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How long to cook dry beans for chili?

Chili is a hearty, flavorful stew that is perfect for feeding a crowd. While you can certainly use canned beans to make chili, starting with dried beans from scratch allows you to control the texture and flavor more. However, cooking dried beans takes advance planning and patience. So how long does it actually take to cook dry beans for chili?

Why Use Dried Beans?

Using dried beans has several advantages over canned beans:

  • More economical – dried beans are cheaper per serving than canned beans
  • Better texture – dried beans hold their shape better during long cooking times, while canned beans can get mushy
  • More flavor – dried beans have a fuller, more robust bean flavor
  • No added sodium – canned beans often have a lot of added salt
  • More options – you can find a wider variety of bean types dried rather than canned

For these reasons, most chefs recommend using dried beans for dishes like chili where the bean flavor and texture stands out. The key is allowing enough time to properly prepare them.

How Long Does it Take to Cook Dried Beans?

Cooking times for dried beans can vary quite a bit depending on the type and age of the bean. As a general guideline:

  • Smaller beans like lentils and split peas take about 30-40 minutes to cook
  • Black beans, chickpeas, and navy beans take around 1-2 hours to become tender
  • Kidney beans and pinto beans can take up to 3 hours of cooking
  • Large beans like lima beans can take up to 4 hours

Soaking the beans first and discarding the water can reduce the cooking time by about half. Here is a table with approximate cooking times:

Bean Type Unsoaked Cooking Time Soaked Cooking Time
Split Peas 30-40 minutes 20-30 minutes
Black Beans 1-2 hours 45 mins – 1 hour
Navy Beans 1-2 hours 45 mins – 1 hour
Kidney Beans 2-3 hours 1-1.5 hours
Pinto Beans 2-3 hours 1-1.5 hours
Lima Beans 3-4 hours 1.5-2 hours

Keep in mind that cooking time can also vary depending on the age of the beans. Older beans may take longer to soften. The cooking time starts once the beans come to a boil.

Should Beans be Soaked Before Cooking?

Soaking beans before cooking is an optional but recommended step. Soaking accomplishes a few things:

  • Shortens cooking time – beans absorb water during soaking
  • Improves texture – soaked beans cook more evenly
  • Increases digestibility – can reduce gas caused by beans
  • Removes indigestible sugars – oligosaccharides that cause gas are diluted

There are two methods for soaking beans:

Overnight Soak

The traditional method is to soak the beans in water for 8-12 hours or overnight before cooking. Sort through the beans to remove any stones or debris, then place them in a pot and cover with several inches of water. Let them soak overnight on the counter or in the refrigerator.

Quick Soak

If you’ve forgotten to soak your beans or don’t have time for an overnight soak, you can do a quick soak instead. Bring the beans and water to a boil in a pot for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let soak for 1 hour.

Regardless of soaking method, drain the water after soaking before cooking to remove indigestible sugars. Discard any beans that floated to the top or that still look hard after soaking.

Tips for Cooking Beans

Follow these tips to cook your beans perfectly every time:

  • Sort beans – Pick through raw beans and remove any stones, debris, or shriveled beans
  • Rinse beans – Rinse beans in a colander under cool water
  • Soak if desired – Use an overnight or quick soak method
  • Drain soaked beans – Drain soaking water to remove indigestible sugars
  • Use enough water – Beans should be covered by 2-3 inches of water. Add more during cooking if needed.
  • Don’t add salt too early – Add salt toward the end to prevent beans from getting tough.
  • Simmer gently – Boiling vigorously can burst beans. Let them simmer gently.
  • Taste as you go – Test frequently for doneness. Beans can go from hard to mushy quickly.
  • Natural release – When done, remove from heat and let sit in water 5-10 minutes to allow beans to soften further.
  • Store cooked beans – Let beans cool completely before refrigerating or freezing. Use within 3 days.

Cooking Beans in a Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are great for cooking beans without having to watch a pot. To cook dried beans in a slow cooker:

  1. Pick over beans, rinse, and soak if desired
  2. Drain soaked beans and place in slow cooker
  3. Add enough water to cover beans by 1-2 inches
  4. Cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or HIGH for 4-5 hours
  5. Stir occasionally and add more liquid if needed
  6. When done, let sit on KEEP WARM for 1 hour before using

The longer cooking time helps beans soften thoroughly and develop flavor. Avoid quick cooking on HIGH as beans may overcook and burst.

Cooking Beans for Chili

The best beans to use for chili are hearty varieties that hold their shape well through long cooking, such as:

  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Black beans
  • Navy beans
  • Cranberry beans
  • Pink beans

Here are some chili bean cooking tips:

  • Soak beans overnight or quick-soak
  • For thicker chili, drain soaked beans and simmer until tender before adding to chili
  • For thinner chili, add undrained soaked beans and cooking water to chili
  • For canned beans, drain and rinse before using to remove excess salt
  • Add beans to chili during last 1-2 hours of cooking
  • Season beans with chili spices for more flavor

Allowing the beans to simmer in the chili allows them to absorb flavors from the other ingredients. Undercooked beans may stay firm and starchy.

Sample Chili Bean Cooking Timeline

If using kidney beans, try this timeline:

  1. Night before: Soak beans overnight in water
  2. Morning: Drain soaked beans and start chili base
  3. Afternoon: Add drained beans to chili and simmer 2-3 hours until tender
  4. Evening: Eat and enjoy!

How to Tell When Beans are Done

Checking your beans frequently is key to prevent over or undercooking. Beans are done when:

  • skins are tender but still intact
  • beans are plump, creamy, and soft inside
  • beans squash easily between fingers
  • interiors are creamy, not starchy or gritty
  • beans retain their shape without splitting

Be careful not to overcook beans into a puree or mush, unless that texture is desired. Perfectly cooked beans should be smooth and creamy but still retain their shape.


Use this troubleshooting guide if your beans are not cooked properly:

Issue Cause Solution
Beans too hard Undercooked Continue cooking 30-60 mins until soft
Beans split open Overcooked Cook less time; watch closely
Beans mushy Cooked too long Reduce cooking time
Beans gritty Old beans, improper soaking Use fresher beans, soak properly
Beans taking too long Improper soaking, hard water Soak longer, use filtered water

Storing Leftover Cooked Beans

Properly stored, leftover cooked beans last 3-5 days in the refrigerator and 6-12 months in the freezer. To store cooked beans:

  • Let beans cool completely before storing
  • Transfer to airtight container and refrigerate up to 5 days
  • For longer storage, freeze beans in freezer bags or containers up to 12 months
  • Beans may separate when thawed; stir to recombine

Refrigerate beans in their cooking liquid for best texture and flavor. Drain before freezing to prevent freezer burn. Frozen beans are great to have on hand for quick weeknight meals!

Ready-to-Use Shortcut Options

If you don’t have time for home-cooked beans, look for these convenient options:

  • Canned beans – Drain and rinse canned beans before using
  • Tetra Pak beans – Shelf-stable bean packets, just heat and serve
  • Instant Pot – Can cook beans from dry to done in under an hour
  • Electric pressure cooker – Faster bean cooking with the push of a button
  • Crockpot – Allows hands-off bean cooking while you’re away

While home-cooked beans have the best flavor and texture, these alternatives help you get bean dishes like chili on the table faster.

In Conclusion

Cooking dried beans from scratch requires some planning, but yields big rewards in terms of taste, nutrition, and cost savings. Allow 1-4 hours of simmering time depending on the bean type and whether they’ve been pre-soaked. Check beans frequently for doneness – they should be creamy inside but still hold their shape. With a little practice, you’ll be able to cook up perfect pot of beans every time to use in soups, chili, and more!