As a low-acid food, all beans require the use of a pressure canner for preservation by home canning, unless they are sufficiently pickled (acidified) to bring them out of the low-acid food category. But pressure canning isn’t a magic bullet if you don’t know the safe way to prepare food and carry out the right process for each food type and style. If you are new to pressure canning or could use a refresher of the basic how-to, then please read Using Pressure Canners before beginning. If this is your first time canning, then also read Principles of Home Canning from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.
Recommended procedure for home canning of dry beans
The USDA recommended process in the Complete Guide to Home Canning for home canning dried beans require a hydration step prior to filling jars: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/beans_peas_shelled.html
The options are to (1) place sorted (for stones or other contaminants) dried beans or peas in a large pot and cover with water. Soak the beans 12 to 18 hours in a cool place. Then drain off the soaking water and do not use it in canning the beans. The other option is, to more quickly hydrate the beans (2) cover the sorted and washed beans with boiling water in a saucepan. Boil them 2 minutes, remove them from the heat, soak them 1 hour and then drain. That cooking water is also not used in canning the beans.
The procedure then calls for covering drained beans hydrated by either method with fresh water and boil 30 minutes. The USDA canning process recommendation is for a hot pack prepared this way only: hot beans boiled 30 minutes then filled quickly into jars while still hot. (But of course being careful not to burn yourself, as with all canning steps.) Optional salt can be added to the beans in the jars if desired (½ teaspoon of salt per pint or 1 teaspoon per quart jar). The jars with cooked beans (and salt if added) then get filled with the hot cooking water, leaving 1-inch headspace. As with all jars packed this way, water should cover the food pieces for expected heat distribution during processing and best quality in storage of the canned beans. See the link above for full instructions and the processing times and temperatures (pressures) for pints vs quarts, and for various altitudes.
Do not put dry beans directly into the jar
According to inquiries I get, and what I read elsewhere on the Internet, it is popular practice to put dry beans in the jars, cover them with water and put them into the pressure canner that way. Unfortunately, I have never found or been shown research for home canning that has determined what the process time should be for dry beans filled into jars in this manner. A safe process time is partially dependent on jar size and type of food, yes, but it is also partially dependent on the texture of the food, the temperature of the food and liquid, and the weight of the food filled into jars. Dry beans sitting in water at the start of the process time will not heat up at the same rate as beans prepared as described in the research-based method described above and in the USDA materials. The final sterilization of the jar contents achieved by the end of the process will not be the same as when the process is applied to jars filled as described in the recommended methods. People canning their dry beans by other methods, and especially by starting with dry beans in the jars, are taking a big risk on food spoilage and possibly botulism food poisoning. Those doing this and getting away with it have just been lucky – so far. If you choose to do it, you are taking a chance by your own decision.
Additional home canning options for dry beans
There are also different processes for different types of beans and dry bean recipes for home canning. For canning dry beans, there are research-based processes in the USDA database for Baked Beans, prepared as described in the process directions, and Dry Beans with Tomato or Molasses Sauce versions provided.
Home canning of fresh beans
If you have fresh beans of the Lima variety, then follow these directions for Fresh, Shelled, Lima Beans. Follow these similar procedures, but slightly different directions for Snap and Italian Green and Wax Beans. As you’re deciding whether to prepare a hot pack or raw pack, remember that hot packs are often considered to produce the highest quality final product, and you can often fit more beans into one jar, even though raw packs do cut down on the prep time.
The home canning processes which we can recommend for these various bean products can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at this menu: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can4_vegetable.html .
Be safe when canning and use research-based processes for all your beans
Please be safe in your home canning choices. The research-based processes available may seem very limiting and traditional but there has been little public funding for researching new recommendations in a long time and there are few labs set up and staffed to do home canning research. You can flavor or combine your home canned vegetables with other ingredients after opening them, at the time of serving, rather than risk botulism or losing money from spoiled food from making up a process for your own recipes. This solution doesn’t address choosing an easier way to fill jars than has been tested such as with dry beans, but is something to consider for other food choices.
Even though this has been about dry beans, I hope you all are looking forward to another season of local, fresh vegetables coming in like I am!