any, don't worry — pretty much any kind of sausage will work to turn those beans into something better. Polish kielbasa will add a smoky flavor, and it's not even necessary to use sliced sausage. You could also opt for crumbling and cooking something like Jimmy Dean sausages, then add the meat and the juice to your baked beans. Not bad at all, right?

Create a root beer float

When it comes time to restock the pantry, you might want to consider not only canned baked beans but cans of root beer, too. It's an almost weirdly versatile drink that isn't just good for making root beer floats but can be used in savory dishes from pulled pork to making an incredible glaze for bratwurst. And when it comes to baked beans? That's right, it's pretty great there, too!

You'll want to let this one simmer for a bit because it will need a little time to turn from a sugary soda into a delightfully sweet flavoring for your baked beans. How much you want to use is up to you, but if you decide to turn that root beer flavor to the max, you might worry about the final product being too runny — especially considering canned baked beans are often on the sunny side, anyway. Don't worry; there's a fix to thicken your baked beans: Just add a little bit of cornstarch at a time, stir, and let concentrate. Not only will this improve the texture of those canned beans, but the root beer will add just enough mysterious flavor as to have everyone asking for your secret.

Fruit preserves aren't just for breakfast

Peach preserves might seem like the sort of thing that will only come out of the fridge when it's time to top the toast or maybe as an ice cream accouterment when dessert rolls around. But it's pretty handy when it comes time to dress up some bland canned baked beans. If your canned beans are lacking in the sugar department, a scoop or two of peach preserves will bring the sweetness and the flavor, and everyone can use a little more fruit in their diet, right?

To let the preserves fully incorporate, simmer this add-on. If that doesn't seem like enough, there's another super-easy additive you can join in. Peaches and bourbon go together really well, almost as good as bourbon and BBQ. Add a splash or two of bourbon along with the peach preserves, and again, let simmer.

Pro tip: Don't bother with top-shelf bourbon, and don't use that special bottle you bought for those terrible days when you just want to treat yourself. Since the bourbon will disappear as it becomes another layer of flavor, this is one instance where it's fine to go with the cheap stuff!

Make those boring beans into chipotle beans

Yes — you should absolutely have some of these in your kitchen because these smoked red jalapeños add serious flavor to almost anything you're cooking. Not a fan of heat? That's all right because chipotles are more about a smokey taste than the sort of hot that will melt your face off.

And they go a long way in elevating canned baked beans into something you'd want to eat. Our favorite things about this option are twofold: not only is there charred flavor, but there are also several ways to add chipotle to your beans. Keeping a tube of chipotle paste in the fridge is the best and easiest: Squeeze out as much or as little as you want, and there's no worry about wasting anything. (There are also no seeds here in case those little bits are normally a turn-off.)

You could also opt for chopping a few peppers from a can of canned chipotles, but that will be a little more complicated. You're not going to be using the whole can, after all, and that's going to put some pressure on you to use it or lose it for the rest of the can. However, you'll also benefit from using the adobo sauce that the peppers are packed in ... so there's some food for thought here.

Pineapple can become a new favorite

Putting pineapple on pizza might be the sort of thing that causes fights to break out, but even those who condemn the idea will love the sweetness that this polarizing fruit brings to baked beans. If you're looking to add some pizazz to canned baked beans that are lacking in the distinctive sweetness that makes this side dish popular in the first place, slice up some chunks and even add some of the juice from a can — because, let's be honest, if you're reaching for the canned baked beans, you're not going to want to spend all that time cutting up a fresh pineapple.

And there's no need to: Canned pineapple works just fine to add sweetness and flavor. There's a bonus here, too, and that's being able to skip artificial sweeteners and added sugars. There are, after all, a ton of canned baked beans that are high in both of those, so if that's something you're looking to cut out of your diet, pineapple is a great fix. Skip the fake stuff, dress it up with fruit, and be confident in the fact that you're serving up something everyone is sure to love.

Alb Media owns and operates Tasting Corner, Mashed, and Daily Meal.