Butter beans DSC 2307

Butter beans

One day my grandma mentioned my uncle was preparing a big pot of butter beans for dinner. She then asked how I liked to cook them, but I confessed they weren’t something I ever cooked, let alone enjoyed. She found that odd, since I love most legumes such as pinto beans, black beans, and black-eyed peas. But I held my position and continued to insist that I was not a fan.

A few months later, I was on a trip to Florida. As we were exploring the Florida Keys, we stopped for lunch at a spot along the water that was known for its fried seafood. As we were ordering, the waitress mentioned one of the specials that day was butter beans. A friend from North Texas said she loved butter beans and placed an order. When asked if I’d want to share, I shook my head and admitted I wasn’t a fan.

When the bowl of hot butter beans arrived, however, they were fragrant with ham and herbs. My friend took a bite and declared them a fine example of the dish. In fact, she enjoyed them so much she ignored the array of fried foods on the table and just focused on her bowl.

Curious, I asked if I could have a taste and she handed me a spoon. I dipped in and scooped a few beans along with the thick broth and a small piece of pork and took a bite. They were tender, savory, salty, and smoky. I asked her if butter beans were always this good, and she said when prepared properly they were.

How did I not know?

Butter beans | Homesick Texan

While the name butter beans is charming and promises a dish that’s creamy and rich, for some reason I’d always assumed that they were as unlikable as their younger form, which goes by the name lima beans.

Now, this is an opinion that goes back to ill-prepared lima beans from childhood, in which the beans were grassy and tough. Once I learned that butter beans were lima beans that had been allowed to grow into their full, large form, I chose to avoid them, as well.

Butter beans, however, have a long heritage on the Southern table, and along with my grandmother and friend who have long been in love with them, it turns out that if you ask most people with roots in the South they will also share a butter-bean memory. Indeed, the Dallas Morning News once referred to them as the filet mignon of beans, and Georgia band the B-52s has even memorialized them in a fun, catchy song.

In Texas, they are more of a home-cooked dish than one found at restaurants, though you will occasionally see them at barbecue joints, small-town cafes, and soul food spots. Texans with roots from Southeast Asian and Latin American include them in dishes, as well. While butter beans may originally hail from Peru, it’s clear they are appreciated by people from all over the world, making them a most egalitarian food. Indeed, as the B-52s once sang, “Everybody likes butterbeans!”

For mine, I cooked them as my family did and simmered them with a meaty, smoky ham hock. Since they don’t take as long to soften as other dried beans, I found that using garlic and onion powders instead of fresh aromatics delivered more flavor in the shortened cooking time. A bay leaf adds an herbal touch, and black pepper as well as dashes of pepper vinegar, give the hearty, tender beans a kick.

Butter beans | Homesick Texan

Butter beans can either be offered as a main dish or as a side. Some enjoy them over rice, though if you follow my grandmother’s suggestion, you’ll want a hot skillet of cornbread to go with them, too.

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4.86 from 28 votes

Texas butter beans

Course Side Dish
Cuisine Southern, Texan
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 8
Author Lisa Fain


  • 1 pound dried butter beans (large lima beans)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 teaspoon pepper vinegar


  • Place the butter beans in a pot. Cover with 1 inch of water and stir in the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Bring the pot to a boil on high, then turn off the heat and cover the pot and let it sit for 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  • After the beans have soaked for 20 minutes, add to the pot the bay leaf and ham hock. Cover the pot and place it in the oven and cook covered for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook until tender, about 15-30 minutes, depending on the beans. Remove the pot from the oven.
  • Take the ham hock out of the pot, and remove the rind and bone, then dice the meat. Stir the meat back into the pot, then add the pepper vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Serve warm.

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4.86 from 28 votes (24 ratings without comment)

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  1. Am I understanding right? The only water you add is the one inch from step one? I didn’t add any other water. My beans have a great flavor, but they turned out mushy. It seem like maybe they needed some extra water added?

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Brandye–Yes, that’s all the water you typically need. What do you mean by mushy? They’d be dry and hard if there wasn’t enough water!

  2. This is the best butter bean recipe l’ve ever made. Thank you so much 🙂

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Sharry–I’m so glad you enjoyed them!

  3. Ted Arbuckle says:

    5 stars
    I had butter beans and cornbread all of my life and loved them. When I got married, my young Illinois born wife spiffed them up. She added a bay leaf, sliced smoked sausage, sliced carrots and can tomato’s.
    It along with cornbread became a complete, delicious meal.

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Ted–Those sound fantastic!

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Micah–It’s vinegar that has peppers in it. When you pour the vinegar out of the bottle, there’s a strainer that keeps the peppers in the bottle. Trappey’s is a popular brand sold in Texas. You can also add jalapeño seeds to white vinegar, let it sit for a few minutes, then strain it. Or you can use regular vinegar or a vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Tabasco.

  4. Albert Johnston says:

    5 stars
    I was not planning on butter beans for dinner. I pulled what I thought was a chicken carcass out of the freezer to make chicken veg. stock and discovered it was actually several chunks of ham. (always label your freezer bags) I knew I had a pound of dry butter beans in the pantry so I changed course. My mom was raised during the depression and one of the regular visitors to our dinner table when I was growing up was butter beans. I have always cooked mine on the stove top but I decided to try your version. I keep 1/2 cup bags of sauteed veg.s in the freezer (bell pepper, carrot, celery & onion) so I decided to throw one of those in. The beans had been in the pantry for a while so I wound up giving them an extra 20 min. in the oven. I also used chicken stock instead of water. They were so good I plan on having them tomorrow with some skillet cornbread.

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Albert–Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m so glad you enjoyed this new approach to cooking butter beans and your leftovers will go perfect with cornbread. And yes, I am also guilty of not labeling my freezer bags, which can make for an interesting adventure when cooking. Ha!