Dry vs Canned

When faced with the choice of cooking with dry beans or canned beans, what’s the best option for home cooks? The answer depends on many factors, including cost, convenience, and control.

Cost: If you want to save money, cook with dry beans.

Dry beans cost less per serving than canned beans. For example, at a recent trip to our local grocery store, a one pound bag of dry pinto beans cost $1.68 and will make 12-½ cup servings of cooked beans whereas a 15 oz. can of national brand pinto beans costs $1.59, a store brand can costs $1.19, and each provides 3.5-½ cup servings. This means that a serving of pinto beans made from dry beans costs just $0.14 while a serving of store brand canned pinto beans costs $0.34 and the national brand costs $0.45. A family of four that eats beans once a week could save nearly $65 per year by choosing dry beans versus a national brand of canned beans.

Type of bean cost per serving*

Type of beansCost per serving
Dry Pinto Beans$0.14
Canned Pinto Beans (store brand)$0.34
Canned Pinto Beans (national brand)$0.45

Convenience: If you want to save time, cook with canned beans.

Though the cost savings of dry beans is appealing, it does take time and effort to cook with them. It can take 3 to 24 hours—depending on soaking and cooking method—to sort, rinse, soak, and cook dry beans before adding them to a recipe, whereas cooking with canned beans is as easy as opening the can. If you value your time more than your money, using canned beans is the better option. Keep in mind, you can also cook larger batches of dry beans, and then freeze to use in soups, stews, and chili which offers both the cost savings of dry beans and the convenience of a ready-to-use canned ingredient.

Control: If you want less sodium, cook with dry beans.

A third issue to consider is the control you have when you start with dry beans, specifically over the amount of sodium in the final dish. A ½ cup serving of pinto beans cooked from dry beans with no added salt is virtually sodium free, while a ½ cup serving of canned pinto beans contains approximately 200 milligrams of sodium. You can drain and rinse canned beans to remove about 40 percent of the sodium or buy lower sodium versions of many canned bean products. But if you want to more carefully control the sodium in the final dish, you’re better off starting with dry beans. It’s important to remember that when cooking dry beans it’s best to not add salt or other ingredients that contain sodium until the beans are soft and fully cooked. The sodium can affect the beans’ ability to fully cook and soften.

Do you need to drain and rinse canned beans? It depends. It’s fine to add the bean liquid to many recipes, but if you want to reduce the amount of sodium, it’s best to drain and rinse canned beans.

A 2009 study conducted at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, showed that draining beans removes, on average, 36% of the sodium in canned beans. Draining and then rinsing removes, on average, 41% of the sodium.

Reference Jone JB and Mount JR. Sodium Reduction in Canned Beans Varieties by Draining and Rinsing. Poster presentation at the 2009 International Food Technologists Meeting, July 2009.

One pound bag of dry beans2 cups dry beans
One pound bag of dry beans6 cups cooked beans, drained
One cup of dry beans3 cups cooked beans, drained
½ cup cooked beans, drained1 serving of beans
One 15-oz. can of beans1.75 cups cooked beans, drained
One 15-oz. can of beans3.5 servings of beans