Smoky White Bean & Ham Soup

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This Southern-style smoky white bean and ham soup adapted from chef Hugh Acheson is hearty and comforting.

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This rich and smoky white bean and ham soup is modestly adapted from Georgia chef Hugh Acheson’s empowering new cookbook, How to Cook: Building Blocks and 100 Simple Recipes for a Lifetime of Meals. The book is intended for kitchen novices — Acheson wrote it with his teenage daughters, Beatrice and Clementine, in mind — but I think it’s a wonderful resource for seasoned cooks, too. This recipe, for example, begins with a lesson on how to cook dried beans, a skill every cook should have, and then shows how to transform them into a flavorful, hearty soup by adding smoked ham hocks, chicken stock, vegetables, and herbs.

I’ve made a few tweaks to the recipe, like adding more ham and puréeing a portion of the soup to thicken it up a bit. Feel free to skip the puréeing step if you prefer a brothier soup.

What You’ll Need to Make Smoky White Bean & Ham Soup

smoky white bean and ham soup ingredients

Smoked ham hocks, or pork knuckles, come from the ankle region of the pig’s leg. In Southern cooking, hocks are often used to add a rich, meaty, and smoky flavor to soups, stews, and greens. They are available in most supermarkets and are very inexpensive. If for some reason you can’t find them, pork shank can be substituted.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Quick-soak the Beans

Place the beans in a large pot and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water.

soaking white beansBring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let sit for one hour.

boiling white beansDrain the beans. soaked white beans

Step 2: Make the White Bean & Ham Soup

Place the drained beans into a 5.5-quart Dutch oven or large pot. Add the water, chicken stock, bay leaves, quartered onion, and ham hocks.
white beans, ham hocks, onion, and broth in pot

Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and simmer over low heat until the beans are just tender, about 1 hour (depending on the size of the beans, it could take a bit longer).
bringing soup to a boil

Once the beans are tender, pull out the bay leaves, onion remnants, and ham hocks. Discard the bay leaves and onions, but set the ham hocks aside to cool.

white bean soup after simmering for one hour

Add the minced onion, carrots, celery, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and 2 teaspoons of salt to the pot.

adding the vegetables to the soup

Increase the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

soup simmering in pot

Meanwhile, while the soup is cooking, and when the ham hocks are cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the hocks, discard any bone, fat, and tough sinew, and chop the meat finely.

chopped ham on cutting boardUse a ladle to transfer about 2 cups of the beans and vegetables, along with a bit of broth, to a blender or food processor. (If using a blender, be sure to remove the center knob on the lid and cover with a dishtowel to avoid splatters.)

a few cups of the soup in a food processor

Purée until smooth.

blended soup in food processor

Stir the mixture back into the soup.

thickened white bean soup

Add the meat and kale to the soup.

adding greens and ham to soup

Simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes more.

finished white bean and ham soup in pot

Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, if necessary. At this point, you can serve the soup or refrigerate it for up to 3 days.  When you’re ready to eat, garnish each bowl with a drizzle with olive oil (if using) and a heap of grated cheese.

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Smoky White Bean and Ham Soup

This Southern-style smoky white bean and ham soup adapted from chef Hugh Acheson is hearty and comforting.

Servings: 8 servings
Cook Time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Total Time: 2 Hours, plus plus 1 hour to soak the beans

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried white navy beans or Great Northern beans, rinsed and checked for stones
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered, plus 1/2 cup minced (you'll need 2 onions)
  • 2 pounds smoked ham hocks
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 (14 oz) can chopped or diced tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped kale or other dark leafy greens
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)
  • Finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving

Instructions

  1. Quick-soak the beans: Place the beans in a medium pot and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for 1 hour. Drain in a colander.
  2. Place the drained beans into a 5.5-quart Dutch oven or large pot. Add the water, chicken stock, bay leaves, quartered onion, and ham hocks. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and simmer over low heat until the beans are just tender, about 1 hour (depending on the size of the beans, it could take a bit longer).
  3. Once the beans are tender, pull out the bay leaves, onion remnants, and ham hocks. Discard the bay leaves and onions, but set the ham hocks aside to cool.
  4. Add the minced onion, carrots, celery, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and 2 teaspoons of salt to the pot. Increase the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. While the soup is cooking, and when the ham hocks are cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the hocks, discard any bone, fat, and tough sinew, and chop the meat finely.
  5. Use a ladle to transfer about 2 cups of the beans and vegetables, along with a bit of broth, to a blender or food processor. (If using a blender, be sure to remove the center knob on the lid and cover with a dishtowel to avoid splatters.) Purée until smooth, and then stir the mixture back into the soup. Add the meat and kale to the soup and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, if necessary (I usually add about 1 teaspoon more; beans require a lot of salt to bring out their flavor). At this point, you can serve the soup or refrigerate it for up to 3 days. (It will thicken up in the fridge; thin it with a bit of water, if necessary.)
  6. When you're ready to eat, garnish each bowl with a drizzle with olive oil (if using) and a heap of grated cheese.
  7. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The soup can be frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost the soup in the refrigerator for 12 hours and then reheat it on the stovetop over medium heat until hot. through.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (Nutritional data is based on 2 tsp salt and does not include oil and cheese - 8 servings)
  • Calories: 468
  • Fat: 14g
  • Saturated fat: 4g
  • Carbohydrates: 46g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Fiber: 11g
  • Protein: 41g
  • Sodium: 1326mg
  • Cholesterol: 73mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • Absolutely delicious! I made this last week for my husband and ended up sharing it with my parents and in-laws and it was universally loved. Will definitely add to the dinner rotation!

    • — Ashley on November 26, 2020
    • Reply
  • Absolutely DeLiCiOuS!!! My hubby makes a wonderful soup, but this was amazing and he was really quiet while eating. I asked if he liked it. After a long pass, he said he was trying to decide if it was better than his. LOL 😂 I believe it is, but didn’t tell him that! 😉

    • — Pilar on November 23, 2020
    • Reply
  • Extremely delicious. I don’t usually do reviews, but this was so good I had too! My wife doesn’t usually do seconds but she had to for this one!

    • — Lynn on November 23, 2020
    • Reply
  • As usual over the top. You are one of the chefs I know I can always go to for the perfect recipe. I know I can make anything for the first time, even for company and it will be fabulous. Sooooo…..thank you for your generosity of spirit.
    I doubled this, put in containers, froze and am sharing with my kids to take home at Thanksgiving along with other frozen goodies.
    Happy Holiday Season.

    • — Lorena on November 22, 2020
    • Reply
  • I can see this recipe is going to be a winner, so I’m going to pre-review it. The only thing I’ll change is instead of smoked pork, I’m going to use a smoked turkey leg which adds amazing flavor and tender fall apart meat in a soup. I use it to make my Cajun style red beans and rice. Just amazing. If you haven’t done so, try it !

    • — Aldo Chella on November 20, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn!
    I couldn’t find smoked ham hocks at the grocery, so I bought a regular ham hock instead. (I see now that I could have looked for a smoked turkey leg instead — will keep that in mind for the future.)
    What would you recommend adding to give the soup more flavor and/or “smoke” with the regular ham hock? Thanks for any tips!

    • — S on November 18, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi S, I’d add a pinch of smoked paprika to add that hint of smoky flavor. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 18, 2020
      • Reply
      • Thanks for the tip! I made this last night and it was fabulous. For anyone who’s interested, I ended up using about 1.5 tsp of smoked paprika. I also used 10 c of chicken stock (no water) because I had fresh stock from a rotisserie chicken and veggies on hand. One of the best soups I’ve made!

        • — S on November 20, 2020
        • Reply
  • Hi Jenn☺️,
    I am a big fan of everything you cook and love your cookbook!❤️ I was wondering if you could leave the kale out, would it still be OK?
    Have a blessed day…
    Hugs,
    Kimberly🙆🏼

    • — Kimberly Gomez on November 17, 2020
    • Reply
    • Sure, Kimberly – it’s perfectly fine to leave it out.

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2020
      • Reply
  • Hi,
    I want to make this recipe, but I have been unable to find ham hocks at any grocery store near my house “inside the beltway in NOVA”. I was able to buy Smithfield “Ham Hocks or Butts Sliced”, but they aren’t smoked. The package says this is a salt cured product uses for seasoning green beans, pintos, etc. Do you think this will work?
    Thanks
    Marie K.

    • — Marie Kolczynski on November 15, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Marie, I think you could get away with using what you’ve purchased but because I’m not sure how salty it is, I’d probably just chop it up and add it at the end of the cooking time. Hope that helps and please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on November 16, 2020
      • Reply
  • We made a this with a smoked turkey leg that we had in our fridge instead of the smoked ham and it was amazing. One of our favorites now!

    • — Francesca krane on November 12, 2020
    • Reply
  • I am having trouble finding smoked ham hocks. There are plenty of country ham hocks but country ham is so salty. I live in the South, in North Carolina. Are smoked ham hocks more common in other parts of the country? I can’t find many smoked ham hocks online and those aren’t cheap. Help!

    • — Jane on November 12, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Jane, If you’re having a hard time finding smoked ham hocks, no worries. I’d go with a smoked turkey leg instead – it will still be delicious!

      • — Jenn on November 13, 2020
      • Reply
    • I just made this with country ham hocks not knowing the difference. It is extremely salty! Almost inedible. Jenn any advice?

      • — Janet on November 13, 2020
      • Reply
      • Oh no! I’d recommend adding more broth or water. You could also add a can of low-sodium beans. Hope that helps!

        • — Jenn on November 16, 2020
        • Reply
    • Hi Jane! I live in South Carolina and had trouble finding them at my usual grocery stores as well, but finally had success at the Walmart Supercenter. I’m looking forward to making this soup in the next day or two. Hope this helps!

      • — Sarah on November 16, 2020
      • Reply
  • I made this exactly as presented. I am not a bean guy so have never prepped beans or ham hocks. It was fabulous. Hocks didn’t come smoked, so I added “smoke” using smoked truffle salt.

    • — Doug Cowdrey on November 12, 2020
    • Reply
  • I made a half order of this soup exactly as described and it was delicious! (There are only two of us.)Thank you so much!

    • — Anna Frost on November 11, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi, Jean,
    I live at 7000 feet, Park City, UT. I love your recipes and this one sounds great for the snowy winter that has already here begun. However, cooking beans at this altitude from scratch is a long procedure with not very good results. How about if I use canned beans instead? Would that work?
    Thanks.

    • — Maria Roberts on November 11, 2020
    • Reply
    • Glad you like the recipes! Yes, I think that canned beans will work here. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on November 11, 2020
      • Reply
  • It’s so good! My whole family devoured this, including my 4 and 1 year olds. The flavors really meld overnight and it tastes even better the next day. Love having a new hearty and affordable soup to add to the rotation.

    • — Katie R. on November 10, 2020
    • Reply
  • This soup is really delicious. I made it over 2 days, stopping after cooking the beans and ham hocks, so that I could chill the beans and broth and later skim the fat. Adding greens in a nice touch. Make sure to use meaty hocks. It freezes well, so make a lot.

    • — Deborah Shields on November 10, 2020
    • Reply
  • I just made this soup, it is delicious! I did make it a little different, I sauteed all the vegetables and then added them to the beans. I also cooked the ham hocks in the crock pot and added all the stock to the beans.

    • — Ruth V. on November 9, 2020
    • Reply
  • Made this today and it was delicious — so were the Southern Style Buttermilk Biscuits! I am counting points on Weight Watchers and was unable to calculate the points for the soup because the calories are missing. Do you have that information?

    • — Kris on November 8, 2020
    • Reply
  • I typically think I’m a pretty good soup maker, but failed at this one. the only way I’ve ever been able to have success with pork shanks is to slow cook them in a crock pot for 10 hours or more. Simmering them for 1 hour didn’t yield anything that i could use. There was no way to remove the useable meat from the knuckle or get enough sinew off to use them. Also, because i didn’t have any carrots and bought fire roasted tomatoes in error, i ended up sending the whole pot down the disposal. The soup sounded good and i bet it is, just didn’t work out for me this time around.

    • — MARY on November 8, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Mary, sorry you found this disappointing! The ham hock doesn’t actually have a ton of meat on it and you do have to put some effort into getting the pieces off the bone; it’s mostly just included to help flavor the broth.

      • — Jenn on November 10, 2020
      • Reply
  • Made this today and I can’t stop tasting it. I’ll have the entire pot done by dinner. Again, a wonderfully tasty meal.

    • — Virginia Murrell on November 6, 2020
    • Reply
  • Great soup. I red the recipe last night and I served the soup today with baked bacon en parmeggiano cheese. My husband and I both loved it very much. Thank you.

    • — Lutgarde Fleurinck on November 6, 2020
    • Reply
  • Made this tonight, with variations, and it was delicious, according to my fairly finicky family 🙂
    We all just got the email newsletter this morning, so it was subject to ingredients on hand: I chopped smoked ham on the bone (for the ham hocks), fresh spinach instead of kale, white kidney beans (canned), and veggie broth. I prefer veggie broth to canned or boxed chicken broth, which I consider rather vile. Since veggie broth has a lot of celery, I omitted celery, and used just one carrot. As a process change, I pulsed using an immersion blender to avoid the food processor step and extra cleanup. Do this prior to adding the ham and greens if you go this route.

    I sautéd the onion as a first step…can’t recall if that was in the recipe… then just threw it all together. It really was delicious! Thanks, Jen, for working so hard on this site. Every recipe I’ve tried has been superb and very well explained!

    • — Lauren B in California on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
  • We just had this for supper tonight, and it’s absolutely delicious.

    • — Linda Perrin on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
  • I have a pot of this simmer on the stove right now and my kitchen smell delightful.
    I saw this recipe this morning and happened to have all the ingredients on hand to make this for dinner. The only change was accidental, I chopped up Swiss Chard before I realized I’d grabbed that out of the fridge instead of the kale…oops!
    Sampling this to adjust the last teaspoon of salt told me this is a definite keeper.
    I did use a wild boar smoked hock because a friend shared some wild boar with me.
    It is wonderful….even with chard😊

    • — Anne Marie on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
  • I followed the recipe and this tastes delicious! I found the ham hocks at Stop and Shop. I can’t wait to serve it to my family! Thanks Jenn!

    • — Sue on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
  • Is there any way you could transform this recipe to an Instapot version? I am seriously thinking of purchasing one. I hear beans take no time to cook.
    In the meantime, will try it on the stove top once I buy the beans.

    Oh, anyway one can tell how fresh the beans are when buying them?
    Much thanks.
    Sunny Drohan

    • — Sunny Drohan on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Sunny, I don’t have enough experience with it to tell you confidently whether or not/how to convert this to an instant pot, so you may want to take a peek at these tips. It looks like they could be useful. And if you’re buying the beans out of a bulk bin, I’m not sure there’s a way to tell how fresh they are (though you could ask the store if there’s a system they use to indicate that). If buying packaged beans, you can look for the “Best By” date. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on November 6, 2020
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, any suggestions on what meat could I substitute for ham?

    Thanks
    Radiya

    • — radiya on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Radiya, Smoked turkey legs would work well. I’d love to know how it turns out if you try it.

      • — Jenn on November 5, 2020
      • Reply
  • Can you make this in a slow cooker?

    • — Cindylou on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • Sure, Cindylou – I think it should work.

      • — Jenn on November 5, 2020
      • Reply
  • ok to freeze?

    • — Nonie on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • Sure, I think you could get away with freezing it. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 6, 2020
      • Reply
  • This looks delicious and am excited to make it. Would it be ok to use rinsed canned beans and shorten the cooking time? Or would the flavor be diminished with pre-cooked beans?

    And just a suggestion: I can’t rate the recipe yet because I haven’t made it but I don’t want to leave zero stars which would look like I didn’t like the recipe. Maybe you could separate the questions from the reviews so when someone just has a question, they’re not asked to rate the recipe.

    • — DV on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi DV, Canned beans will work, but it won’t really cut down on the cooking time because the ham hocks need to cook for at least 1 hour to get tender. You could probably do a different version with bacon, which doesn’t need to cook for that long, if you wanted to use canned beans. If you go that route, I’d add a few slices of bacon to simmer with the broth to add flavor, then take them out and discard before serving — and then I’d crisp up a few slices in a frying pan and crumble them over the soup before serving. (It’s fine to just skip the rating; it won’t show as zero stars or affect the overall rating of the recipe. I will try to find a way to make that more clear.) Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on November 5, 2020
      • Reply
      • Hi, I like the idea to use bacon. When you suggest to add a few slices to simmer with the broth, do you put in raw/uncooked bacon that you will take out after?

        • — Heather on November 19, 2020
        • Reply
        • Yes, you would put it in raw and then discard it after the soup is done simmering. Hope you enjoy!

          • — Jenn on November 20, 2020
          • Reply
          • Thank you

            • — Heather on November 21, 2020
  • For those of us who don’t eat pork, is there any way to modify this recipe?

    • — Danielle on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Danielle, I think smoked turkey legs would work well. You could also just omit it, but you’ll likely need to add more seasoning.

      • — Jenn on November 5, 2020
      • Reply
      • How would the spices need to be adjusted to make this recipe vegetarian?

        • — Naz on November 6, 2020
        • Reply
        • Hi Naz, you can leave out the ham hock, and to add a bit more flavor, you could add either a pinch of smoked paprika or put a Parmesan rind in the soup while it’s simmering. Hope that helps and please LMK how it turns out if you try it with either of those alternatives!

          • — Jenn on November 6, 2020
          • Reply
          • I made the vegetarian version and it was absolutely delicious!! My husband swears it tasted like ham. I added smoked paprika and put a Parmesan rind in the soup while simmering. I also used spinach for the greens.

            • — Susan Harmon on November 19, 2020

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