Southern Butter Beans

by Lana Stuart on June 28, 2009 · 53 comments

Southern Butter Beans

Fresh, green butter beans. What a southern summer time delight! Served alongside fried chicken with cornbread and sliced tomatoes on the side, butter beans are a perennial favorite at many a southern table.

Now, I’ve read lots of opinions about whether butter beans and lima beans are the same thing. And I still don’t know for sure. They certainly don’t taste anything alike to me. Lima beans, in my opinion, have a horrible mealy quality that I dislike. Butter beans, on the other hand, have a luscious creamy texture. Limas are pale grey to white when cooked and butter beans keep their pretty green color.

When I was growing up, we had a garden most years and we always grew butter beans. They were shelled and cooked fresh during the summer and were also frozen for use the rest of the year. I still “put up” some butter beans almost every summer, so I have them on hand whenever we want them.


These were frozen last summer and still just as delicious as they were fresh.

Old-time southern cooking has a bad reputation when it comes to preparing fresh vegetables. We tend to cook our vegetables for a longer time and season them more highly than other regions of the country. I like them both ways. I like the bright taste of vegetables that are cooked quickly, and I also like the homestyle taste of the longer cooked and more well-seasoned vegetables.  Butter beans are one vegetable that really need the hours long cooking time.

Because of the long cooking time needed for the butter beans, I cook them in a slow cooker. They can happily cook away for the afternoon with little to no attention from me. And, to cut back on the fat, I use chicken bouillon to season with instead of the more traditional salted pork.

Here’s how I do it:

1 quart shelled, fresh or frozen, butterbeans
2 tblsp. butter substitute (such as Butter Buds)
1 ½ tblsp chicken bouillon
1 1/2 tsp Salt


Place butterbeans, butter substitute, chicken bouillon and water to cover in a small slow cooker.  Cook on high for 1 ½ hours. Turn cooker to low and cook for another 2-3 hours or until butterbeans are tender. Add a small amount of additional water during cooking only if needed.


They cooked all afternoon and are still pretty and green and firm. If you can get your hands on some fresh, green southern butter beans (not Limas!), give this method of cooking a try. It also works very well for field peas.


Update: Since this post was published, several people have emailed me with comments about how stupid I am not to know that Lima beans and butter beans are the same thing. They each insist that the big, white mealy beans are known as butter beans and the small green tender beans are called Lima beans. Well, where I’m from in the South, it’s the exact opposite. The big, white beans are called Lima beans and the little green ones as I have shown in the blog post are called butter beans. That’s what I’ve heard them called all my life. Everyone I know calls them the same thing.  Yes, I’m aware that they are related. Butter beans and lima beans are, horticulturally, the same.  Perhaps the post wasn’t written clearly, but the point I was trying to make is how different they seem. Not that they are actually two different unrelated things. Can we let this rest, please?

Southern Butter Beans
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Southern butter beans (not limas!) made in the slow cooker.
Serves: 4 servings
  • 1 quart shelled, fresh or frozen, butter beans
  • 2 tblsp. butter substitute (such as Butter Buds)
  • 1 ½ tblsp chicken bouillon
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • Water
  1. Place butter beans, butter substitute, chicken bouillon and water to cover in a small slow cooker.
  2. Cook on high for 1 ½ hours.
  3. Turn cooker to low and cook for another 2-3 hours or until butter beans are tender.
  4. Add a small amount of additional water during cooking only if needed.
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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bread + Butter June 28, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Looks lovely!! This would go great mixed into a salad. Yum!


2 bree1972 June 29, 2009 at 12:36 pm

I want some of those butter beans right now, Lana!!! Man, they look good. I wonder if I can even find FROZEN ones up here. Gotta look the next time I am off island. You have made me so hungry for Southern food, I might just have to open up some more Stripling sausage and cook some biscuits. Love you!


3 Miss P June 29, 2009 at 6:26 pm

You can’t fool me. I know that you have okra and tomatoes as the other side dish on that plate. Tell these folks how to cook that. You will be thanked!

Miss P


4 Ray February 5, 2015 at 12:36 pm

stewed tomatoes n okra was a every week end dish at mom n dads mom was calif daughter of a German immigrant butcher who sold chicken eggs to alaskan gold rush miners dad grew up as a N Carolina orphan of bootlegger single parent (mother) with his tiny garden in our Coronado, CA .small backyard so dinners were sparse and varied but pretty good just as it to much resembled animal parts like cow tongue, or tripe etc. hence I got pretty good at making excuses. being a paralyzed senior now now , never paid attention growing up to their culinary endeavors That I now regret so hearing of online southern cookin makes me drool on the keyboard like Pavlov’s dog thanks to all for your comments okra in tomatoes and soups reminds me how much I miss those days (50’s) thx


5 Jannie Funster June 29, 2009 at 7:11 pm

I just LOVE butter beans!


6 Katie June 30, 2009 at 7:28 am

Now look what you did – there’s a big pile of drool on my floor ;). I’m from the south but now live in Michigan, and I definitely miss access to butter beans. When I was visiting my parents in December, I brought back a bunch of frozen ones from the local market. I’ve never tried cooking them in a slow cooker, but it sounds like a great idea!


7 TasteStopping June 30, 2009 at 8:13 am

My mother is a big fan of butter beans, served with pulled pork at one of her favorite restaurants. But you’ve convinced me that we need to try them in our garden next year. Especially if they play nice in a slow cooker. What could be better?

Anyway, I found you on TasteSpotting and am writing to say that if you have any photos that aren’t accepted there, I’d love to publish them. Visit my new site (below), it’s a lot of fun! I hope you will consider it.



8 Reginald @ Ceramic Canvas June 30, 2009 at 9:41 am

as a native son of the south (alabama),

i am a huge fan of fresh butter beans.

this recipe looks delish and simple.



9 Rocquie June 30, 2009 at 9:48 am

Oh yum. I love butter beans and your post brings back memories of sitting under the shade tree with my grandmother, shelling them. Also of my brother passing his under the table, a few at a time, because he hated them, I loved them, and he had to clean his plate before he could get dessert.

Congratulations on your great blog!


10 Barbara July 14, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Okay, now I’m inspired. I saw speckled butter beans in the frozen food section at the grocery store, do you think that would be suitable? Or maybe I need ot head out to the farmer’s market and try to get some fresh ones…


11 Chef E July 20, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Growing up in the south my parents loved butter beans and we had them often…I was not a big fan until I had some homemade ones on my visit back at families this past June…and yours look wonderful!


12 chayacomfycook August 2, 2009 at 11:22 am

I love your blog. You are doing a great job with it.

Now that I have buttered you up. Smiling.

I have a question about your header. Would you drop me a line at Maybe you can direct me how to resolve the issue. Thanks.



13 lanaann June 30, 2009 at 9:47 am

Do I ever have photos that they have rejected!?!?! Loads of them. I saw your site a couple of days ago and thought it looked like fun. I just may send some things your way!


14 Tracy C August 2, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Thanks for this! I just got some fresh Butter Beans this week. I used your basic recipe and technique. We’re having them for dinner tonight. I can’t wait!


15 allyson August 5, 2009 at 10:33 am

i get been following your posts for a while in the present circumstances all i can announce ‘
is they are great . I look forward to reading more from you.


16 Lorri Jeanne August 7, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I was just looking for a recipe for cooking fresh butter beans and Google had your post listed. I love your recipe and cooking in a slow cooker is a perfect idea! Thanks :)


17 Lana August 7, 2010 at 7:18 pm

I love using the slow cooker for butter beans and for field peas. Hope you enjoy the recipe!


18 Pam Sack August 8, 2010 at 11:26 am

A quick question – Can I use butter vs the butter substitute?


19 Lana August 8, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Sure. However, I used the butter substitute just to cut down on calories. If I wasn’t going to use the butter substitute, I’d add bacon grease instead of butter.


20 Marisa September 4, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Having family over Monday for Labor Day and I will be using your butter bean recipe for the frest ones I picked up today from the market. I will let you know how they turn out. Thanks


21 kathleen May 28, 2011 at 9:49 pm

I need to know how to cook green northen beans,I planted some for the first time & just got done shelling them,do I cook them as green butter beans(lima beans)?Thanks very much,a southern girl.


22 Lana May 29, 2011 at 11:35 am

Gosh Kathleen, I don’t even know what “green northern beans” are!


23 Tiffany August 7, 2013 at 12:16 am

I love your recipes! But “great northern beans” are white beans with ham as we say down here in Tennessee! LOL! Don’t know why they call them northern lol!


24 Anna August 5, 2011 at 10:14 am

I just found this receipe. Gosh, this makes me miss having a garden.


25 Haven January 27, 2012 at 10:21 am

Love butterbeans!! I want to make this but add corn to it for a simpler succotash? Any suggestions on how to incorporate that in?


26 Lana January 27, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I’d just add the corn right along with the butterbeans. Corn holds up well to long, slow cooking.


27 JStrom July 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm

You’re correct about corn holding up. It has a cell structure that is very resilient and often holds up to the “very end!” :P


28 JStrom July 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I’m not 100% sure about slow cookers, but I’ve eaten butterbeans as a guest of some fairly accomplished regional chefs and more than once have eaten their “hard” beans. Their problem (I never said a word because it would have been rude) was that they added salt in the beginning stage of cooking. This will make all beans hard and never tender! Wait until near the end, after the beans are tender to season them with salt. Just my opinion, that of a middle aged country boy who grew up in (usually somebody else’s) garden.


29 Ethel Washington August 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm

As a child I grew up in Arkansas and spent a part of the summer shelling butter beans. Now when I return during the summer I find there are few places to purchase fresh butter beans. Do you know of a source where I can purchase fresh butter beans online?


30 Lana August 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Ethel – I’m sorry I don’t know of an online source for fresh butter beans. I always get them when I go back home to south Georgia.


31 Brenda June 17, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I want to buy fresh butter beans. I live in NYC is there another name for them, what do I ask for? I remember helping my Mom preparing them as a child. Please help! PS I don’t like Lima beans.


32 Lana Stuart June 17, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Hi Brenda. Sorry, but I don’t know of any other name for butter beans. I have no idea where you’d look for them in New York.


33 SANDI July 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Got fresh butter beans off the farm in south ga… have them in the c pot as I type this can”t wait..Thanks your for recipe…………btw i’m from way up north..VERMOMT no butter beans up there..


34 Lana Stuart July 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Glad you found some butterbeans, Sandi! Enjoy!


35 Amy @ The Blond Cook August 3, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I’ve been craving fresh butter beans and came across your recipe. I’m from the south too, and have always called the little green beans “butter beans” and the big white beans “lima beans”… it’s a southern thing that I’m proud of! :-)


36 Meagan November 28, 2013 at 12:43 am

Thank you Jesus!! Finally a Butter Bean recipe with the GREEN Butter Beans! Ok, I am from NC .. and THESE are butter beans! Haha! I needed a refresh on how to make them because it had been SOO long and I am cooking these for Thanksgiving!

Thank you! Thank you!


37 Lana Stuart November 28, 2013 at 9:00 am

You’re welcome, Meagan! I love using this method for cooking green butter beans. Hope yours turn out good. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!


38 Angela January 3, 2014 at 10:17 pm

I love you, and your blog. I’ve commented before that finding you has brought me back to a place that reminds me of my grandmothers, my aunts and my mom. BUTTER BEANS is something that I remember eating since forever. I was almost brought to my knees when my 7 yr old niece said at Thanksgiving this year that “butter beans are my most favorite thing ever to eat”, in fact I made them again for my birthday dinner in December because I knew she was going to be there, and she hugged me and said “you made these just for me didn’t you, because you love me”, seriously I could have died at that very moment and never been happier. As a Southern girl, I have shelled these straight from my grandparents fields since I was very little and to this day, I love them as a part of my past, my culture and my family’s history. Thank you (again) for the “2013 look back”, your blog is so special to me. Happy New Year!


39 Lana Stuart January 4, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Thank you so much, Angela, for your very sweet comment. I’m always especially pleased when my recipes bring back fond memories for someone. A very happy and prosperous New Year to you!


40 Margaret January 10, 2014 at 6:54 pm

I just found your blog about “southern” butter beans. I’ve been gone from Mississippi for more than 40 years, but still yearn for butter beans cooked slow and long with a little fat back. My mother and grandmother always added a bit of sugar to their pot, so I like mine slightly sweet. I, too, remember sitting on the back porch or under a shade tree and helping to shell butter beans from my grandmother’s garden. We always called the small green ones butter beans and the big white ones “lima beans”. We used lima beans as dried beans. The green ones were cooked fresh or frozen and canned for later use. Out here in California today I find that I can substitute the frozen green “baby limas” for butter beans.(In fact, I am sure the baby green lima is the same thing as butter beans). I agree with you, the big limas have a mealy, chalky taste…as dried beans. I grew “baby limas” (as the seed packed called them) last year in my garden….when I cooked them fresh when green, they were butter beans. Those that dried on the vine turned into white colored “baby limas!” The bigger lima beans are just a different variety of the same plant. My opinion is that in most parts of the country they are all called “limas” , whether big or small, but in the South, we call the small ones butter beans and the big ones limas. Thanks for your blog.


41 Joy April 4, 2014 at 2:42 pm

When do you add the salt? I don’t see that in the instructions. I’m making this today. It’s in the crockpot now. I left the salt out and may not need it.


42 Lana Stuart April 4, 2014 at 2:52 pm

I add the salt at the beginning of cooking, but you can toss it in most any time. It doesn’t make much difference.


43 Rebecca in NC July 28, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I agree that butterbeans and lima beans are two different things. I’m sorry for those of you who’ve never had a good plate of butterbeans. My grandmother used to cook them with sweet corn and they’d be the highlight of our summer lunches. I’m not much of a gardener, but I just bought some real butterbeans at a farmers market and can’t wait to cook them up!


44 Judy Gilmore August 19, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Hello, I’m also Southern but we call the large light colored beans butterbeans not limas which are the smaller green ones. What I’m cooking today using your delicious sounding recipe are speckled butter beans


45 Jeanie December 26, 2014 at 6:04 pm

I live in Terre Haute, Indiana, I have been searching for dry butter beans for over a year now. I too grew up on butter beans. My mother use to servebutter beans with fried potatoes and cornbread and apple butter. Oh the memories. It is really sad that I can’t go to the store and purchase a bag of dry butter beans. If there is anyone out there that can tell me where to find fresh dry butter bean please please let me know.


46 c.backus March 3, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Lima Beans.. Butter beans.. Whatever you want to call it I’ve made this recipe with both & there’s no complaints at the dinner table !


47 JimH April 12, 2015 at 12:05 am

I from the north and grew up with the larger white lima beans. Which some people called butter beans. The smaller green ones which I found about 10 years ago are called baby lima beans which taste great too. Mom used to cooked the white lima beans with salt and bay leaves and always thought them the best. The small green ones, I get frozen, I just cook with some butter. Will be trying this way soon.


48 lanaann June 29, 2009 at 9:38 am

Hmmm…I would have never thought about using butter beans in a salad! Might work, however, with some onion, tomato, thyme (or basil), a little oil and vinegar! I think we may have a new recipe in the works here!


49 lanaann June 29, 2009 at 6:52 pm

You could see that?!?! Yes, I’m going to write that post probably tomorrow :-)


50 lanaann July 1, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Oh, yes. I spent many a summer day shelling fresh butter beans and peas and shucking corn. I thought it was absolute torture back then. I’ve love to just sit and shell for a day now :-)


51 lanaann July 14, 2009 at 4:37 pm

You know, I really don’t like those speckled butter beans. They are too close to limas for me. They have that mealy texture that I just dislike. I’d much rather have the fresh, green ones. I really need to find a good farmers’ market around here!


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