All about our unsung pantry hero.

By Zoe Denenberg
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Canned beans
Credit: HandmadePictures/Getty Images

If you find yourself cooking out of the pantry for the next couple of weeks, all those back-shelf cans of beans you bought in case of an emergency may just come in handy. But we’d make the argument that canned beans deserve a spot in your culinary routine year-round. Our Food Editor Lisa Cericola declares canned chickpeas to be the one canned food you should always have in your kitchen.

Beans are a terrific source of fiber, B vitamins, and protein; they pack lots of nutrients into each serving, not to mention that they’re inexpensive and last on your shelf for ages. Rehydrating dried beans may result in a more nuanced, flavorful dish, but canned beans reign supreme in terms of convenience (they’re already fully cooked) and can be easily infused with extra flavor.

Whether you’re cooking black beans, red beans, pinto beans, lima beans, cannellini beans, garbanzo beans, or any other type, we’ve collected tips and tricks to help you along the way.

1. Drain and rinse your beans

No matter what kind of bean you’re cooking, you’ll want to start by draining and rinsing the beans under cold water. Most canned beans are packed in with a gunky liquid that’s less than appetizing—while this cloudy liquid is harmless (it’s really just starch and salt), it’s high in sodium and doesn’t taste very good. After draining the can, you’ll want to thoroughly rinse your beans to wash off the excess liquid. This standard procedure applies to working with all different types of beans, no matter how you plan to prepare them.

2. Choose your cooking technique (stovetop simmer vs. oven roast)

This is where the process starts to change based on the bean you’re cooking. Depending on the type of bean you’re working with, you may want to keep your beans wet or dry for cooking.

Certain beans with creamy, starchy interiors call for gentle treatment and an extra boost of hydration. Black beans, kidney beans, and cannellini beans will dry out if they’re not cooked in enough additional liquid. For these bean varieties, a gentle simmer on the stovetop with 1/2 cup of water or broth for around 30 minutes will do the trick; this method will help them retain their shape and keep their interiors smooth and creamy. We recommend cooking your beans in chicken stock or broth to infuse them with extra flavor.

Other beans like chickpeas are more solid and can crisp up nicely when roasted. If you’re roasting chickpeas and want a crispy result, be sure to dry your beans before tossing them in the oven. For this method, gently roll the chickpeas between paper towels to ensure that they're completely dry before adding oil and seasoning. You can also add chickpeas to soups, stews, or pasta dishes—they’re one of the most versatile beans out there.

3. Boost the flavor (but don’t over-salt!)

In order to bring new life to your canned beans, you’ll want to season them with the spices of your choice. Don’t fall into the common trap of over-salting your beans—since most beans already contain a good amount of sodium, they actually don’t require too much extra salt. Instead, focus on flavor-boosting spices that will complement the beans’ flavors.

The spices that you should use vary based on the type of bean you’re cooking. Black beans, often used in Mexican dishes, pair particularly well with cumin and paprika; we also like to cook our black beans with onion and tomato. Similarly, pinto beans play nicely with jalapeño, garlic, oregano, and cumin (like in this recipe for Skillet Charred Beans). We love to roast our chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Beans themselves are relatively neutral in taste, which means they can take on a variety of flavor profiles.

4. Use beans in your favorite recipes

The above guidelines map out the best way to cook beans as a standalone side dish, but you can also add beans to some of your favorite recipes to bring extra texture and flavor. Most beans make great additions to soups and stews (especially tender great Northern beans or kidney beans), but they can also be used in myriad other ways.

Beans play a starring role in our favorite chili recipes, from Pressure-Cooker Beef-and-Bean Chili to Slow Cooker Turkey Chili (just don’t make these mistakes). Use your favorite creamy white beans in our Ham-and-Bean Soup, the perfect catch-all dish for your Easter leftovers.

When it comes to appetizers, a can of beans can go a long way in building the foundation of your spread. Transform your chickpeas into homemade hummus, a simple appetizer that will have you swearing off the store-bought stuff. Turn a couple cans of black beans into a fresh Black Bean and Corn Salsa—no extra cooking required—or cute Mini Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas. And Sheet Pan Nachos aren’t complete without a sprinkling of pinto beans.

For more of our favorite ways to cook with canned beans, refer to these recipes.