My father-in-law is an amazing cook. It’s not because he’s professionally trained (although he is). It’s not because he grew up in a loving home where his mom and grandma prepared authentic Southern dishes (although he did). It’s because he knows the secret to cooking. And when I was 18 years old, he taught me that secret with this recipe.
I don’t remember the occasion. I think it was just an average summer day in Kentucky. The counter was filled with spices, pans, sauces, meats and veggies. I think he was planning a typical Sunday barbecue. One of my favorite side dishes that I had tried at this point was his pot of baked beans. They tasted like no other beans I’d ever had before.
So this day, instead of spending my afternoon in teen flirtation with my boyfriend (now husband), I joined Pops (Jimbo) in the kitchen. He placed a big skillet on the burner and started browning meats, tossing in veggies. Then, he dumped it all into a big bowl and began mixing in this and that. After about three ingredients, I stood there with my notepad and said, “Wait! How much did you just put in there?” He laughed and said, “as much as it needs.”
What was I supposed to do with that information? How was I ever going to master this side dish? There were no measuring cups, no measuring spoons. I had never cooked like this before.
That’s when Pops taught me the number one secret to cooking – confidence. He taught me that you have to know how each ingredient tastes, how it accentuates the dish and above all, you have to trust your palette.
He didn’t need to measure because he knew how much sweetness he wanted, and he knew how the mustard would balance out the maple syrup. He also taught me that you can always add, but you can never take away.
To this day, neither he nor I, ever make these beans the same. Some days our palettes crave a little more spice and I use spicy sausage and throw in a habanero pepper and other days we lean toward the sweeter side and use all maple sausage. But no matter what I throw in the pot, now I have the confidence to trust my instincts and my taste buds.
- ½ roll (8-ozs.) Jimmy Dean maple sausage
- 2 links Johnsonville Italian Sausage (mild or spicy)
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- ½ sweet onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. Tony’s
- 2 28-oz. cans Bush’s Baked Beans (any flavor)
- ½ cup Sweet Baby Ray’s honey barbecue sauce
- ¼ cup yellow mustard
- ¼ cup maple syrup
Squeeze the Italian sausage out of the casing. Place it and the maple sausage in a large skillet. Brown over medium-high heat, chopping it into smaller pieces as it cooks.
Add in the pepper, garlic and onions. Sauté until the veggies are nice and tender. Add in salt, pepper and Tony's.
In a large bowl, pour in the cans of beans. Stir in the barbecue sauce, mustard and maple syrup. Then, stir in the meat and vegetables.
To heat, either pour the beans into a 13x9 pan and bake at 350 until warmed through; or heat the bowl of beans in a microwave; or pour the beans into a crockpot and heat on low.