It's the Fourth of July, there's going to be a picnic - we simply must have baked beans. Right? And every family has their own special recipe. Here's mine: Prepare beans for baking. Cover with bacon. Bake.
OK, so it's not THAT easy, but that's the basics. Some take the time to cook their own white northern beans, some cook their own navy beans. A few die-hard pinto fans actually use that! I have a recipe on this site for Sweet and Sour Baked Beans that has been a favorite at many church socials. But the old standby "take a can of pork and beans" baked beans is always a favorite.
Filling a 9" x 13" pan takes a 3+ pound can of Van Camp's Pork and Beans. Yes - brand specific, and drain that extra liquid off, please.
Add to that your favorite flavored Bush's Baked (or Grillin') Beans. That helps set the tone for your family's favorite flavors - or to fit with whatever the main dish might be. Any one of them will be delicious.
But -- they are not enough alone! There has to be (to taste):
Ketchup (or catsup if you prefer)
Mustard (not nearly as much as the above!)
Onions, minced (can be a bit of dry onion soup, but a full packet is toooo much)
Molasses - for us, an absolute must.
Fortunately, it's not necessary to measure, but it is good to taste after mixing up to see if there's "something missing" and your taste buds will suggest what you need. Usually, I've found, a bit more brown sugar or molasses will help. Some recipes call for BBQ sauce instead of ketchup. Some call for adding a bit of vinegar. Again, all of that is flexible to taste. Mix all of that together.
Finally, it's ready for the bacon. Again, use your favorite -- smoked, mapled, whichever your family likes. It will enhance the flavor of the beans, so please don't just the the cheapest. As you can tell from the picture above, I think every spoonful of beans should have a bit of bacon. So, I cut strips into thirds and make certain the entire surface of the pan is covered.
I have seen recipes where the bacon is partially cooked, then onions and green peppers sauted in the bacon grease and added. That sounds delicious, but I haven't tried it -- you might want to.
Now baking is another variable. The bacon has to be done, so we're talking over an hour at 350 degrees. Some may take it a bit more, but less just will not get the job done. The 'juice' should be thickened and the bacon done before the pan comes out of the oven. Then you get:
In the winter, it's great being in the kitchen smelling them baking! In the summer, not so much, but they still smell good. They are tradition and are to be enjoyed.