Jump to RecipeJump to VideoLeave a ReviewPin Recipe

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website.

This classic Southern Lima Bean recipe is a delicious side dish or budget-friendly entrée. The rich, smoky butter beans are flavored with a ham hock and slowly simmered until tender. Serve a bowl of creamy lima beans with a side of sweet honey cornbread for the ultimate comfort food supper!

Side shot of two bowls of butter beans with ham and cornbread

Dried Lima Beans Recipe

In some households, lima beans might get a bad rap as bland, mushy or otherwise unappetizing — but that’s not the case here! These dried large lima beans are seasoned with garlic, celery, and onions, are simmered alongside a ham hock for smoky flavor, and are swimming in their own thick, rich broth. There’s nothing boring or ho-hum about them…especially when served with a side of sweet cornbread or warm buttermilk biscuits!

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans

Whether you call them butter beans, lima beans, dried lima beans, large limas, pocketbook beans, or mule ears, they’re all the same thing! These legumes are a good source of dietary fiber, and a virtually fat-free source of high-quality protein. As a result, they’ve been a staple in Southern cuisine for generations, served as either an affordable entrée (similar in taste to a ham and bean soup) or as a simple-yet-hearty side dish. They’re often referred to as “butter beans” in the South, since the cream-colored beans’ rich consistency resembles that of butter.

Baby Limas

Baby lima beans and green baby limas are considered milder and less starchy than large lima beans, which have an earthy flavor. Green Baby Lima Beans are pale green and plump – more tender and creamy than their larger butter bean counterparts, but with the same high fiber and nutritional benefits. You can use them in this recipe as a substitute for the larger beans, but you’ll likely need to reduce the cooking time because the smaller beans will become tender faster.

Two bowls of large lima beans cooked with ham hocks and served with cornbread

Texture

Lima beans have a creamy texture and a savory flavor. When you cook the dried beans yourself, you can control the finished product. This is really a matter of personal preference. They should be tender (not hard or crunchy) when they’re done. If you like your lima beans more “sturdy,” you might want to remove them from the heat after about 1 hour. I typically cook our beans for about 1 ½ hours, but you may want to extend it to a full 2 hours if you like your beans super-soft and broken down. You choose the final texture!

Lima Beans Nutrition

Lima beans are packed with protein, soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, and other nutrients, making them a superfood. One cup of cooked lima beans (170 g) contains 12 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber. They are a good source of iron, and can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia. The fiber in beans also helps with digestive health.

Blood Sugar Levels

Beans (including lima beans) are a low-glycemic index food, making them a great choice for people with diabetes. Beans are also rich in soluble fiber, which helps your body absorb carbohydrates more slowly and regulates your blood sugar levels. Foods that are high in fiber can also aid in weight control by making you feel full longer (source). 

Heart Healthy

Lima beans have a creamy texture but are low in fat. Since they are a plant food, they don’t contain cholesterol. Because they aren’t processed, they don’t contain trans fats. Most of the fat found in lima beans is healthier, polyunsaturated fat. Foods with polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats can improve your cardiovascular health (source).

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the simple ingredients that you’ll need for the dried lima beans recipe. As always, the specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Large dry lima beans: also called butter beans. There’s no need to soak them first — just rinse and sort!
  • Olive oil: to sauté the veggies.
  • Onions, celery and garlic: create the savory flavor for the broth.
  • Smoked ham hock: provides a rich, smoky, salty flavor.
  • Bay leaf and ground black pepper: for more flavor.
  • Water: cooks the beans and thickens into a rich broth as the beans release their starches.
  • Kosher salt: just a touch! You can always add more at the end, but many ham hocks are so salty that you probably won’t need much. If you prefer a less-salty dish, you might want to omit the salt altogether and just add a touch at the end, if necessary.
Large dried lima beans in a bowl

How to Cook Lima Beans

With this preparation method, you do not need to soak the beans — which is nice for those of us who often forget to prep the beans the night before or just don’t have the time. While pre-soaking the beans will cut down on the cooking time, it’s definitely not necessary. Instead, you’ll just boil the dried beans for about 20 minutes, and then simmer for an hour or two on the stovetop. It couldn’t be easier, and the end result is truly the best lima bean recipe ever!

Process shot showing how to cook lima beans
  1. Rinse and sort the dried lima beans, picking out any shriveled or broken beans, stones or debris.
  2. Sauté the onion and celery in olive oil until soft, adding the garlic at the end.
  3. Add the rinsed beans, ham hock, bay leaf, water, salt and pepper.
  4. Boil gently for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 1-2 more hours.
  5. Stir the pot occasionally, and check to make sure that the beans are covered with water (adding more, if necessary).
Side shot of two bowls of the best lima bean recipe served on a white table

How to Know When the Beans are Done

This is really a matter of personal preference, so I recommend checking (and tasting) the beans after about 1 hour. They should be tender when finished. If you like your lima beans more “sturdy,” you might want to remove them from the heat at this point. I typically cook our beans for about 1 ½ hours, but you may want to extend it to a full 2 hours if you like your beans super-soft and broken down.

Serving Suggestions

If you’re offering the lima beans as a main course, pair them with skillet cornbread or buttermilk biscuits and a crisp green side salad or coleslaw. Hoe cakes, pumpkin bread or pumpkin muffins are tasty options, too!

What meat goes with lima beans for dinner?

When serving the lima beans as a side dish, pair them with any of these meat-based entrées:

Overhead shot of a delicious lima bean recipe served with cornbread

Storage

These lima beans just get better as they sit and the flavors come together, so feel free to make a big batch in advance. Stored in an airtight container, the beans will last in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 days. You can also freeze the cooked lima beans for up to 3 months.

Recipe Variations — Southern Lima Beans with Ham

  • Herbs: add some fresh (or dried) herbs to the pot of beans, such as thyme, oregano or rosemary.
  • Instead of a ham hock, add flavor to the lima beans with a different smoked meat, such as a smoked ham bone, smoked sausage, smoked turkey wings, or smoked pork neck bones.
  • For added heat, season the beans with Cajun seasoning or Creole seasoning, some hot sauce, or a dash of cayenne.
  • Give the dish even more flavor by cooking the lima beans in chicken broth instead of water. Just be sure to use a low-sodium broth, since the smoked meat often adds plenty of salty flavor to the pot.
  • Add more vegetables and make the dish like a stew. Diced carrots, diced potatoes, cut green beans, or some corn will all work well.
Front shot of two white bowls full of southern lima beans with ham

Tips for the Best Lima Bean Recipe

  • Stir the pot occasionally while the lima beans are cooking. This will help to break down the beans, distribute the starches, and make the broth nice and creamy!
  • Smoked ham hocks can be quite salty, so if you prefer a less-salty pot of beans, I recommend omitting the salt. You can always add more at the end, if necessary, but you might find that the ham hock adds enough salty flavor on its own.
  • Adjust the total cooking time to suit you preferences. An hour might be sufficient if you like more in-tact, sturdy beans, while the full 2 hours might be necessary for a really broken-down, creamy pot. That’s the beauty of using a Dutch oven (rather than a slow cooker or Instant pot) — you have full control and can easily take them off of the heat when necessary.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs (such as chopped parsley or thyme), a dash of hot sauce, a dash of vinegar, or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for a bright finishing touch.
Front shot of butter beans in a white bowl with cornbread in the background

More Bean Recipes to Try

Side shot of two bowls of butter beans with ham and cornbread

Southern Lima Beans with Ham

5 from 6 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 2 hours 10 minutes
0 minutes
Total: 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings 8 cups
Calories 285 kcal
This classic Southern Lima Bean recipe is a delicious side dish or budget-friendly entrée. The rich, smoky butter beans are flavored with a ham hock and slowly simmered until tender!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb. large dried lima beans
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 smoked ham hock, meat scored (about 12 ounces)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Garnish: hot sauce; chopped fresh herbs
  • Optional, for serving: cornbread

Instructions

  • Rinse and sort the beans. Set aside.
  • In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly.
  • Add the rinsed beans, ham hock, bay leaf, water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat slightly just so that it’s at a low boil, and cook for 20 minutes. Reduce heat again just so that the liquid is simmering. Cover and cook for about 1 ½ hours, or until beans are tender. Check the beans after 1 hour, because they may be soft enough at that point if you like your beans a bit more firm. If you prefer the beans really soft and broken down, you may prefer to extend the cooking time to 2 hours. While the beans are cooking, check to occasionally make sure that the beans are covered with water (adding more water, if necessary). Discard bay leaf, remove ham hock from the pot, and shred or chop the meat. Return chopped meat to the pot with the beans. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Garnish individual servings with hot sauce and herbs; serve with cornbread.

Notes

  • Stir the pot occasionally while the lima beans are cooking. This will help to break down the beans, distribute the starches, and make the broth nice and creamy!
  • Smoked ham hocks can be quite salty, so if you prefer a less-salty pot of beans, I recommend omitting the salt. You can always add more at the end, if necessary, but you might find that the ham hock adds enough salty flavor on its own.
  • Adjust the total cooking time to suit you preferences. An hour might be sufficient if you like more in-tact, sturdy beans, while the full 2 hours might be necessary for a really broken-down, creamy pot. That’s the beauty of using a Dutch oven (rather than a slow cooker or Instant pot) — you have full control and can easily take them off of the heat when necessary.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs (such as chopped parsley or thyme), a dash of hot sauce, a dash of vinegar, or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for a bright finishing touch.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 285kcalCarbohydrates: 39gProtein: 17gFat: 7gSaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 210mgPotassium: 1091mgFiber: 11gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 22IUVitamin C: 3mgCalcium: 67mgIron: 5mg
Keyword: dried lima beans, how to cook lima beans, lima bean recipe
Course: Dinner, Lunch, Side Dish
Cuisine: Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

Square overhead shot of hands serving a chicken pot pie recipe with biscuits
Overhead image of a bowl of chili mac on a dinner table with cornbread
Hands serving a platter of sheet pan sausage and potatoes

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Made these last night to go with a ham my husband smoked. Very yummy and we loved the texture! Followed your instructions exactly, including seasoning at the end since ham hocks tend to be salty. The beans were done a little before the ham (as I planned) so I kept them covered and warm for about an hour after completion. When first finished it is almost like a soup, but they thickened upon standing. The beans look so simple and rather plain, but they are so flavorful! Will definitely be making this again! Thanks, Blair!

    1. Awesome! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed them, Norma. Thank you for taking the time to come back here and let me know! 🙂

      1. I’m gonna try it first time lima bean person. But i got a large ham hock. 1 lb + yikes. we’ll see defiantly no salt adding. I add more beans.

          1. Okay, well that’s not bad for a first time! Next time you can adjust a bit. 🙂

  2. Can you use canned beans for this? Would you add them when you shred the ham and put it back in? How many cans would you use?

    1. Hi, Mary! I think it would probably work with canned beans, but the flavor and texture will definitely be different. The beans thicken the water as they cook, creating a rich broth. You wouldn’t get that same result with canned beans since the canned beans are already cooked and soft. I would try eliminating the water and replacing it with a small amount of broth. Add the canned beans at the same time that you add the ham hock, and simmer gently for just 20 minutes (or until the beans are warm). Let me know if you give that a try!

  3. 5 stars
    Thanks for the quick reply! I was scared it would turn out too mushy, so I ended up buying a bag of dry beans anyway!
    Recipe came out great! Was super easy, and my dad said it tasted just like his mom used to make!
    Thanks again!

    Mary

  4. 5 stars
    These turned out great. I followed the recipe as written and they were pretty good (I ate a BIG bowl) I made corn bread and some tried green tomatoes on the side. A very enjoyable dinner. I will definitely make these again.

    1. That’s great to hear, Robert. Thank you so much for taking the time to come back here and let us know! 🙂

    1. Hi, Campbell! If you’re starting with pre-soaked beans, you don’t need to change too much about the cooking process — the beans will just be done quicker. Drain the soaked beans, add the ham hock, bay leaf, and other ingredients, including enough fresh water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the beans are tender to your liking (probably about 45 minutes – 1 hour). Hope that helps!

  5. How would I adjust if i wanted to cook in crockpot pot ? Would i need to still sauté veggies ? Or just throw everything in the pot and cook ? Thank you

    1. Hi, Mari! You could do it either way. Saute the veggies to develop the flavor, and then transfer them to the Crock Pot OR just dump everything straight into the Crock Pot. It’s really just a matter of how much time/energy you want to put into it. The beans will be good either way. 🙂 You’ll probably need about 6-7 hours on LOW or 3-4 hours on HIGH for tender beans if you don’t soak them overnight first.

  6. 5 stars
    at 85, not from the south. but from kansas many years removed to calif..i so identify with your cooking!!every part of your recipes are reminders of the greatest eating …i will have a great time with other recipes, but this time just was to review the butter beans and ham …fantastic..hope new cooks will find you and live by your cooking..they can’t go wrong