Can You Make Good Bean Soup without a Ham Bone?

Beaver Falls, PA(Zone 6a)

Last week, my DH and I made a pot of some of the best navy bean soup we've ever had. We used the ham bone from our DD's Christmas Ham which had been frozen since the holidays. I'd love to make it more often than the once a year when we have a ham bone available.

What could you use in place of the ham bone to flavor the soup? I'd appreciate any ideas you can share. Nothing like a bowl of hearty bean soup in the cold winter months to warm you up!


Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9b)

I'm interested to hear what others use for their ham and bean soup. We like to use a smoked turkey leg.

Arlington, TX(Zone 8a)

probably not the specific dish you're referring too, but my wife often makes beans with a little pulled pork. Has done the same with smoked chicken thighs as well as smoked turkey.

all BBQed by ourselves.

OC, CA & Twin Lakes , IA(Zone 4b)

Using your own smoked meat has got to be the best!

Smoked ham hocks work just fine. I haven't bought a regular ham in years with it just being the two of us. I really don't eat ham. But I sure do like to use it to flavor other things.

I've been using ham hocks for years . . bean soup. . . split pea . . . lentil (when I don't use bacon).

Simmer the hocks in water; remove and debone, remove fat, and chop meat. Take the broth and add onions, celery, seasonings of choice.
Simmer that until tender. Then add your beans that have soaked in cold water overnight.

We add the chopped ham meat last minute so that it retains its flavor.

Beaver Falls, PA(Zone 6a)

I will be trying that TwinLakesChef. Thank you for your comments and recipe!

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9b)

Yeah me too, that sounds great. Good to 'see' you again Arlene!

Columbus, OH

I never use ham or pork, I'm a vegetarian ;) I use onions, garlic, celery, carrot, and parsley. If I want the smoky taste, I use smoked salt.

Shawnee Mission, KS(Zone 6a)

We don't use meat in our bean soup either. Onions, celery, carrots, a mix of different types of beans and lentils, and a good veggie broth. Sometimes I throw in tomatoes also.

Crossville, TN

I like to use Navy Beans for bean soup...and I no longer use Ham Hocks....I use a little bacon grease that I have saved (I KNOW...not good for you....what else is new?) I also have used Chicken Stock and the carrots, onions and celery and different herbs.

I have started to use the "quick cook" on the package...fill pot with the needed amount of water....boil for 2 minutes....let sit for 2 hours....then I cook them about 10 minutes in the pressure cooker. This method will over cook the carrots and onions and if they are included you have to change the cooking time. Jo

Lawrenceville, GA

No, must have a hog bone in my experience.

OC, CA & Twin Lakes , IA(Zone 4b)

I am not big on meat but am not vegetarian. I like to flavor dishes with smoked meats but I wouldn't sit down and eat a center cut ham slice all by it'self. This is a vegetarian recipe that I make and I don't even miss the smoked meat flavor that I usually use.


Serves 4

Heat in large Dutch over over medium heat:

5 T Olive Oil
2 onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced

Sauté till just translucent, 3 minutes
6 cups water
1 ½ cups lentils (10 oz), rinsed
4 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 T dried savory

Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low; cover and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2 - 14 ½-oz. Cans tomatoes

Cover and cook until lentils and carrots are tender, about 10 minutes longer. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate Rewarm before continuing)

Stir in
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp. hot sauce
salt & pepper to taste

Pass grated 8 oz Jarlsburg cheese separately

From Dinner club by Gina James 1/25/1992

Columbus, OH

If you want the smoky taste, just use some smoked salt to season.

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9b)

Note to self : smoked salt....

Columbus, OH

I love smoked salt more than I should...

Hemet, CA(Zone 9b)

Hickory smoked salt is so good to add that smokey flavor when you don't have bacon or ham. Works for me!!

New Port Richey, FL

my aunt who makes the best bean soup in our large family of great cooks uses the large smoked sausage in hers when the holiday ham bones aren't available.

Hemet, CA(Zone 9b)

Knorr ham bullion cubes also work well.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

I wouldn't use bouillon on a bet. Too many chemicals in them.

I have a cold smoker set up but haven't used it in a year. Cold-smoking salt was on my list to try. I did try cheese, but my temps were a little too warm.

Columbus, OH

I use the hot smoker for salt, it doesn't make much difference. I did learn not to smoke it with strongly flavored meat, like salmon, or the salt tastes like the meat. I loathe the smell of seafood, so I thought it was horrifying, everyone else liked it.

Longboat Key, FL(Zone 9b)

I use a smoked pork butt as we like to eat the meat in hot or cold sandwiches as well. Rye bread little mustard and sliced meat. Very nice with a sauer kraut salad. Or even a bean salad reserved from soup.

I have upon occasion, substituted the ham bone with either baked bacon, or grilled chicken thighs. Different flavors.... Just as good!

Just grill the chicken until slightly charred. Then toss them into the pot of raw beans and onions.

Thumbnail by FishMonger
Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

I am like TwinLakes...not vegetarian (by any means) but consider meat, for the most part, a condiment. We used hocks for years but now the big name processors, like Smithfield, have a handle in the hock business so you can either pay a lot for vacuum packed hocks or wait until the holiday season when pork floods the market and fresh smoked hocks. I predict the era of fresh smoked hocks is on the wane and they will soon not be available. They used to be available year around and very cheap here in the south. The alternative is to eat LOTS of ham and save the bones. I have had discussions with my butcher on this topic. I cater and found the escalating cost of hocks and hambones prohibitive. Plus, neither I, nor the clients I cook for, want the preservatives used in curing the commercial meats. So now we smoke our own meats. Several years ago we discovered there's a season for bargain chicken thighs, usually late summer and fall. We smoke loads of thighs at that time and I use them for the smoked meat in greens and bean dishes. I realize this is not practical for most so instead, you might use smoked turkey parts available in most markets. A healthier alternative, though not quite as rich, would be to save roasted chicken parts in a freezer bag. Steam the scrap meat briefly, remove from the bones and set aside. Otherwise it will become flavorless. Boil the daylights out of the roasted bones for several hours and use that base to cook your beans. Add the scrap meat back at the very end. You will need two chickens worth of bones to make one flavorful pound of dry beans.

Torrance, CA

I love bean soup! But, like the song says "When I'm not with the girl I love, I love the girl I' m with...", may I offer the alternative of that wonderful Italian "suppa": Pasta Fajpuli. (I probably didn't spell any of that correctly) Lots of bean and loaded with flavor!

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Pasta fagioli? It's a wonderful alternative. The dish usually involves pancetta which is not smoked but rather salt cured pork bell.

Hemet, CA(Zone 9b)

One of the best "bean soups" I've ever made is dried baby lima's with lots and lots of chopped onion, salt (after cooking) and a liberal amount of pepper. Very simple but way delicious!!

Gibraltar, MI

Have used smoked hocks for years in my U.S Senate bean soup recipe, but have noticed that they have not been as meaty as they used to be. As a result, I now also use smoked shanks to add more meat.
I brown my chopped onions lightly, then add the beans (soaked overnight & picked over first, of course), hocks, shanks, & cracked pepper. Save adding salt til later as the smoked products may provide enough to suit you.. I've also heard that salt makes the beans tough, but I don't know if there is any truth to that.

I see that Helenthequeen uses a smoked pork butt....have to try that as I don't like to be chintzy with the meat.

Longboat Key, FL(Zone 9b)

Come to think of it my mother didn't use anything smoket in her beans. She used white navy beans soaked over night. Refresh the water, added celery, carrots sauteed onions whole cubanella pepper, bay leaf pepper and salt to taste some crucifer if there was something around. Cooked this untl beans were done. Took out the Vegtables - discarded them. Took out some beans (when not mushy) for white bean salad added generous amount of thinly sliced onions oil and vinegar, tad of sugar and salt and pepper.
Took out somemore after add'l cooking, made a roux with flour butter, chopped garlic, and a pinch of paprika thickened this and served as a side vegetable. Made soup with the rest. This worked for my father.
Making black bean soup today for my Son in law as I have stayed here for the summer. This recipe is from California OO and no ham flavor here. But that may be traditional for cuban fare.

somewhere, PA

I made bean soup with sweet italian sausage but added beef stock and that was not a good flavor.

So I bought ham hock bones today but not smoked. Would these work? Should I roast them first perhaps?


So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Tam, I find I get better flavor from any bones I roast first, but I've never tried that with ham hocks since I generally cure and smoke my own unless I buy them already smoked.

somewhere, PA

I'll give roasting 'em a try. Probably still won't taste as good as soup made with ham hocks but I did get a little ham to add.

Thanks Darius.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

I agree with Darius and would add that you should season them well before roasting. Salt, pepper, garlic, etc. Over roast them to render more fat and more flavor to the fat and meat. Smoked meat adds much to the flavor but I try to avoid the additives in commercial products. Thus we smoke all kinds of meats once a year and store them for greens, beans and stews the rest of the year. My most recent greens were done with some skin from a whole ham. It was so smokey I was able to recycle it into a soup for flavoring only and then the dogs got it.

somewhere, PA

OK. Not to be too stupid about this but... do you use the rendered fat in the soup?

I've got the flu and am simply too miserable to attempt anything like a new skill, smoking meat!


Shawnee Mission, KS(Zone 6a)

Sorry to hear you are still sick.

Last batch of bean soup had all the regulars plus turkey bacon and collards.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Tam, it would be healthier not to. The meat should do it. If you like the flavor of the rendered fat you could add it though. So sorry you are ill.

Susan, I too made a soup this past week utilizing leftover collards, turkey and blackeyed peas from New Years.

Shawnee Mission, KS(Zone 6a)

First year for growing Collards. Thanks to you for turning me onto them! We love them in soup. Still working on using them other ways to see what we like.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

They will taste very different depending on the season. Milder and sweeter in cold weather. If they are growing in warmer weather it is good to put them in the fridge for a few days. If they are mild and tender then they are very good stir fried with a bit of water to steam at the end. Be careful not to cook them too hot or they will get a bitter taste like cabbage. I start with a hot pepper, like jalapeno, and add a few cloves of minced garlic right at the end. I use either peanut oil for no flavor or olive oil for flavor. They are good in pasta dishes and good cold topped with a premium olive oil and more minced garlic. You can add chopped tomatoes, chopped egg and fresh croutons to the last dish. Save any unused pot likker for soup.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Laurel, are you talking about regular collards, or the yellow cabbage collards? I didn't grow any of those last summer, but I seem to remember them as being sweeter and milder...

I hope my seeds for them are still somewhat viable.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

This applies to all collards and, for that matter, kale. They both benefit from cool weather. Actually they are best with some frost or a brief freeze. They start to go downhill with repeated freezes. This doesn't mean to put them in your freezer at zero degrees. The thing about collards is that, unlike kale, they tolerate warm weather so you can be picking for a longer season. If you are okay with some bitter greens in the recipe (I am) and can give them a head start (because they will be tough) then they are nutritious but not at their premium flavor. I'm not sure what goes on there but the I'm assuming the more bitter flavor is related to the plant producing higher oxalates during warmer months. Collards are pretty high in oxalates anyway so if your diet limits or excludes them you should definitely not eat ones grown in warm weather. Folks with a history of kidney stones fall into that group.

Larkie's family grows collards so she knows a lot about them, I'm sure. Heading types are the most common ones grown commercially because they are harvested all at once. Non-heading types are not as sweet or tender but produce more leaves over a longer season.

Collard seeds loose viability more quickly than other veggie seed. I have poor germination on collards after two years and really bad at three.

Shawnee Mission, KS(Zone 6a)

We have Georgia Collards. The ones we have were planted fall of 2011 so they made it through a mild winter. Do they always continue to grow more like a perennial?

We sautéed a batch of collards and kale with sautéed onions, Mongolian fire oil, and thinly sliced kumquats for Christmas. It was great.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Collards are biennial. If planted in Fall they will usually go Fall to Fall and then bloom the following Spring. If they are planted in Spring they will flower the very next Spring. If the weather is too cold they won't winter over. If the weather is too hot they will bolt and go to seed earlier. Your main crop will be that first Fall/Winter. If you let them go to flower the flowers are delicious on top of soups, salads, or sandwiches. They taste like mustard but very mild. They are big bee and wasp attractors.

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