Here’s a simple recipe that is chock full of great smoke flavor and perfect for winter grilling comfort food…
48 ounces of precooked great northern beans (comes in a jar)
29 ounces cans of chicken broth (two 14.5 ounce cans)
3 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 medium onion, diced
4 ham shanks
Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix with a small can of cream corn added for the only side dish this meal really needs.
Operating on the spur of the moment, I didn’t have time to soak beans overnight so I opted for beans that were already cooked that I felt I could still impart some great smoke flavor into.
First, I needed a device to contain the beans on the grill and permit smoke to penetrate as much as possible. I didn’t have a metal colander such as Don used so I strolled through the kitchen utensil section at the local grocer and found a metal mesh colander that appeared to offer a large surface area for smoking the beans. Hint: be sure to remove the little rubber tips on the legs prior to placing on the grill.
The now well-broken in and seasoned Char-Broil 940X is set up for indirect smoking with coals on the left and the beans on the right:
***Editor’s Note ~ See how dad has no grill grate over the coals? That makes it a lot easier to add more smoke chips and fuel when needed which, on cold days when the heat is sucked away so quickly when you open the lid for a matter of seconds, can greatly increase cooking times***
In hindsight I would consider a bit smaller amount of coals as the beans were already cooked and simply needed to add some smoke flavor. I chose a mixture of cherry, hickory, and apple chips that were soaked several hours prior to grilling. I’d normally prefer to soak the chips for a day or two but this was a spur of the moment effort.
The colander, with beans spread about evenly, is placed on the grill, wood chips added, and the lid closed:
I selected a target time of 2 hours for the smoking process stirring every 20-30 minutes. I really needed to keep a close eye on this since I used an abundant amount of charcoal and didn’t want too much heat to reach the already cooked beans. Hindsight is great isn’t it?
Here’s the old-time Dutch oven to be used to simmer the beans and shanks. Apparently all the other pots in the kitchen have handles that won’t take kindly to the heat of the grill:
At 20 minutes in I stirred the beans and added more wood chips:
Some of the beans were browning a bit and sticking to the colander. This might be re-titled, “Fool’s Folly,” but I’m hoping to avoid disaster at this point as the temperature is running at 250+. This simply reinforces the need for a smaller fire—just enough to get the smoke rolling is all that is necessary. My thought now is to limit the smoke time to an hour.
Now some further prep work is needed prior to simmering the beans and shanks. The onion is diced while the beans smoke:
I’m going to pre-heat the chicken broth prior to adding the beans and shanks to hasten the grilling/simmering process.
A bit of broth along with the onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and the remaining juice drained from the jar of beans is added to the Dutch oven to sauté stove top:
Once the onions are translucent the heat is turned off while waiting to add the beans and the rest of the warmed broth:
Here’s a pic one hour into the smoking process:
I’ve decided to go another 20 minutes then pull the beans. The trusty Char-Broil 940X has held a steady 250 degrees for the entire time even after opening the lid 3 times to stir and add wood chips.
The beans are removed from the grill after an hour and 20 minutes then added to the Dutch oven along with the heated broth and shank portions:
The fire is stoked with more briquettes, wood chips added, and the pot is placed directly over the coals to simmer.
After simmering for an hour the pot is brought inside and the meat is trimmed off the ham shanks and returned to the mixture:
Here comes the “folly” part—the mixture hasn’t cooked down enough and isn’t the desired thickness or consistency. The dinner bell was ringing, meaning Mimi’s cornbread was almost ready and I wasn’t! The stove top was pressed into action to cook down the liquid further and it still wasn’t enough:
The solution? A flour and water mixture was added to thicken the broth and it worked fine. In retrospect, when using cooked beans less broth is required. Originally I added 3 cans and should’ve only used 2. I would also change the method of simmering next time around. I would simmer the beans and shanks stove top instead of on the grill. The shanks are previously smoked and the beans have already soaked up loads of smoke flavor so I feel very little is added by trying to simmer on the grill. This will also reduce your outdoor exposure while winter grilling. A longer simmer inside will also help tenderize the shank trimmings.
Here is what it looked like upon serving:
How was it? The the beans really picked up the smoky flavor. The somewhat more delicate great northern beans were a good choice. Perhaps the best indicator was Mimi going for seconds. It was really delicious. Ever since smoking baked beans the first time on the grill I’m convinced that I don’t want beans any other way. The legume family has a wide array of sponges for smoke flavor and I’m looking forward to additional creative meals using this method. This variation on a traditional comfort food meal really hit the spot on a cold winter’s day and the leftovers were even better a couple days later.
If you have any questions, or your own combinations of pork and beans, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email.
If you would like to see other pork dishes, click here.