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.

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

  • I ended up using bacon and Canadian ham steak because it was impossible to find the ham hocks around here. It was delicious, hearty and easy.

    • — Kelly Guenther on May 24, 2021
    • Reply
  • I have a leftover ham bone from our Easter dinner. Can I use that instead of the ham hocks?
    And, most of the ham is actually eaten. Can I add some sausage? And use canned beans?
    thanks
    Nidhi

    • — Nidhi on April 9, 2021
    • Reply
    • Yes, yes, and yes. 🙂
      The ham bone will work, you can add some sausage, and canned beans are fine. Just add the beans at the end so they can heat through. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 9, 2021
      • Reply
  • I grew up on white beans in the South so this was comfort food. I now live in a large urban area which surprisingly doesn’t have things like smoked ham hocks in the stores and stand-alone butchers don’t really exist anymore. I substituted a smoked turkey leg which is about the right size for this recipe and it worked beautifully.

    • — Jeremy on March 23, 2021
    • Reply
  • I would give this ten stars if I could. Have made this about 4 times and my family is now craving it. I made the mistake of giving some away to my cousins and now they keep asking for it! The only problem I have is finding meaty smoked ham hocks…it’s become my new mission! Thank you again Jenn for a wonderful meal!

    • — Mary Maroto on February 19, 2021
    • Reply
  • I found this recipe this morning and because our roads are snow-packed I couldn’t go to the grocery store so I made a couple minor substitutions but this soup was excellent! The Parmesan added richness and we will definitely make this soup many more times. It was perfect for a cold winter day.

    • — Carole on February 18, 2021
    • Reply
  • Made this recipe exactly as you did the first time and it was great as usual. I have made it 3 or 4 times since then using different greens and smoked turkey wings with or without the hocks. Only other change is I like my hocks a little more cooked and was having trouble getting them there before the beans were cooked. So last time I cooked the hocks in a small pot for 30 mins while the beans were soaking. Replaced some of the water with the broth from the hocks and it came out perfect for me. Love your site! Always the best recipes!

    • — ErikD on February 18, 2021
    • Reply
  • I haven’t made this recipe yet, but earlier this winter I tried making baked beans for the first time using dried white beans and the same technique of a boil and a one hour sit. I followed the recipe for the baked beans and after cooking many hours longer than the recipe called for the beans were still semi hard and I threw it all out, which makes me cautious about wanting to use dried white beans again.

    Any thoughts?

    • — Maxine on February 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Maxine, what I’ve learned is that when beans are really old, they are harder to soften. If you try the soup, make sure to pay close attention to the beans you buy; I’d check the date to make sure they are on the newer side. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on February 18, 2021
      • Reply
  • Could canned beans be substituted and if so, how and when to include? Thanks!

    • — Jennifer on February 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure, Jennifer, canned beans will work here. Because they just need to be warmed through, I’d add them right before you pull out the ham hocks. Please LMK how it comes out!

      • — Jenn on February 18, 2021
      • Reply
  • I made this for the first time and it was excellent for the cold winter weather we are having! My husband declared it a winner and said we need to make it every week. High praise indeed!

    • — Karen C on February 13, 2021
    • Reply
  • Great winter time soup. The smoky flavor is wonderful. Delish!

    • — Vicki Mazurkevich on February 1, 2021
    • Reply
  • I adore this soup! It is rich in flavor and the chopped kale is a wonderful touch.
    Thank you, Jenn, for the gift of your shared knowledge and step by step recipes.
    You’ve given me such confidence in the kitchen!

    • — Karen Meyers on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • Delish!!!!

    • — Barbara on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • Excellent !!! Have made twice. A success each time. Husband loved it. Smoked ham hocks add a wonderful taste.

    • — Sandra Quillin on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Flavorful, healthy and satisfying! Simple to make. Thanks Jenn!

    • — Mary on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is a really nice and easy recipe. This time of year is great for soups and this is a perfect recipe. I made the recipe and the flow, as typical for Jenn’s recipes, was easy to follow and accurate. I made one change to the original recipe and this substituting pork shanks vs the ham hocks. They’re more meaty and easier to strip the meat. I’ve done the recipe with both and the flavor is the same. Thanks for another great recipe!!

    • — Doug Alexander on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Of all of the food blog sites I have “subscribed” to, Jenn’s is the one I can always count on for something to make “today”. Take this cozy, homey soup for example. It is simple (though it takes a little time) and I have all of the ingredients on hand. I always have some hammocks in the freezer plus a bumper crop of kale in the garden. It is delicious and I wouldn’t change a thing. Thanks Jenn.

    • — Marianne Head on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This was delicious especially on a cold winter day!

    • — Virginia on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Soups are my go to. And I nearly always have smoked ham hocks.
    This was a far superior soup to my kitchen sink efforts! I’m in Maine, it’s cold in the winter, and there is a stew or soup on my stove nearly every weekend.
    This recipe got attention. Many bowls doled out! Croutons, crusty bread, bacon, or cheese optional. We absolutely loved this.

    • — Linda Bridges on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I’ve made this soup several times. Always good. Have used spinach instead of kale. I used just smoked ham cut into pieces and it turned out great.

    • — Beth on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this recipe and it was delicious! I have made many different variations of ham and bean soup, and this was by far my favorite. I really liked the addition of kale.

    • — Amy L. on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    Yesterday, I made this Smoky White Bean and Ham Soup and We Loved It♡♡♡. It was so simple to make with your beautiful instructions!! With the weather being so cold and snowy, It hit the spot!! Thank You So Much For Making It So Easy To Cook With Your Recipe Instructions!!

    • — Sandra Cirello on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Your recipe for Smoky White Bean and Ham Soup has replaced a Betty Crocker great northern bean and ham soup that I have made for 30 plus years. It is delicious. I didn’t have celery, but I used celery seed, about 1/4-1/2tsp. I would rather use celery, but celery seed is better than none. Adjust measurement if you really like celery seed in soups. I just add and taste and adjust as necessary. I used spinach instead of kale because that is what I had in the house. Both of these substitutions worked fine. When we ate it the second day (as we all know it is even better the next day) I added frozen cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, and squash. I didn’t measure. I just added as I wanted for my bowl of soup. I love veggies. I didn’t add the oil or cheese, just added cornbread with honey. Your Everyday cornbread recipe is great, too. Thanks for all your experimenting so I don’t have to. Selena.

    • — Selena on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Made this soup after thanksgiving! Delicious.

    • — Michele on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hearty and satisfying. Easy to make

    • — Jeany on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This soup is so good! Take it easy on salt and add more as you go. The first time I made it way too salty by adding extra.

    • — S A on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • this is an excellent soup and wonderful in cold weather. did not change a thing!

    • — janice tkach on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this soup a snowy day this week and let me tell you… it was so so delicious and hearty!! My daughters and husband have it a 2 thumbs up.. thank for you sharing your delicious recipes with us!

    • — Rosario Barbosa on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This soup is excellent. I soaked the beans overnight. I had to make adaptations, the grocery didn’t have ham hocks, so I bought a smoke flavored ham steak, chopped it, and used a package of Goya ham bullion. I used frozen chopped collards in place of the kale.

    I shared w/a friend and her husband, they both loved it. The parm on top was icing on the soup! This recipe is a keeper, I hope the next time I make it I can find a ham hock. My grandmother used them all the time and that is what prompted me to give this recipe a try.

    • — Ruby on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I have made this wonderful soup several times. I love to make soup and always make great soups and stews. This is by far the best recipe I have tried. It is user friendly, the ingredients are simply and delicious. I hate having to buy something in a large quantity for a recipe. Everything on the list are things I normally have. The best part is how unbelievably delicious it is. The leftovers are even better. This is one is a go to fir sure. Thank you!

    • — Melanie Loder on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Delicious and easy to make

    • — Ellen Snyder on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I LOVED this recipe! It took me back to my mother’s Italian kitchen…so often ham hocks were a part of her repertoire. The aroma in my house was one of deliciousness and it certainly created an anticipation for “family dinner” that evening. 🥰 Another wonderful recipe Jenn.

    • — Annette Fiore Bassett on January 28, 2021
    • Reply

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