In truth, we wouldn’t be mad at a barbecue featuring exclusively meat. But for most folks, some kind of side salad or dish is going to be expected. Sometimes that means cole slaw, sometimes that means mac and cheese, and sometimes that means baked beans. Today, we’re starting our campaign against canned baked beans (sort of -- more on that later), and championing a DIY, maximum-flavor approach. That’s right -- we’re gonna make smoked baked beans. They’re a natural companion to any tasty barbecue, and the sweet, spicy flavor of traditional baked beans pairs excellently with smokey barbecue flavor.
First, a few handy tips and tricks to help you along the way to baked bean greatness. You’ll want to run your smoker at about 225 or 250 degrees F. Most woods will be just fine for this recipe, with the potential exception of mesquite. The flavor from mesquite can be quite aggressive. But if that’s fine with you, then go for it.
Next...While you can definitely use dry beans and soak them yourself, it’s not super necessary. There’s enough going on in this dish that you won’t miss the from-scratch flavor (if such a thing even exists in beans). You’ll also notice that we're smoking the beans in a cast-iron skillet. This means less cleanup, and more of that hearty, cast-iron flavor. Lastly, the recipe does call for thick-sliced bacon. It won’t get extraordinarily crispy or crunchy through our means, but more melt-in-your-mouth tender. If you’re looking for crispy bacon, try cutting it more thinly or roasting in an oven before use.
Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees. As mentioned, basically any wood is fine for this recipe. Fruity woods take our preference, but that’s just us.
Preheat a hefty cast-iron pan over high heat. Cook the bacon pieces on each side for about 3-4 minutes. You want to render out almost all of the fat, but not overcook or crisp the bacon.
Remove the bacon pieces, and place them on a dry paper towel, reserving the bacon fat in the pan. Cook the onions in that bacon fat. You want them translucent and softened -- not brown or caramelized.
Pour the cans of beans into the pan. Add your barbecue sauce, brown sugar, cayenne, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and molasses. Stir and simmer for about five minutes, just to incorporate all of the flavors.
Put the slices of bacon on top of the beans, in whatever awesome pattern you choose, and bring your whole setup over to the smoker.
Smoke this bad boy for about 3 hours, uncovered. Any remaining fat is going to seep off the bacon and into the bean mixture, creating a veritable symphony of smokey, bacony, beany flavor.