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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  1. bree1972 says

    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!

  2. Miss P says

    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

    • Ray says

      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

  3. says

    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!

  4. TasteStopping says

    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.


  5. says

    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!

  6. Barbara says

    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…

  7. says

    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!

    • lanaann says

      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!

  8. Tracy C says

    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!

  9. says

    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.

  10. says

    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 :)

    • says

      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.

  11. Marisa says

    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

  12. kathleen says

    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.

      • Tiffany says

        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!

  13. Haven says

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

  14. JStrom says

    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.

  15. says

    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?

    • says

      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.

  16. Brenda says

    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.

    • Lana Stuart says

      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.

  17. SANDI says

    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..

  18. says

    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! :-)

  19. Meagan says

    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!

  20. Angela says

    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!

    • says

      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!

  21. Margaret says

    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.

  22. Joy says

    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.

  23. Rebecca in NC says

    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!

  24. Judy Gilmore says

    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

  25. Jeanie says

    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.

  26. c.backus says

    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 !

  27. JimH says

    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.

  28. Jean Allen says

    I grew up in South Carolina…We would have butter beans, sliced tomatoes, corn on the cob and fried chicken for Sunday dinner. I have been looking for a recipe without using salt park and I think you have it!! I brought back to Nebraska some frozen butter beans from my cousin. Just wanted a “taste of home”!
    Will give this a try! Thanks for the posting!!

  29. says

    I’m with you – Butter beans and Lima beans are NOT the same! Lima beans are gross – they have a chalky taste. Butter beans are delicious! I have actually “almost” argued with people at our Farmers Market about this – usually people who were not raised here! Just got some butter beans today and am going to try your crock pot method!

  30. Shannon says

    Thank you for the crock pot variation on these yummy beans! I’m from NE Tennessee and I was always taught that butterbeans were the bigger, paler beans and limas were the smaller, greener type… REGARDLESS, I agree with your opinion on quality! The small, greener variety are MUCH better tasting than the bigger, mushier ones (no matter what you call them! – “A rose by any other name” etc.) :)

  31. Frekki says

    Sounds good, but use real butter, you need the fat for your body. Also, a small slab of fat back, and or six sauteed strips of bacon (drained) and a finely chopped sauteed onion are good too. If you want real fancy a touch of garlic and some Bay seed.
    My mom insist that if they aren’t fresh shelled they’re not butter beans, but frozen taste great too.

  32. lanaann says

    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!

  33. lanaann says

    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 :-)

  34. lanaann says

    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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