How to Make Butter Beans

Updated February 21, 2017

The same butter bean that Southerners love to cook with ham and a side of cornbread is a lima bean -- although outside of the South, they still call them lima beans. In addition, butter bean lovers pick them slightly green and cook them with butter, which offers a creamy taste unlike the dry, mealy texture of regular Lima beans. Unless you grow your own, dried butter beans will have the best flavour. Soaked and cooked, they prove an excellent meat substitute. High in fibre, low in calories and virtually fat-free before additions, they are also nutritious.

Working over your sink, sort through your butter beans, a handful at a time. Look for any rocks or clumps of dirt, removing them from the beans. Throw away any broken, discoloured or shrivelled beans as well.

Rinse each handful of butter beans you sort, then toss them into a large pan. Continue until all the beans are clean and picked through.

Pour about 10 cups of water over 0.454kg. of butter beans; adjust amounts by adding 2 to 3 cups water per cup of dry beans. Dry beans soak up a lot of water as they reconstitute, so the water will be much higher than the beans.

Cover your butter beans with a lid. Place them in a refrigerator and leave them to soak for eight to 12 hours. Leaving them to soak on the counter may cause the beans to ferment, especially in warm, humid temperatures. Soaking your beans allows the sugars that cause flatulence -- called raffinose-type oligosaccharides -- to dissolve, resulting in less gas from eating them.

Drain your butter beans, either by using a lid or a colander. Rinse the beans with cold water and drain again.

Dice a small to medium onion, according to your taste, and add to your butter beans. Cut up 0.227kg. of ham and sprinkle over top your beans, or add pieces of bacon, a ham hock or ham soup bone. The amount and type of meat you use is purely a matter of choice; you can also omit the meat and use in recipes calling for cooked butter beans, or simply add butter when the beans are almost done.

Bring your butter beans to a boil on top of the stove. Reduce the heat and simmer, occasionally skimming any foam that rises to the top of the pan.

Cook your butter beans for about 45 minutes, then test for tenderness. When you can mash the beans with a fork easily they are done. Continue cooking until your beans are ready -- typically from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours at most.

Remove your beans from the heat and remove any bones, if you want, making sure to remove any meat clinging to them. You can leave bones in or add 1/2 stick of butter. Stir your beans well, mashing them slightly against the side of the pan to create a creamy mixture before serving hot.


Add extra salt or seasonings near the end of cooking time. Salt makes beans take longer to cook and often results in tough beans. Cook your beans in a crock pot instead of on the stove, soaking them in the crock and then cooking on low for six to eight hours minimum. Quick-soak your beans by boiling for two to three minutes, then removing them from the heat and letting them soak for two to three hours. When the beans are fully plump, they are ready to cook.


Beans should never be consumed raw. They contain cyanide compounds that are neutralised only during cooking. .

Things You'll Need

  • Large pan or crock pot with lid
  • 0.454kg. dry butter beans
  • Colander
  • Small to medium onion
  • 0.227kg. ham, bacon, ham hock or ham bone
  • Large spoon
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper
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About the Author

Karie Fay earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology with a minor in law from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. After growing up in construction and with more than 30 years in the field, she believes a girl can swing a hammer with the best of them. She enjoys "green" or innovative solutions and unusual construction.