By Carl Hanson

A big pot of sweet-and-savory baked beans is summer's essential side dish! The perfect partner for potlucks, picnics, barbecues -- for so many main dishes we love: burgers, BBQ ribs, and fried chicken. Baked beans also add just the right flavor contrast to easy weeknight meals, putting the finishing touch on a simple pork chop or baked chicken dinner.

We've gathered together a batch of top-rated baked beans recipes featuring secret ingredients that vault them straight to the top -- and we've thrown in a few tips to help you make perfect baked beans. We'll start off with a classic baked beans recipe that's made completely from scratch, with dry navy beans, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, and bacon, and then we'll get down to some shortcut versions featuring canned beans -- plus some quick-and-easy recipes for the Instant Pot®! Let's get to it!

Chef John's Boston Baked Beans

These Boston baked beans start off with dry navy beans. Watch the video, to see how Chef John bakes up a batch of perfectly tender beans. If you're making ribs, you'll want these Boston baked beans on the side. Same goes for fried chicken, baked chicken, grilled sausages -- anything you can put in a picnic basket. Ditto pork chops and roasted ham. See how it's done:

COOK'S NOTE: If you're swapping dry beans into a recipe that calls for canned, remember that dry beans often triple in volume when fully cooked. For more, check out How to Cook with Beans.

More top-rated baked beans recipes

Each one of these recipes features a secret ingredient (or two!) that makes them extra potluck and picnic worthy!

4-Bean Baked Beans

Secret Ingredient: Four types of beans

Four different kinds of canned beans (kidney beans, butter beans, lima beans, and pork and beans) are baked with molasses, brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar, and mustard. "I have substituted different kinds of beans and enjoyed all of the results" says scubaLQ. "Use whatever kind of beans you like! I have also used Canadian bacon instead of regular bacon."

Photo by lutzflcat

Cola Beans

Secret Ingredient: Cola

Here's a super-simple baked beans recipe. Canned baked beans combine in the slow cooker with bacon, brown sugar, and your favorite cola. "This is a favorite at potlucks and barbeques!" says OHHCANDY. "I've often wondered if I get invited for my company or my Cola Beans! I've tried several different brands of colas, but have found that Coke works best. I like to pre-cook the bacon about half-way so it doesn't make the beans too greasy, but it's not necessary. This recipe can also be baked in a conventional oven at 350 degrees F for about 1 hour."

Photo by Allrecipes

Bar-B-Q Baked Beans

Secret Ingredient: 4 types of canned beans and chili sauce

Cans of kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, and Great Northern beans are baked in a quick mixture of chili sauce, brown sugar, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and molasses, and topped with slices of bacon. "I have been serving this recipe for over 20 years," SHARONHOWARD. "It is always a big hit but I have never told the children that there are lima beans in it! This is especially good with a baked ham or spareribs, and is easily doubled. Enjoy!"

Photo by lutzflcat

Bourbon and DP Baked Beans

Secret Ingredient: Bourbon...and Dr. Pepper

Cans of baked beans with pork transform into the perfect sweet and savory baked beans. Bacon adds a salty, savory something, while the brown sugar, Dr. Pepper, and ketchup develop sweet and tangy flavors. "I came up with this recipe after having made some bourbon baked beans and seeing a recipe for cola baked beans and I thought: Why not combine the two?" says dwfalls78.

Photo by lutzflcat

Apple Baked Beans

Secret Ingredient: Apples and raisins

Another quick-and-easy baked beans recipe, this one features canned pork and beans, lots of bacon, diced apples, barbeque sauce, brown sugar, and plump raisins. "Don't let the title or ingredients scare you away from this recipe," says Nancy S. "These are the greatest baked beans I have ever had."

Photo by lutzflcat

Mother Earth's Baked Beans

Secret Ingredient: Ground beef

With bacon, seasoned ground beef, and four types of canned beans (kidney beans, Great Northern beans, and pinto beans, and baked beans), this one's a meal all to itself. "Slow-cooked richness in a fast-paced world, this hearty recipe is sure to add comfort and satisfy the largest of appetites," says Terra. "You'd swear it was almost homemade."

Photo by lutzflcat

Instant Pot® Baked Black Beans

Secret Ingredient: Smoked sausage and black beans

Dry black beans, smoked sausage, and bacon are the stars of these strictly savory, not sweet baked beans. "These baked beans are so delicious, you may end up eating them as your main dish instead of a side dish!" says Diana71. "They are packed with a savory, meaty flavor and are also great over rice."

Photo by Diana71

Want more baked beans recipes for your Instant Pot? Explore these favorites: Instant Pot Baked Beans, Instant Pot Smoky Korean BBQ Baked Beans, and Quick Instant Pot Baked Beans.

Texas-Style Baked Beans

Secret Ingredient: Jalapeno and red peppers and beer

Pinto beans are the bean of choice here. "Take the time to make up a batch of these authentic Texas baked beans the next time you have an outdoor cookout," says CookinMike. "These are great if you don't have a smoker, but if you have access to a good hickory or pecan fire, take advantage. For a real Texas experience, enjoy a bottle of Lone Star beer for yourself and one for the beans while you make them."

Photo by Carson's Mommy

Vegetarian Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce

Secret Ingredient: Dry kidney beans and hot paprika

These saucy vegetarian beans start out with dry kidney beans. Prep the beans and then combine them with tomato paste, brown sugar, vinegar, cornmeal, and exciting spices. "Why buy baked beans when they are so easy to make yourself," says Churgin. "Vegetarian baked beans with a tangy tomato sauce are a British staple. Can be served hot or cold."

Photo by Soup Loving Nicole

And for a smoky, spicy vegetarian option, try Home-Style Vegetarian Baked Beans.

Check out our collection of Baked Bean Recipes.