Fire up the slow cooker to make some delicious ham and bean soup from that leftover ham bone. There is nothing much more traditional than this classic soup. Please enjoy one of the best soups you can make at home.
Ham and bean soup has always been a personal favorite of mine. Combine that with what to do with the ham bone leftover from Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas dinner, and most of us need this recipe.
This recipe is my take on traditional Senate Bean Soup. It is a simple soup made with navy beans, ham hocks, and onion. It is always on the menu in the dining room of the United States Senate. There are two versions, with one using mashed potatoes to thicken the soup.
I combined about five recipes and methods, so no specific inspiration piece other than the Senate recipe. Most recipes use chicken broth for all or part of the liquid, but we won't need the broth by using the ham bone.
Some of the recipes suggested 8 hour cooking times on low, even with dry beans. It took a total of 10 hours with the overnight soaked beans to be the right consistency.
Lastly, the amount of liquid varied from 6 cups to 12 cups. Many commenters thought the high-end was just too much liquid. I suggest 6 cups. It did not completely cover the ham but was just right. They, like me, want a thicker bean soup.
A low five for us ham and bean soup lovers—a nice 4 for everybody else.
🐖 Ham for Bean Soup
The ham in the recipe is a huge variable. Start with a "meaty" bone. If you stripped it, you would have no meat.
All hams have a considerable amount of salt. Many hams have been coated with honey or other sweet products. Also, you have a large amount of fat, much of it on the surface.
All those things are a problem that could ruin your soup. So the preparation of the ham is critically essential.
Use running water to remove surface sugar. Scrape off any fat that you can. And be careful with adding any sodium.
What if I don't have a ham bone?
This recipe is designed around the ham bone since we use it for the meat and create a broth to make the soup. BUT, it is relatively easy to make it without a ham bone.
You can use about 2 cups of diced ham, and instead of water, use low-sodium chicken broth.
Beans for Ham and Bean Soup
The beans are usually white beans like navy or great northern beans. The navy beans are smaller and more traditional for this soup.
Sure, various kinds of beans may be used and will provide other flavors and textures.
Cannellini beans (AKA white kidney beans) are commonly used. Mixtures of various beans are sold as bean soup mix and make an excellent substitute.
Either dry or precooked beans will work fine in this recipe.
But, this was a great recipe to start using dry beans. And if you're on a budget, it makes this soup very cheap, considering you were going to toss that ham bone.
The 1 pound of dry will equal approximately three cans or one 48 oz jar of precooked beans.
You should drain the beans and rinse them well to decrease any added salt. Of course, use low sodium products.
The cooking time will decrease by a few hours with precooked beans vs. dry beans.
Many will say yes, and you will find recipes that don't soak. But, not the wisest answer in my experience
Generally, dry beans should be soaked before cooking. It was always done in the "good old days." A nice overnight soak was always done to decrease the gas associated with beans. Also, picking through the beans for pebbles and rocks was important. We frequently found them.
There is also a "quick-soak" method that involves bringing them to a boil for a few minutes then allowing them to rest for an hour. Some studies show this is more effective than overnight soaking.
The no-soak crowd thinks soaking is a waste of time. Tradition says less gas and more even cooking. Tradition is right.
Let me explain. There are some simple carbohydrates in beans that humans can not digest. But your intestinal bacteria can digest them, which produces a lot of gas.
Well, our friends at Cooks Illustrated in The Science of Good Cooking have done some testing and found that there is less gas.
Soaking decreases these carbohydrates some but the rapid method even more. But neither technique comes anywhere close to eliminating them. Now, don't you feel smarter?
✔️Tips and FAQs for Ham and Bean Soup
Most hams have a lot of salt. Please don't add any until you're sure you need it near the end.
The best way is to add a finely diced potato about halfway through cooking. You can also add ¼ to ½ cup of potato flakes near the end of cooking.
The second recommended method is to remove about a cup of beans, run them through a blender and mix them back into the soup.
I do not suggest corn starch since it may gel some with cooling and change the texture later.
You can also create a roux with flour and butter and add the last hour of cooking.
None other than the onion in the traditional soup. I suggest carrot and celery since they made it more interesting taste-wise.
A diced potato added halfway through cooking will help thicken some. You can also add a half or a full cup of mashed potatoes near the end to thicken.
Good refrigerated for 3-4 days. Good in the freezer for 3-4 months.
All ham soups have a lot of animal fats. By refrigerating, the fat will come to the top and be solid. It can be removed, and your soup will be healthier.
📖 Other Ham Recipes
🖼️Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
A nice meaty ham bone and some simple ingredients are all that's needed. Dry beans are in the picture, but you may use 48 oz. of precooked navy or great northern beans.
Rinse 1 pound of navy or great northern dry beans. Pick through the beans for any stones or pebbles. Cover with water and allow to soak overnight. The quick-soak method is discussed in the post.
Under running water, rinse any coating off a meaty ham bone. Also, scrape off any surface fat that you can. Add to a larger crock pot.
Dice two medium carrots, two ribs celery, and one medium onion. Carrot and celery are options but recommended.
Add the beans, carrots, celery, and onion to the crock pot. Add ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and one bay leaf. Add 6 cups of water.
Cook on low for 8 hours total if using precooked beans and 10 hours for dry beans. Two hours before the end of cooking, remove ham bone to a cutting board. Allow the bone to cool for 10-15 minutes. Then remove all meat from the bone. Discard bone and any fat and waste.
Place meat back into the cooker, stir in well, and finish cooking. This is a good point to taste test for adding salt if needed.
If you have time, refrigerate overnight and scrape the fat off the top the next day before reheating.
Crock Pot Ham and Bean Soup
- 1 pound dry navy beans - or great northern; see note about precooked beans
- 1 ham bone - meaty
- 2 carrots - medium - diced - optional
- 2 ribs celery - - diced - optional
- 1 onion - medium - diced
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 bay leaf - optional
- You may use one pound of dry beans or 48 oz. of pre-cooked beans.
- If using dry beans, rinse 1 pound of navy or great northern dry beans. Pick through the beans for any stones or pebbles. Cover with water and allow to soak overnight.
- Under running water, rinse any coating off a meaty ham bone. Also, scrape off any surface fat that you can. Add to a larger crock pot.
- Dice 2 medium carrots, two ribs celery, and one medium onion. Carrot and celery are options but recommended.
- Add the beans, carrots, celery, and onion to the crock pot. Add ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon pepper, and one bay leaf. Add 6 cups of water.
- Cook on low for 8 hours total if precooked beans and 10 hours for dry beans. Two hours before the end of cooking, remove ham bone to a cutting board. Allow the bone to cool for 10-15 minutes. Then remove all meat from the bone. Discard bone and any fat and waste.
- Place meat back into the cooker and finish cooking. This is a good point to taste test for adding salt if needed.
- If you have time, refrigerate overnight and scrape the fat off the top the next day before reheating.
My Private Notes
- Use a large crock pot of 6 quarts or above.
- Hambones (and hams) vary a lot. So this is like many recipes; these are guidelines and not rules.
- If yours is honey-coated or spiced heavily, you need to rinse as much of that off as possible. Also, scrape off surface fat.
- Most hams have LOTS of salt. Don't add any until you're sure you need it, and use low sodium products if possible.
- You can use pre-cooked navy or great northern beans. You will need 48 oz., and they should be drained and rinsed. Use low sodium is possible.
- Dried beans should have an overnight soak in water to decrease gas production.
- It is a good idea to cool this soup in the refrigerator and when cold, remove any fat on top.
- If you don't have a ham bone, you can still make this soup with about two cups of diced ham and use low-sodium chicken broth for the water.
- The total cooking time for the dry bean version is 10 hours and 8 hours using pre-cooked beans.
- Stores well refrigerated for 3-4 days. And will freeze well for 3-4 months.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Editor's Note: Originally Published December 13, 2014. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.