How to Cook Yellow Eye Beans

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Learn how to cook and season yellow eye beans with this old-fashioned southern recipe. Discover where to buy yellow eyes and how to season them so they’ll taste just like Grandma’s cooking!

yellow eye beans in a rich broth.
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Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • authentic southern comfort food
  • healthy meal full of protein, fiber and calcium
  • easy main dish served with a slice of cornbread and pickled green tomatoes
  • creamy and flavorful side that pairs well with other southern vegetables

What are Yellow Eye Beans?

Yellow eyes are an heirloom bean with large mustard-brown spots that have tiny eyes in the middle. They resemble black eyed peas, but are much larger in size and milder in flavor. They’re not related to black eyed peas, but are often mistaken for them.

Although these dried beans are thought to have originated in the northeast, southern folks have adopted them as their own. In New England, they make excellent cookout beans, and are used for baked bean recipes.

But, in the south, yellow eye beans are cooked low and slow with streaked meat in a savory broth for an authentic taste. They can be made in a slow cooker, instant pot or crock pot, but the old fashioned way is to use a large bean pot or dutch oven.

bowl of yellow eye beans after being rinsed.

Why Do Some Folks Call Them Yellow Eye Peas?

That’s a great question! They look like peas, but they taste like beans. When they’re cooked, they look like a smaller version of pinto beans. In fact, they taste a lot like kidney beans or navy beans with a creamy texture.

When you buy them at the grocery store, the bag says they’re yellow eye peas. But, all of the southerners I know call them beans. So, the choice is yours!

Different Varieties

Yellow eyes are versatile beans so there are several types you can purchase. Some people call them Maine yellow eyes, but the two main types are named Steubens and Kenearly (which have a smaller ‘eye’).

Rancho Gordo is a popular brand of yellow eyed beans which creates a tasty side dish. Many grocery stores have their own brand of dried yellow eyes which are very affordable.

yellow eye beans in broth with spoon.

Where to Buy Them

Most southern grocery stores and larger supermarkets sell dried yellow eye peas (or beans) in 1 pound bags. Purchase them all year at the supermarket or online in bulk. (ad)

If you visit a local farmers market in the summer months, sometimes you can buy them straight from the farmer’s trucks. If you can get your hands on beans this way, they’ll be the freshest you’ll ever find.

Recipe Ingredients

  • 1 pound bag yellow eye beans (or peas)
  • 1/2 strip streaked meat (can use sidemeat, fat back, streak ‘o lean, or bacon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • dash or two of black pepper
  • 8 cups water (can use chicken broth or vegetable broth)
  • 1 stick butter (8 tablespoons)
bag of yellow eyes and streaked meat.

What Is Streaked Meat?

Streaked meat looks similar to bacon, but it’s quite the opposite. Some folks call it streak ‘o lean because it’s mostly fat with a lean streak of meat running through the middle.

True southern cooks use streaked meat to season greasy beans, collard greens and many other types of vegetables. This fatty pork is called sliced pork sidemeat in some locations.

Since it’s cured with salt, streak ‘o lean adds a ton of flavor as it renders down. If you don’t have access to streaked meat, it’s fine to substitute strips of bacon instead.

beans with spoon dipping them out of a white bowl.

How to Season Yellow Eye Beans

First of all, there’s nothing fancy about seasoning yellow eye beans. Just like most southern bean recipes, they’re soaked overnight, then cooked with streaked meat, a stick of butter, and salt and pepper.

Most southern cooks don’t like to add anything other than simple ingredients, including water which is an important part of the cooking process.

If you’re lucky enough to come upon a smoked ham hock after a holiday meal, that’s a great way to season dry beans. I like to add a few garlic cloves and vidalia onions to my dutch oven, but I’m keeping it real by honoring this vintage recipe.

Cooking Instructions

My friend, Mary Jo, grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina and knows more about cooking beans than I ever will. She shared her tips with me, so this is her authentic yellow eye beans recipe.

Sift

Be sure to sift through the beans before cooking them.

This is probably the most important step because you’ll often find rocks or stones in the bag (even if it says they’ve been cleaned). Place yellow eyes in a bowl and run your hands through them several times before rinsing in water.

sorting through yellow eye beans

Rinse

Place beans in a colander and rinse 3 times with water while continuing to check for stones or debris. Use your hands to move them around and rinse under a faucet until the water runs clear.

Soak

Place beans in a bean pot or large bowl and add enough water to cover them completely. Soak overnight (or at least 6 hours) for best results.

beans with water added.

After the beans have soaked overnight, they will swell and release complex sugars. This will help eliminate any gassy symptoms from eating a big bowl of yellow eyes!

beans after soaking 6 hours.

Drain

Drain beans in a colander and give them a quick rinse with cool water. They will be a little wrinkled, but ready to add to a dutch oven!

beans after being rinsed.

Cook

Add drained beans to a dutch oven or large pot. Cover with 8 cups of fresh water.

Bring beans to a boil over medium-high heat. This process prepares the cooking liquid. Simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring frequently during the cooking process. Beans will be ready to eat when soft to the bite.

dutch oven filled with yellow eye beans.

It may be necessary to add water a couple of times during cooking if the liquid goes down. Make sure the water is always hot instead of cold to keep the temperature steady.

Be sure to tilt the lid on the pot and leave an opening or the beans will cook to mush.

dutch oven pot of beans with lid tilted.

Season

Add salt, pepper, unsalted butter and streaked meat to the beans after they begin to boil. I prefer the flavor of smoked bacon, but country folk like to use streaked meat or fat back. Adding a stick of butter makes the broth extra creamy and delicious.

If you want to throw in a diced onion and a garlic clove to flavor the bean broth, this is the time to do so. (This is a deviation from how most Appalachian folks like to season their yellow eyes.)

stick of butter added to a pot of beans.

This same technique and recipe can be applied to cooking great northern beans, southern pinto beans, purple hull peas, or any dried bean or pea that folks soak before cooking.

What to Serve With Yellow Eye Beans

Now that you know how to cook yellow eye beans and season them the way we do down south, you’ll want to serve them as a side with these favorite southern recipes…

Recipe FAQS

Why do you soak beans before cooking them?

The main reason to soak dried beans before cooking them is to eliminate the complex sugars they contain so they won’t be as likely to cause indigestion, gas or upset stomachs. They will also cook faster when soaked beforehand.

Is 24 hours too long to soak beans?

Yes, if you soak beans too long they can ferment or grow bacteria, especially if left at room temperature. It’s best to soak them for up to 8 hours, then rinse and cook.

Do you cook beans covered or uncovered?

The best way to cook beans is to cover them, then tilt the lid on the dutch oven or pot so a large amount of steam can escape. If you keep the lid on without tilting it, the beans may scorch or break down and turn to mush.

Storage and Freezing

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To reheat, place leftovers in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until warm.

When freezing beans, make sure to do so in their cooking liquid so they will stay plump. Freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, thaw in the microwave or place in the refrigerator overnight. Heat thoroughly in a saucepan on the stove or in the microwave.

Recipe Card

spoonful of yellow eye beans being lifted out of a white dish.

How to Cook Yellow Eye Beans

Learn how to cook and season yellow eye beans with this old-fashioned southern recipe!
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes, Sides
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Soaking Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 9 hours
Servings: 8
Calories: 298kcal

*See notes in blog post for detailed tips, photos and instructions.

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 1 pound yellow eye beans (or peas)
  • 8 cups fresh water
  • ½ teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • 1 dash black pepper (to taste)
  • ½ strip streaked meat (or bacon)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)

Instructions

  • Sift through dried yellow eye beans in a bowl. Run your hands through them several times to look for stones. Remove any unwanted debris.
  • Add beans to a colander and rinse 3 times with water while continuing to check for debris. Rinse under a faucet until the water runs clear.
  • Put beans in a pot or large bowl and add enough water to cover them completely. Soak overnight (or at least 6 hours) for best results.
  • Drain beans in a colander and give them a quick rinse with cool water.
  • Add drained beans to a dutch oven or pot with 8 cups of fresh water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Stir in salt, pepper, unsalted butter and streaked meat to the beans after they begin to boil. Close lid, but tilt it open so steam can escape.
  • Simmer beans for at least 2 1/2 hours. Stir frequently during cooking. Check to see if beans are done (soft to the bite). Once they're ready, turn off the heat.
  • Ladle beans along with cooking liquid into bowls. Serve with pickled green tomatoes, chow-chow, or bread and butter pickles.

Notes

  • Make sure not to skip the first step to sort through beans because small stones are usually found. 
  • During cooking, add hot water if needed to keep the beans from scorching.
  • Tilt the lid on the pot to allow steam to escape and keep beans from turning to mush.
  • If desired, add a diced onion and garlic clove to the beans with salt, pepper and butter. Bacon can be used instead of streaked meat if it can’t be found.
  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To reheat, place leftovers in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until warm.
  • When freezing beans, make sure to do so in their cooking liquid so they will stay plump. Freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw and reheat on the stove or in the microwave. 

Nutrition

Calories: 298kcal | Carbohydrates: 34g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Sodium: 171mg | Potassium: 678mg | Fiber: 14g | Sugar: 2g | Calcium: 94mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition info is an auto generated estimate.

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One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    Thank you so much for this authentic yellow eye bean recipe! I have looked everywhere for my mother’s copy and can’t find how she cooked her beans. This is a real treasure.

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