I grew up in an anti-vegetable family, and baked beans were about the sole exception. We had them at almost every meal (except when we had pizza, so about half the time), and they continue to make an appearance at every family event on my dad's side. My dad LOVES baked beans. If he were stranded on a desert island with only five foods to eat for the rest of his life, I think he'd choose baked beans, ham, Barrel o' Fun barbecue chips, M&Ms, and ... maybe gravy.
So whether it's just a matter of taste or overexposure, I'm not really a fan of baked beans. I find them too sweet and I don't care for the texture. But at cousin's wedding several years ago, my aunt made some that were fantastic. They actually tasted like Dad's barbecue with baked beans mixed in -- not too sweet, and the texture was more cooked down. So I began experimenting, and I came up with this mixture that starts with canned baked beans, and tastes like a good side dish at a BBQ joint.
I've made these dozens of times since then, and they always get rave reviews, even from people who don't like baked beans (including me). They've been a hit at potlucks. I bring them to reunions. My father-in-law once made sandwiches with the leftovers. People really, really like them.One of the ingredients I use in these is Watkins concentrated BBQ sauce. (I love Watkins. This is the BBQ sauce I grew up with, and I have a Pavlovian craving for it every time I see a Weber grill. They also make my vanilla extract and my furniture polish. Justs FYI.) Because the flavor of BBQ sauces can vary so much, you might need to decrease the amount of ketchup and liquid smoke accordingly. Mine is a very tangy, concentrated sauce that is intended to be mixed with ketchup, so I tend to use more of it.
The key is to taste as you go along, until you get to the point where you think, "Yum." If it's still too sweet, add more BBQ sauce, or even a dash of vinegar. If it's too BBQ-ish, add some more ketchup, and maybe a pinch of brown sugar.
As luck would have it, my parents stopped by unexpectedly late in the afternoon, while we were just finishing our supper preparations. So Dad was just in time for charcoal-grilled burgers and baked beans, which he ate while watching the Tigers win on TV.
1 lb. lean ground beef
Salt and pepper
1/3 c. water
1/2 to 1 c. ketchup, to taste
1 tsp. mustard
2 28-oz cans baked beans (I prefer Bush's Best Homestyle)
1/2 to 2/3 c. BBQ sauce, to taste
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. hickory liquid smoke
1. Heat a pot over medium-high heat and add ground beef, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook until brown.
2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add water, ketchup and mustard, and mix until combined.
3. Add remaining ingredients, starting with the lower quantities and adding more to taste.
4. Increase heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking, uncovered, about 1 hour (or so), stirring and tasting frequently.
It's also a good idea to sit in front of the stove and sniff frequently, hoping some baked beans will fall from the sky.
5. When the beans have cooked down and thickened, serve.