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This old fashioned ham and beans recipe pairs tender white beans with smoky ham for true, homemade comfort. It’s an easy, delicious way to use leftover holiday ham.
After you’ve made a tasty, gorgeous spiral ham, the next question is: what will you do with the bone? This slow cooker ham and bean soup will make the most of the ham bone and any ham leftovers.
Ham and beans are often called ham and bean soup or navy bean soup. The reason this soup is so popular is because it's absolutely divine! When you slow cook a leftover spiral ham bone with white beans, it unlocks so much flavor – it's smoky, savory, and even has a touch of sweetness.
The best part, it only takes a few steps to make this hearty, budget-friendly ham and bean soup. Your whole family will thank you.
This is the best ham and bean soup for any cooking level because it’s just so simple. Here’s what you’ll need to make it. Ingredient amounts are in the recipe card below.
- dried navy beans - Or small white beans or great northern beans.
- ham bone with meat – I used the bone from my orange glazed spiral ham but a smoked ham hock from any grocery store will work too. You can even use chopped ham from deli meat.
- onion - Any large onion will work with ham and bean soup.
- celery - This adds a nice texture and flavor to this classic recipe.
- garlic - I prefer to use fresh garlic, but granulated would work too.
- thyme - Dried or fresh thyme.
- sea salt and black pepper
- water - You can use broth, but the bone flavors the water so nicely after a long, slow cook. So, save your money and keep this one budget friendly.
- carrots - These go in during the last hour to prevent overcooking.
How long can you keep a ham bone to make soup?
A cooked ham bone will last up to a week in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen for several months. So don’t worry, you can relax the day after your holiday instead of spending it making soup.
If you're looking for more ways to use leftover ham, be sure to check out my Ham and Pea Pasta recipe, too!
Soaking navy beans for ham and bean soup is optional, however doing so greatly reduces the cook time. I did a side-by-side slow cooker test and found that the overnight-soaked navy beans slow cooked perfectly in 6 hours. The unsoaked beans took closer to 9 hours in the slow cooker. So, that's a pretty big difference to take note of when you're planning your soup strategy.
I prefer to soak navy beans 8 - 12 hours. To soak beans, first rinse and drain them. Then, place in a large bowl or pot and add enough water to cover the beans by 4 inches because they will double in size. You can refrigerate, or not, during the soaking process. Once beans are soaked, rinse, drain, and they're ready to cook.
What can I use instead of a bone?
If you don’t have a leftover bone to make this recipe, you can use smoked ham hocks instead. They're usually available year-round at most grocery stores in the meat department. You'll want to add chopped ham steak or deli ham to your soup near the end because ham hocks have very little ham on them.
How to make ham and bean soup
Here are instructions to make ham and beans in the slow cooker or stove.
Slow cooker ham and bean soup
Start the soup. Add the beans, bone, onion, celery, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper to the slow cooker. Add enough water or broth to cover the ingredients by at least an inch. Cook on low 6 hours (for soaked beans) or 9 hours (for unsoaked beans).
Add the carrots. At the 5 hour mark, stir in the carrots. Continue to cook the soup until the beans are tender.
Finish. Remove the bone from the cooker. Cut off the ham, chop it, and add it back to the beans before serving, discarding the gristle and bone. I was shocked by how much ham we were able to get from the bone – it was plenty!
To make ham and bean soup on the stove
Sauté the vegetables. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 4-quart soup pot over medium high heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic; sauté until they're tender.
Bring to a boil. Add the beans, bone, thyme, salt, pepper, and 6 cups of water to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil.
Simmer. Once the soup has come to a boil, cover it with a loose fitting lid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed.
Add the carrots. Stir in the carrots during the last 20 to 30 minutes of simmering.
Finish. Once the beans and carrots are tender, remove the bone from the pot. Cut off the meat, shred it, and add it back to the soup. Discard the gristle and bone before serving.
Here are a few additional pointers for perfect ham and bean soup.
- About the beans. I like using navy beans because of their size and relatively quick cooking time. Cannellini, great northern, or small white beans can be used too.
- Not enough leftover meat? If you have a bone without any (or much) meat on it, you can still use it to make ham and bean soup. Additional ham, even deli ham, can be added at any point during the cooking time.
- Water vs. broth. Some recipes for ham and beans call for chicken broth. I find that the bone adds more than enough flavor, which is why I use water. You're welcome to use any broth, or even turkey stock, if that interests you.
- Ham and bean soup will naturally thicken once it cools down from initial cooking. It will loosen up during reheat, but if you want it less thick after that, you can always add more broth.
What to serve with ham and bean soup
I'm always up for a nosh of homemade French bread with ham and bean soup. I'll take it straight from the loaf or toasted and slathered with melted butter. The sweetness of cranberry walnut bread also complements the savory ham in the soup. Cornbread or cornbread muffins are always welcome and, if I'm honest, a first choice. It's so Southern and so crave worthy!
How to store and reheat leftovers
Allow ham and beans to cool, then transfer to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator up to 5 days and reheat via microwave or stove.
Can this recipe be frozen?
Ham and bean soup is a great recipe for freezing! Allow it to cool, transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag, and freeze it up to 3 months. Let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight and reheat on the stove or in the microwave.
More soup recipes
- Crockpot Chicken Vegetable Soup
- Italian Stuffed Pepper Soup
- Untuffed Cabbage Roll Soup
- Minestrone Soup Recipe
- Zuppa Toscana
Ham and Bean Soup
- 1 (16-oz bag) Dried Navy Beans about 2 ½ cups, sorted and rinsed
- 1 Ham Bone or smoked ham hock
- ½ large Onion diced (1 cup)
- 1 large Celery Rib diced (1 cup)
- 5 cloves Garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon Dried Thyme or 3 fresh sprigs
- 1 teaspoon Sea Salt or to taste
- ½ teaspoon Black Pepper
- 6 cups Water
- 1 large Carrot diced (1 cup)
- (recommended) Soak beans overnight in 8 cups water. Then drain and discard the liquid. See footnote for unsoaked beans.
Crockpot Instructions (see stove instructions below)
- Add NAVY BEANS, HAM BONE, ONION, CELERY, GARLIC, THYME, SALT, and BLACK PEPPER to a slow cooker.
- Add enough WATER to cover the beans by 1 inch.Note: You can always add more water later if you like ham and beans with extra broth.
- Set the slow cooker on LOW heat for 6 hours.*ATTN: Timing may vary. Please see recipe footnote about final cook time.
- At around the 5 hour mark, stir in CARROTS and continue cooking another hour (or more as needed) until carrots and beans are soft to your liking.
- When beans are done, transfer ham bone out of the pot and strip any edible ham from it. Sift and discard any small bone pieces or gristle from the soup.
- If you prefer a creamy soup, use a potato masher to mash some of the beans right in the pot. This will immediately thicken the broth. Add shredded ham back to the soup and serve warm.
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- Heat 2 tablespoons OLIVE OIL in a 4-quart soup pot over medium-high heat.
- Add ONIONS, CELERY, and GARLIC. Saute until tender, stirring as needed.
- Add NAVY BEANS, HAM BONE, THYME, SALT, PEPPER, and 6 cups WATER to the pot. *See footnote for cook times using unsoaked beans.
- Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 2 hours covered with a loose-fitting lid. Note: While cooking, add water as needed to keep the liquid line right above the beans to promote evenly cooked beans.
- Add CARROTS 20-30 minutes before serving and continue cooking, stirring as needed
- Continue with step #5 above.
- Low heat Crockpot for unsoaked beans = 9 hours minimum
- Stove simmer for unsoaked beans = 4 hours minimum