Fresh or Frozen Southern Butter Beans cooked to melt in your mouth tender in the slow cooker. Serve with fried chicken, fried okra, and cornbread for a very traditional southern dinner.
Fresh, green butter beans. What a southern summertime delight! This traditional side dish, served along with fried chicken, fried okra, cornbread, and sliced tomatoes is a perennial favorite at many southern tables.
I've read many opinions about butter beans and lima beans and whether they are the same thing. It appears that they are. Green butter beans are simply immature lima beans. Technically the same vegetable but two very different flavors, textures, and even a significant difference in size.
What’s the Difference Between Lima and Butter Beans?
Butter beans and lima beans taste nothing alike to me. Lima beans, in my opinion, have a distinctly mealy quality that I dislike. Butter beans, on the other hand, have a fresh, creamy texture. Limas are pale grey to white when cooked and butter beans keep their pretty green color.
Because butter beans are the immature version (hence the green color) of the mature (white/beige) lima bean, it only makes sense that the texture, flavor, and overall appearance contribute to them being identified as two separate beans.
Butter Beans Are A Southern Staple
We always had a garden when I was a child, and we always grew butter beans. We shelled and cooked them fresh during the summer and froze the excess to enjoy the rest of the year. I still "put up" some when I can get them so I have them on hand year round.
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 quickly cooked vegetables, but I also enjoy the homestyle taste of longer cooked, well-seasoned vegetables. In my opinion, butter beans are one vegetable that really benefits from the hours-long cooking time.
Because of the long cooking time needed, I cook mine in a slow cooker. They can happily simmer away for the afternoon with little to no attention from me.
In traditional southern cooking, we would season with a bit of fatback, salt pork, smoked ham hock, or bacon fat. If you want to cut back on the fat, try substituting a mixture of chicken bouillon and butter substitute. They'll still be great but will lack the smoky background flavor.
Why We Love This Recipe
- It’s slow cooked and makes the perfect easy side dish
- It’s versatile you can use fresh or frozen
- Makes for a good meal on its own with a little ham and cornbread
- Serve with a protein and two more vegetable side dishes for a traditional "meat and three" southern dinner
Butter Beans (If you don't have access to fresh ones, you can certainly use frozen; look for "petite" or "baby" lima beans in your grocery store's frozen section. In my opinion, the McKenzie's brand frozen petite lima beans are the best size and taste match for fresh.)
Bacon Fat (Doesn't everybody keep a jar of bacon grease in the refrigerator? Most southern cooks do. But if you don't have it on hand you can either render the fat from about 4 slices of bacon or add a nice smoked ham hock or even smoked turkey wings to approximate the correct flavor.)
You'll find detailed measurements, ingredients, and instructions in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.
How to Cook Southern Butter Beans
I always like to show you the photos and step-by-step instructions for my recipes to help you picture how to make them in your own kitchen. If you just want to print out a copy, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you'll find the recipe card.
STEP 1. Place the butter beans (no need to thaw if frozen), bacon fat, bouillon, salt, and enough water to cover in a small slow cooker.
STEP 2. Cook on high for 1½ hours.
STEP 3. Turn the cooker to low and cook for another 2-3 hours or until the butter beans are tender.
Add a small amount of additional water during cooking only if needed.
These cooked all afternoon and are still pretty and green and firm. If you can get your hands on some fresh or frozen green southern butter beans, give this method of cooking a try. It also works great for field peas.
Absolutely! That's the more traditional method, actually. To cook butter beans on the stovetop, place all the ingredients in a medium pot, bring it to the boil and then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook for 2-3 hours stirring periodically. Add a little more water if needed to prevent scorching.
Store any leftover butter beans in an airtight container in your refrigerator for 3-4 days.
To reheat your butter beans, I recommend using the stovetop. A quick reheat on medium-low heat will work perfectly.
You can freeze cooked butter beans but their texture will be degraded. Place in airtight containers and freeze for no more than three months.
You May Also Like ...
- Turnip Greens and Corn Pone
- Easy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
- Fried Okra
- Black Eyed Pea Salad
- Old Fashioned Southern Green Beans
- Real Simple Fried Chicken
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Southern Butter Beans
- 4 cups fresh or frozen green butter beans (or substitute baby lima beans - also called "petite" lima beans)
- 2 tablespoons butter substitute such as Butter Buds
- 1 ½ tablespoons chicken bouillon (or 1 cube of Knorr chicken bouillon)
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- Water to cover butter beans by one-inch
- Place butter beans, butter substitute, chicken bouillon and enough water to cover the butter beans by one inch 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 butter beans are tender.
- Add a small amount of additional water during cooking only if needed.
Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.
This post was originally published in 2009. It was updated in 2021 with new photos and additional text.
Update: Since this post was originally published, several people have emailed me with comments about the differences between lima beans and butter beans. They all 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 come 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 that I know calls them the same thing.
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?