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Butter Bean Recipe

This Butter Bean recipe is an old family favorite made just the way Granny made them. Butter beans are easy to cook with bacon, butter, and the secret—a touch of sugar! Try this butter bean recipe today and you'll have an easy side dish that goes with almost anything. 

Cooked butter beans recipe in a dish with bacon.

You won't find a meat-and-three in the South that doesn't have butter beans on the menu because this vegetable is a favorite around here, especially in rural areas.

If someone's serving a big platter of fried chicken, then most likely mashed potatoes, creamed corn, butter beans, and biscuits will be on the table too!

What are butter beans?

We get asked that question a lot in the South: What are butter beans? Butter beans are one of those distinctly Southern vegetables that seems to have different names and different varieties everywhere you go.

Are they butter beans or lima beans? The ones I grew up eating grow up poles and are small and green and were called butter beans. But they are so similar to the small lima beans that they are pretty much interchangeable. And butter beans can be cooked fresh or frozen.

Then there are dried butter beans, which are larger and lighter in color, almost tan. Those never appealed to me, but my family eats them year round.

Butter beans recipe

Like most Southern recipes, there are as many ways to cook butter beans as there are streets named Peachtree in Atlanta. However, a common denominator for most beans and greens is the addition of pork for flavor.

When I was growing up, the Southern butter beans recipe usually included fatback but nowadays people tend to use bacon.

Because it's healthier, right?

I buy frozen butter beans during the fall and winter months, but use fresh when they are in season during the summer.

I learned how to cook butter beans from my grandmother, and her butter bean recipe is pretty simple: put water in a pot, add bacon, season with salt and pepper, add a little garlic powder, bring to a boil and add the beans. Throw in some butter toward the end.

Secret Ingredient

Sugar is the magic ingredient! Granny would add a little sugar to the water, not enough to make the butter beans too sweet, but enough to taste and add just a little more flavor to what could otherwise be a pretty bland bean.

How to cook butter beans

  1. Start by adding water, salt, pepper, bacon, butter, sugar, and garlic powder to a large saucepan. I use Kirkland brand cookware from Costco, but this pot by Cuisinart would work well, as would this one from Calphalon.
  2. Bring the water and seasonings to a boil and cook for a minute or two until the seasonings have dissolved.
  3. Then add the butter beans and return to a boil, then turn down to simmer.
  4. I like butter beans to be very tender, so I cook them for about an hour.

**Cook's Tip: Taste the butter beans while they are cooking so you can add additional seasonings if necessary. 

Southern butter beans cooking in a pot with bacon.

Serving suggestions

This butter bean recipe is delicious with chicken, pot roast, meatloaf or even as a portion of a vegetable plate with sliced tomatoes and fried okra.

Butter beans in a dish with bacon cooked.

More tips

  1. Use fresh butter beans if they are in season. If not, frozen will work just fine.
  2. If your grocery store doesn't carry actual butter beans you can substitute baby lima beans.
  3. Season generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and don't forget to add a little sugar. Taste frequently.
  4. Cook the butter beans until they are very tender.

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A white bowl filled with cooked butter beans and bacon.

Butter Beans Recipe

4.58 from 59 votes
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Butter beans cooked the old-fashioned way with bacon and just a little sugar.
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prep time: 10 mins
total time :1 hr 10 mins
servings :6 servings
author: Lucy Brewer


  • 1 lb. butterbeans
  • 2 slices thick cut bacon
  • 2-4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ tablespoon garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


  • Place butterbeans in a large saucepan. Fill pan with enough water to cover the butterbeans by about an inch. 
  • Add bacon, sugar, garlic powder, butter, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Turn down to a simmer and cook 45 minutes or until very tender. 
  • Taste and add additional salt and/or sugar if needed. Serve warm.


Tips for Making the Best Butter Beans

  1. Use fresh butter beans if they are in season. If not, frozen will work just fine.
  2. If your grocery store doesn't carry actual butter beans you can substitute baby lima beans.
  3. Season generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and don't forget to add a little sugar. Taste frequently. 
  4. Cook the butter beans until they are very tender. 
Click here to save this recipe to your Pinterest board!
Serving: 6servingsCalories: 228kcalCarbohydrates: 27gProtein: 6gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 22mgSodium: 481mgFiber: 4gSugar: 9g
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Update Notes: This Butter Beans recipe was originally published May 4, 2011, and on May 19, 2020, was updated with one or more of the following: step-by-step photos, video, updated recipe, new tips. 

This post is part of my favorite Southern Foods at Home collection.

Recipe Rating

Joe Slaughter

Monday 11th of October 2021

I grew up eating butter beans from my parent garden and mama alway used ham hock to season them but no sugar as I remember. Today my Pennsylvania garden yielded enough for dinner and I followed this recipe. My mama would approve! I was easy with the spices and sugar and the beans had good flavor anyway. Needless to say this is absolute winner and is added to our printouts of favorites. I forgot how good butter beans were or maybe they were never quite so good? Hmmm.

Lucy Brewer

Saturday 20th of November 2021

I'm so glad you loved the butter beans! You know Southerners love to add sugar to everything haha -- except grits and cornbread!


Friday 11th of June 2021

Thank you for your recipe! I followed it exact and it is awesome. Add a side of fresh corn, a slice of tomato, a fried chicken leg or two and you have the ultimate meal.

Viola Travers

Tuesday 1st of September 2020

Asking for a friend living in Atlanta USA Where to purchase dried butter beans online or supermarkets in her area.And can pass it on. Thank you.

Donna McCarty

Friday 5th of November 2021

@Viola Travers, Your DeKalb Farmers Market in the Decatur/Avondale Estates area has fresh butter beans in the summer and frozen ones year round.

Lucy Brewer

Monday 14th of September 2020

Note - this recipe does not call for dried butter beans. Only fresh or frozen.


Monday 31st of December 2018

Lucy, you rock! I’m in Georgia too, and here on New Year’s Eve I was determined to find a recipe for butterbeans, as opposed to the time-honored black-eyed peas tradition, for the New Year’s good luck meal, bc I like butterbeans better and um because I forgot to get some black eyes at the grocery store, and didn’t want to make a grocery run ? ... this recipe has all the good stuff my Mama used and, thanks to you, it will be my new normal New Year’s Day good luck goodie!!

Thursday 22nd of June 2017

Best southern recipe for butterbeans.