Ham and Bean Soup

Ham and bean soup is a great way to get extra mileage out of a smoked ham. You take the leftover ham bones and slow simmer them on the stove in a pot of beans. We always make several hams around the holidays, so I stash away a couple bones just so I can make this recipe on a cold winter day. I also try to leave a decent amount of meat on the bone to make sure our soup ends up nice and meaty. You can always supplement with chopped ham if you feel yours is too picked over.

A traditional ham and bean soup is made with a white bean like Great Northern or cannellini beans. My grocery store was fresh out of both of these on the day I was there, so I just grabbed a bag of pinto beans (saving me a trip to another store). This whim of laziness worked out for the best because I ended up liking the pinto beans better than the white beans. They have a darker appearance, which added some nice color to the dish, and I felt they had a richer flavor. Definitely a keeper!

The one thing that is not captured in this recipe is the amount of salt and black pepper. I like my ham and bean soup with a hearty dose of black pepper, so I just leave the pepper mill next to the stove and add a couple cranks each time I stir the pot. It probably adds up to at least a teaspoon of pepper, but I just prefer to go by taste. In regards to salt, the ham will naturally introduce some salt as the soup cooks, so I prefer to salt by taste right before serving.

Ham and bean soup is best served over warm cornbread with a splash of hot sauce.


  • 2 pounds dried pinto beans
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups water, more if needed
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 smoked ham bones, with meat
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


Sort through the beans and discard any pebbles or misshapen/broken beans. Rinse the beans and then place them in a bowl submerged by 2-3 inches of water. Cover with a kitchen towel and set on the counter to soak overnight.

Drain the beans and set aside.

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent.

Add garlic, thyme, parsley and black pepper. Sauté another 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant.

Add the beans, chicken stock and water. Stir in the sugar and bay leaves, then add the ham bones. If needed, add a little more water so that the beans are covered by about 1 inch of liquid.

Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered (stirring occasionally) for about 2 hours, or until the beans are tender and the ham meat has released from the bones.

Remove from heat and fish out the ham bones and bay leaves. Pick off any remaining meat and add back to the pot. Discard the bones and bay leaves.

Stir in lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.