Skip to Content

The 5 Best Ways to Thicken Red Beans and Rice

To the people of South Louisiana, red beans and rice on Monday is a real thing. It’s not just a tradition, it’s a way of life. But what if you are running short on time and there just isn’t enough time for the beans to thicken naturally during the cooking process?

There are five good ways to thicken red beans and rice quickly:

  1. Mash 1 to 2 cups of the beans and add them back to the pot.
  2. Make a slurry from cornstarch and water or bean juice.
  3. Make a slurry from flour and water or bean juice.
  4. Make a slurry from tapioca starch and water or bean juice.
  5. Simmer longer over low heat without a lid.

Now, I will discuss these five methods in more detail.

1. How to Thicken Red Beans by Mashing Some of the Beans


The first method for thickening red beans more quickly is by removing 1 to 2 cups of beans from the pot, mashing them with a potato masher, and then returning them to the pot. Be sure the beans are hot when you mash them and return them to the pot because when hot, they will act as a naturally starchy thickening agent.

2. How to Thicken Red Beans With a Slurry of Cornstarch and Water

Another good way to thicken red beans involves making a slurry of 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of cool water or juice from the beans, mixing it well, and adding it back to the pot of beans. If using juice from the beans, be sure to cool it before adding the cornstarch or the cornstarch will not mix well and there could be lumps in the slurry. Whisking the cornstarch and cool liquid together should make the slurry combine with the beans in the pot more easily and completely. Cook the beans a little longer and stir well and the cornstarch should thicken the beans.

3. How to Thicken Red Beans With a Slurry of Flour and Water

The next method for thickening red beans is similar to using the prior method and instead of making a slurry of cornstarch and water, make a slurry of flour and water. For every cup of liquid to be thickened, mix 2 tablespoons of flour with ¼ cup of cold water, mix well, and add back to the pot. Whisking the flour and water together will help to make sure there are no lumps of flour in the slurry. Stir the beans well to incorporate the slurry and cook for at least 10-15 more minutes to thicken.

4. How to Thicken Red Beans With Tapioca Starch

Tapioca starch is made from the starchy pulp of the root of the cassava plant and can be used in baking and as a thickening agent in sauces, soups, puddings, and pies. Tapioca starch, which is the same thing as tapioca flour, is now often used in gluten-free and paleo diets.

For every cup of liquid to be thickened, mix 2 tablespoons of tapioca flour with ¼ cup of cold water, mix well, and add back to the pot. Whisking the tapioca flour and water together will help to make sure there are no lumps in the slurry. Stir the beans well to incorporate the slurry and cook for at least 10-15 more minutes to thicken.

5. How to Thicken Red Beans by Simmering Without a Lid

In order to cook red beans until done and thicken the consistency more easily, leave the pot in which it is being cooked unlidded or tilt the lid in such a way so as to allow evaporation of the liquid in the beans. Then reduce the heat and simmer longer until the beans are done and have a thicker consistency.

If the beans are being cooked with the lid on the pot secured tightly, the beans may get done faster, but little or no evaporation can take place and the resulting pot of beans will be runny. 

Perfect red beans and rice, ready to serve.

Alternative Thickening Agents

If you cannot use either cornstarch or flour as thickening agents, here are a few alternatives that you can use:


Arrowroot flour is a gluten-free thickening agent that can be used to thicken gravies, sauces, soups, stews, puddings, and more. This thickener contains only one ingredient in most cases: arrowroot, which is tasteless and odorless and will not affect the flavor or smell of the dish you are preparing. In some cases potato starch may be added to the arrowroot, but the ingredients list on the label will indicate if potato starch has been added to your product. 

To use arrowroot as a thickener, start by adding a slurry made from 1 tablespoon of arrowroot and 2 tablespoons of liquid, but increase the amount of arrowroot if necessary.

Rice Flour

Rice flour is naturally gluten-free and can be used to replace flour or cornstarch as a thickener. It can be mixed with hot or cold water or bean juice to form a colorless slurry that can thicken soups, sauces, stews, gravies, and, in this case, red beans.

To use rice flour as a thickener, replace cornstarch on a 2:1 basis by using 2 tablespoons of rice flour for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan Gum is another flavorless alternative thickener that is Vegan friendly and can be used to thicken soups, sauces, ice cream, and certain dairy products. However, Xanthan gum is made from fermented corn, soy, wheat, or cabbage, so would not be suitable for a gluten-free diet or for anyone allergic to corn.

To use Xanthan Gum as a thickener, combine 1/8th teaspoon with 1 cup of water in a blender, not by hand, to make a slurry that can be added as a thickener to the pot of red beans.

Making Perfect Red Beans and Rice

Some of the typical ingredients for my red beans and rice.

Here are the steps to cooking perfect red beans:

  1. Wash and pick beans of your choice to remove any foreign matter like dirt and small pebbles.
  2. Soak beans overnight in a Dutch oven or other large pot by covering them with at least 2 inches of water above the beans and adding a small amount of baking soda. Or, as an alternative to soaking overnight, cover the beans with at least 2 inches of water and add a small amount of baking soda (1/8th teaspoon) to the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let set for 1 hour. Drain the soda water from the beans and begin the cooking process.
  3. Add fresh water and place the pot on the stove over medium heat.
  4. Bring beans to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and allow them to cook from 1 to 3 hours until tender. The type of beans used and the age of the beans will determine the cooking time.
  5. Do not add salt until the beans are done.
  6. To add a ham bone or other seasoning meat, put the meat into a separate pot, cover with water, and cook until the meat is done and tender. While the beans are cooking, add broth from cooking the meat to the beans, take the meat off the bones and cut into bite-size pieces, and add meat and spices of your choice and cook until the beans are tender.
  7. Serve over rice.
Perfect with french bread.

Why Didn’t My Beans Get Tender?

If you soaked the dry beans overnight, or burped them by using the quick method, and then cooked them for hours and they never got tender, their failure to become tender could be caused by at least two different things.

  1. One cause would be if you added salt during the cooking process. Adding salt at the beginning of the cooking process can make the beans tough and not allow them to become tender. Salt should be added at the very end when the beans are almost done.
  2. The second cause for tough beans that never get tender is that the beans were old and were not stored properly. Even though dry beans can be stored for extended periods of time, if they are not stored properly, they will not become tender when cooked.

How to Fix Beans That Are Too Dry

If you inadvertently overcook the beans and they are too dry, they can be salvaged by adding either a little water or chicken broth. Better yet, if you reserved some of the liquid from cooking the ham bone or seasoning meat, that would be the best liquid to use to fix overcooked and dry beans.

To fix the beans that have cooked down too low, add just a small amount of liquid at the time until the beans reach the consistency you are looking for.

Are Red Beans and Kidney Beans the Same Thing?

Red beans and kidney beans are not the same thing. While both beans are red, red beans are a much smaller, more round bean than kidney beans which are large “kidney” shaped beans. But, even though the two beans are different varieties of beans, they can be used interchangeably in making red beans and rice and other bean dishes that call for either red beans or kidney beans.

Are Red Beans and Rice Good for You?

Any dry beans, including red beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber. Fiber is important in lowering cholesterol levels; protein is important in building muscle strength. But, those are not their only benefits. Dry beans also contain high antioxidant levels and provide more vitamins and minerals than do red meat.

If you are on a high fiber or protein diet, dry beans are among the healthiest foods to support your dietary efforts.

Why Is Monday Red Beans and Rice Day?

Red beans and rice have long been a favorite of the people who live in South Louisiana. The story goes that back in the early part of the 20th Century, Monday was laundry day, which meant that the clothes were washed by hand using a rub board, or boiled in a pot and stirred with a long spoon or stick, so that washing the clothes, hanging them out to dry, and then taking them in and folding or ironing, took all day long. 

So, everyone took the hambone left from Sunday dinner and used it to season the red beans that were put on to cook Monday morning and allowed to simmer all day long so that when the laundry was done and it was time to eat supper, the red beans and rice would be ready.

Laundry on Monday isn’t necessarily something that is still done. With the washers and dryers we have today, laundry can be done at any time. But, the tradition of red beans and rice on Monday lives on.

Aren’t those the best-looking red beans ever?

What Is the Best Way to Store Dry Beans?

The best way to store dry beans so that they remain good for the maximum length of time is under the following conditions:

  • In a cool area with no major fluctuations in temperature, the cooler the better.
  • In a dry area not subject to excessive humidity.
  • In an airtight container with oxygen removed.
  • In a dark area with little or no exposure to natural or artificial light.
  • In a mylar-type bag which is one of the best containers for bean storage.
  • In canning jars if they are stored in a dark area.

How Long Do Dry Beans Last if Stored Properly?

The length of time that dry beans will remain good depends on the conditions under which they are stored. For example:

  • Dry beans stored in food-grade polyethylene bags have a shelf life of one year.
  • Dry beans stored in mylar bags have a shelf life of up to 10 years or more.
  • Dry beans stored under the best possible conditions will remain good for 30 or more years.

Final Thoughts

Everyone loves red beans and rice, even folks who are not from the South Louisiana area! So, if you are going to try your hand at making New Orleans-style red beans and rice and you are wondering what to serve with them, just add some Andouille sausage, coleslaw, Southern-style cornbread, and corn on the cob for a traditional authentic Cajun meal!

For more, don’t miss 7 Easy Ways to Thicken Bean Soup.