Slow Cooked Southern Butter Beans
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.
SEE ALL MY PRINT AND KINDLE BOOKS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!
🤔 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
🥘 Ingredient Notes
- 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, 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 for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.
🥄 How to Cook Southern Butter Beans
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.
👉 PRO TIP: 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.
❓ Questions About Butter Beans
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.
🧾 More Old Fashioned Recipes
- Turnip Greens and Corn Pone
- Braised Cabbage
- Easy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
- Fried Okra
- Black Eyed Pea Salad
- Old Fashioned Southern Green Beans
- Real Simple Fried Chicken
HAVE YOU TRIED THIS RECIPE?
I’d LOVE to know what you thought!
Leave a rating below in the comments and let me know how you liked it!
WE’RE ON FACEBOOK, TOO!
If you’d like to hang out with lots of other Southern Comfort Food lovers, make sure to join my FREE PRIVATE Facebook group.
Southern Butter Beans
- 4 cups fresh or frozen green butter beans or substitute baby lima beans – also called "petite" lima beans
- 2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat
- 1 ½ tablespoons granulated chicken bouillon such as Maggi brand, 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?
could i use butter instead of bacon fat?
The purpose of the bacon is to impart a smoky flavor. You can use butter but you won’t get the same flavor.
In the Food Lion grocery store, just recently, there is a product sold in the Crisco and bottled oils section…..it is bacon grease in a small container (shelf stable). Cannot remember the name, but will verify it on my next grocery store visit.
Where have the large Fordhook limas gone? Can’t find them anywhere.
I don’t work in the grocery supply chain so I’m afraid I have no idea. Maybe ask someone at your local grocery store.
Edamame beans ( immature green soybeans) are a good substitute for butter beans. They grow in similar climates but edamame aren’t bothered by any insects or disease in my area( USDA zone 6b), basically no maintenance in the home garden. I don’t know where to find them outside a home garden.
Edamame is available in the frozen foods sections of grocery stores here. I can’t say I’d cook them as a substitute for butter beans.
Soy beans are NOT a good substitute for butter beans! I am a native Texan. My grandma Ida grew speckled butter beans in her garden. Creamy and tasty paired with hot water corn bread, collard greens and fried okra. Yum!
I love butter beans. If we go to a “meat and three” type place, and if they have butter beans on the menu, your can probably count on those being on my plate. Southern butter beans are timeless and absolutely satisfying. Your recipe captures all of the goodness.
I’m confused about the “butter substitute”, why not just use real butter?
Well, as I said in the post, “In traditional southern cooking, butter beans are seasoned with a bit of fatback or a smoked ham hock. To cut back on the fat, I use chicken bouillon and a butter substitute for my seasonings.” Of course you can use real butter if you want.
Ah ok, thank you, sorry I missed that part! I just thought maybe there was something to how the beans cooked that made butter less desirable.
No problem! And nothing at all wrong with a little butter in your butter beans :-)