This Southern butter beans recipe will get you out of your same old-same old weekly routine! With butter, bacon, and a secret ingredient, you’ll discover that butter beans can become a beloved vegetable in your house.

Our expert tips and instructions will ensure that you will make the best butter beans you’ve ever tasted!

White bowl filled with beans. 

You will love this 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, either as fatback or bacon.

I learned how to cook butter beans from my grandmother, and her butter beans 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.

Sugar is the magic ingredient! Granny would add a little sugar to the water, not enough to make the beans too sweet, but just enough to taste and add a little more flavor.

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.

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.

Dena

Plate with fried chicken, butter beans, and biscuit.
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Butter beans recipe ingredients

The ingredients for this Southern butter beans recipe are all common pantry or fridge staples, so you should be able to cook butter beans anytime!

  • Frozen or fresh butter beans or baby lima beans – I do like to get the baby version because they are smaller and more tender. Generally, if you buy fresh butter beans, you’ll get smaller ones.
  • Butter – use a little unsalted butter.
  • Bacon – you can substitute fatback here or even a ham hock.
  • Salt and black pepper – don’t skimp on the flavoring.
  • Chicken stock or water – I usually just use water, but if you want a more intense flavor, you can use chicken or vegetable stock.
  • Garlic powder – no need to chop garlic or onion for this recipe. A little garlic powder is all you need.
  • Sugar – this is the magic ingredient that takes these butter beans from okay to delicious!

How to cook butter beans

  1. Start by adding water or chicken stock, 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. Cooking time will vary if depending on whether you’re using fresh or frozen beans. Fresh beans will cook a little faster.

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

Butter beans tips

  • If you don’t want to use bacon, you could substitute plant-based bacon or toss in some mushrooms for an earthy flavor.
  • You can make butter beans ahead of time. This recipe will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Butter beans variations

  1. Use fresh butter beans if they are in season. If not, frozen will work just fine.
  2. Look for frozen baby lima beans or butter beans. They are the same bean and interchangeable in this recipe.
  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 tender.
  5. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

How to serve this Southern butter beans recipe

This butter beans 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 storage

Butter beans should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The beans will be good for 3-4 days.

spoon full of beans.

How to cook butter beans FAQs

Butter beans vs. lima beans

Are they butter beans or lima beans? Guess what? They are one and the same. What most Southerners refer to as butter beans (or butterbeans) are actually just younger, smaller versions of lima beans. So, you can buy baby lima beans or butter beans, and they are the same. They can be cooked fresh or frozen, and either will work in this butter bean recipe.

Then there are dried butter beans, which are larger and lighter in color, almost tan—still lima beans, just an older, more mature version. Those never appealed to me, but my family eats them year-round. Most people slow-cook dried butter beans for a few hours, either on the stove or in a slow cooker.

Do butter beans need to be soaked before cooking?

If you’re cooking dried butter beans (which is not this recipe), you’ll need to soak them before cooking. This recipe calls for fresh or frozen butter beans and does not require soaking.

Are butter beans healthy?

Butter beans are healthy and nutritious legumes that can fit within almost any dietary preference or restriction. They’re full of vitamins and minerals and also provide a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as protein.

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4.67 from 75 votes

Butter Beans Recipe

Butter beans cooked the old-fashioned way with bacon and just a little sugar.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Save This Recipe

Ingredients 

  • 1 lb. butter beans fresh or frozen
  • 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

Instructions 

  • Place butter beans in a large saucepan. Fill pan with enough water to cover the beans 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 tender. 
  • Taste and add additional salt, pepper, and/or sugar if needed. Serve warm.

Notes

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 butter beans you can substitute baby lima beans. They are the same thing!
  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 tender. 
 

Nutrition

Serving: 6servings, Calories: 228kcal, Carbohydrates: 27g, Protein: 6g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 22mg, Sodium: 481mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 9g
Course: Sides
Cuisine: American
Calories: 228
Keyword: butter beans, butter beans recipe
Love this recipe?Mention @southernfoodandfun or tag #southernfoodandfun!

Update Notes: This Butter Beans recipe was originally published May 4, 2011, and on March 19, 2023, 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.

Lucy standing behind a counter with a cheese board and glass of wine.

About the author

Hi, I’m Lucy! I’m a home cook, writer, food and wine fanatic, and recipe developer. I’ve created and tested hundreds of recipes so that I can bring you the best tried and true favorites.

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4.67 from 75 votes (65 ratings without comment)

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15 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    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.

    1. I’m so glad you loved the butter beans! You know Southerners love to add sugar to everything haha — except grits and cornbread!

  2. 5 stars
    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.

  3. 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.

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

  4. 5 stars
    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!!

  5. 5 stars
    My finance’ followed your recipe late one Thursday night…. And I must say I was impressed…. Not to mention because he isn’t the best cook… But he could have fooled me that night… 😉

  6. 5 stars
    My finance’ followed your recipe late one Thursday night…. And I must say I was impressed…. Not to mention because he isn’t the best cook… But he could have fooled me that night… 😉

  7. 5 stars
    My husband would be so delighted if he were to come home to a plate of butterbeans, sliced tomatoes, & fried okra! I think you’ve given me next Monday’s menu.

    I’ve shucked a whole lotta corn and always dreaded finding big green caterpillars…yikes!

    1. My mother use to cook utter beans in milk does anyone know this recipe they were delicious over rice

  8. 5 stars
    My husband would be so delighted if he were to come home to a plate of butterbeans, sliced tomatoes, & fried okra! I think you’ve given me next Monday’s menu.

    I’ve shucked a whole lotta corn and always dreaded finding big green caterpillars…yikes!