Learn how to cook Great Northern beans in the Instant Pot with this easy recipe! Pressure cooked with smoked ham, savory aromatics, and chicken broth, the beans are pillowy soft and infused with irresistible flavors.
You’ll find white beans in my Tuscan white bean soup and chana masala, but have you ever considered eating them on their own? With the right flavor boosters, you’d be surprised at how hearty and flavorful they can be!
I make this Instant Pot Great Northern Beans recipe when I need a healthy side dish, a protein-packed topping for grain bowls, or an easy potluck recipe. The beans are nutty and the addition of ham in a flavorful broth makes them completely irresistible! I rarely end up with leftovers by the end of the meal.
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What are Great Northern beans?
Great Northern beans or Northern beans are a type of white bean. Similar to chickpeas and cannellini beans, they’re medium-sized, have a mild almost nutty flavor, and a firm, yet tender texture when cooked.
They’re a popular addition to soups and stews but are just as crave-worthy when served on their own or used as a topping for salads or veggie sides.
Here are some other reasons why you’ll love this recipe:
- Completely hands-off. Thanks to the Instant Pot, I get to relax while the beans cook to tender perfection!
- Anything but boring. A side of white beans may not sound exciting, but thanks to a handful of flavor boosters, you’ll be craving these beans for days after digging in.
- Always crowd-pleasing. When I need a healthy yet family-friendly side dish or something easy to make for dinnertime sides, this ticks the box.
- Customize it! Need a vegetarian or vegan version? Want to give this recipe extra pizazz? I got you! Check out the ways to customize it in the Variations section.
All it takes is a handful of flavor boosters to help these beans taste their best:
- Great Northern beans. I like to use dry beans because they’re tastier than canned, inexpensive, and easy to cook. They’re also loaded with plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and a long list of other health benefits.
- Garlic and onion. These two savory aromatics give this recipe a delicious baseline of flavor.
- Water. To soften the beans and prevent them from sticking to the Instant Pot.
- Chicken stock. Cooking white beans in water AND chicken broth fills them with savory flavors. Feel free to use vegetable broth or just water if you want.
- Smoked ham. Pick up sliced smoked ham from the deli counter. It gives the beans a slightly sweet, smoky, and salty flavor. Leftover home-cooked ham works just as well!
- Seasonings. You need salt, pepper, paprika, and ground cloves.
How to cook Great Northern beans
This recipe requires a little bit of prep work the day before, but comes together easily in the Instant Pot the next day! Here’s how it’s done:
Step 1- Soak the beans. Pour the beans into a large pot or bowl and cover with water. Let them soak overnight.
Step 2- Cook in the Instant Pot. The next day, add the soaked beans and the rest of the ingredients to the Instant Pot. Cook on high pressure for 25 minutes, then season to taste when they’re done. Serve with warm bread and enjoy!
Alternative cooking methods
Before cooking the beans in the instant pot, I also tested this exact recipe both using the stovetop and also a slow cooker. If you don’t have an instant pot, try one of the two methods below.
Cooking dry beans on the stovetop takes a little longer than the pressure cooker but still delivers amazing results.
Start by adding the soaked beans and the rest of the ingredients to a medium saucepan. Next, bring the mixture up to a boil, then cover with a lid and lower the heat to a simmer. Finally, let the beans simmer for 6 to 8 hours or until they’re tender.
Slow cooker instructions
The crockpot also cooks the beans slowly (obviously), but it’s just as hands-off as the Instant Pot.
To slow cook, add the soaked beans and the rest of the ingredients to your slow cooker. Cook on High for 4 to 6 hours or until the beans are slightly soft and tender.
Recipe tips and variations
- Speed up the soak. When I’m in a rush, I’ll quick soak the dried beans. To do so, add them to a pot and fill it with water, then heat the water to a boil on the stovetop. Boil for a few minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and let the beans soak in the warm water for about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- Adjust the cooking time. If you don’t want to soak the beans, increase the cooking time by 10 minutes.
- For a deeper flavor. Start the recipe by sauteeing the onions and garlic in the oiled Instant Pot using the Saute function. Their developed flavors will soak right into the beans!
- Instead of smoked ham. Flavor the beans with pastrami, turkey pastrami, bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, or any cured or deli meat you like.
- Vegetarian substitutions. Simply omit the ham from this recipe and cook the beans in vegetable broth instead of chicken broth for a vegetarian version.
- Season with fresh herbs. Try cooking the beans with bay leaves, fresh thyme, oregano, and/or parsley to give them a boost of fresh Italian flavors.
To store: After cooling, you can store the cooked white beans in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
To freeze: The cooked beans also freeze well for up to 6 months. Let them thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating.
To reheat: The easiest way to reheat the beans is in the microwave in 30-second increments. You could also reheat them in a pot on the stove over medium-low heat with a small splash of broth.
More Instant Pot recipes to try
Frequently asked questions
These three varieties of white beans are very similar and are good substitutes for each other. However, all three vary slightly in flavor, texture, and size, with Navy beans being smaller than Great Northern and cannellini beans (AKA white kidney beans).
I haven’t tested this recipe with canned Great Northern beans, so I’m unsure if it will work or not. Usually, cooking canned beans in the Instant Pot leads to overcooked and mushy beans (since they’re already cooked).
If you aren’t using the instant pot option, you do need to soak the beans overnight or for at least 4 hours.
Great Northern Beans Recipe
- 1 pound great northern beans
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 large onion diced
- 4 cups water
- 13 1/2 ounces chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups smoked ham cut into cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- Wash and soak the beans overnight or for at least 10 minutes.
- Add all the ingredients to the Instant Pot. Close the lid, set the vent to the sealing position, and set the Instant Pot to high pressure for 15 minutes. Natural release for 10 minutes.
- Season to taste with more salt and pepper and serve warm.
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