Can I Substitute Dried Beans for Canned?

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

"I tend to cook with dry beans, but most recipes call for canned. Is there a reliable ratio to convert between the two?"

I see that you have a lot of recipes that involved canned beans, but I usually only have dried beans on hand. I'd love to cook them, but I'm wondering if there's a formula to help me convert from canned to dried? Does it vary by bean type?

I have an admission: I'm a bean snob. More than anything else, that means I vastly prefer dried beans to canned ones, and I'm willing to take the time to soak and cook them for just about any recipe. Still, I understand the advantages of canned. They're almost always perfectly cooked (which, admittedly, isn't guaranteed to be the case when you start with dried), and, most importantly, they're incredibly fast and convenient. It's no surprise, then, that so many recipes, including ones here on Serious Eats, call for canned—I mean, let's be honest, most people are way more likely to make a 25-minute recipe than one that takes 2 hours and 25 minutes plus an overnight soak.

But for those of us who do want to use dried beans, what do we do when a recipe calls for canned (or, in rarer cases, vice versa)? Is there any rule of thumb that holds for all types of beans?

The answer is ultimately pretty simple: once you recognize that canned beans are just cooked beans, you're really looking for a consistent, reliable ratio between dried beans and cooked ones.

To work out that ratio, I started by taking six different varieties of dried beans—cannellini beans, red kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, chickpeas, and black-eyed peas—and measured their volumes and weights both before and after cooking. (For more on how to cook dried beans, take a look at our step-by-step guide.) The good news is, while the conversions aren't perfectly consistent, they're close enough that we can come up with a handy rule of thumb: Most dried beans slightly more than double in both volume and weight once cooked.

One pound of dried cannellini beans, for instance, measured just about 3 cups; after they were cooked and drained, they weighed 2 pounds 8 ounces and measured 6 1/2 cups. That held true, give or take an ounce here or there, for red kidney beans, and pinto beans. Black beans was in line with these weight-wise, but filled 7 cups after they were cooked.

Chickpeas and black-eyed peas didn't work quite the same way. One pound of chickpeas more than tripled in weight, and had a more significant volume increase (going from a little under 3 cups dried to 7 cups once cooked). Black-eyed peas, meanwhile, went from 1 pound dried to 2 pounds 13 ounces once cooked and drained, though volume stayed consistent with the other beans, swelling from a little under 3 cups dried to 6 1/2 cups once cooked.

In practice, this means that if a recipe calls for cooked beans and you want to use dried, you should be safe using half the specified amount. You may end up with a little extra, but it's better that than to come up short (and frankly, in many recipes, you can just toss 'em in for good measure). I'd even apply that rule to the outliers like chickpeas and black-eyed peas, because heck, does it ever hurt to have extra of either?

Finally, to answer the part about the can: The most common can size for beans is about 15 ounces, which, once drained, contains approximately 1.5 cups or 9 ounces of beans (this holds across all bean types I tested). So for a recipe that calls for one 15-ounce can of beans, you can cook 3/4 cup (4.5 ounces) of the dried version and be in the ballpark. Conversely, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of dried beans, you'll need to buy two 15-ounce cans to have the 2+ cups worth of cooked beans the recipe will eventually yield.

Type of Bean Weight Dried Equivalent Cooked
Cannellini 1 pound 2 lb. 8 oz. (6.5 cups)
Chickpeas 1 pound 3 lb. 4 oz. (7 cups)
Red Kidney 1 pound 2 lb. 7 oz. (6.5 cups)
Pinto 1 pound 2 lb. 5 oz. (6.5 cups)
Black 1 pound 2 lb. 5 oz. (7 cups)
Black-Eyed Peas 1 pound 2 lb. 13 oz. (6.5 cups)

Bonus Observation: Most of my beans looked pretty similar to their canned equivalents, but I was surprised to see how different my home-cooked red kidney beans were from the canned. Sadly for a bean snob like me, my beans don't look nearly as good—and I have a lot of experience cooking beans.

Canned red kidney beans, left, are brighter than the home-cooked ones at right.

I'm not sure what sorcery Goya used to make their canned red kidney beans retain so much beautiful color, but sorcery it was, indeed! For those of you noticing that my beans are also more broken, that's most likely because the dried beans I bought were old—the older they get, the less evenly they cook, and sometimes you have to overcook some to ensure the rest aren't still crunchy. Crunchy beans are definitely worse than overcooked beans, IMHO.

About the Author: Daniel Gritzer is Culinary Director at Serious Eats. A former restaurant worker and itinerant farm laborer, he lives, and often eats, in Jackson Heights, Queens. Follow him at @dgritzer.


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