Jeff Knoch, owner of Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ in Marysville, prepares a batch of his signature brisket baked beans. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jeff Knoch, owner of Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ in Marysville, prepares a batch of his signature brisket baked beans. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Baked beans like no other — and you can make them at home

Jeff Knoch, owner of Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ in Marysville, shares the secrets behind his killer baked beans.

This is an ode to baked beans.

They were likely born in what is now known as the northeastern United States and Canada, to Indigenous tribes that often cooked them in clay pots with bear fat, maple syrup and venison, according to The Guardian’s 2011 story, “Consider baked beans.” New England colonists followed suit, using molasses, pork and spices in their adaptations.

Pinpointing the first baked bean manufacturer can be tricky, but just before the turn of the 20th century, the Pittsburgh-based Heinz company started canning and eventually mass-producing them. Bush’s, which now calls itself That Beautiful Bean Co., developed its secret family recipe in the 1960s. Eighty years later, baked beans are still found in pantries across the U.S., waiting to be zhuzhed up, thrown in a casserole dish and brought to a potluck.

Afterthought to some, this humble and resilient dish thrives in both winter and summer conditions, a necessary side for Super Bowl parties and backyard barbecues alike.

(Canned baked beans, by the way, aren’t actually “baked”, though perhaps that descriptor sounds better than the more accurate “steamed” or “stewed.”)

Baked beans are by no means extraordinary or striking or the typical response to “What’s your favorite dish?” They don’t need to be.

But if you’re waiting in line at Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ, you’ll likely find yourself ordering an entire quart of the stuff, maybe two, alongside pulled pork and gloriously tender smoked brisket.

It is the Marysville joint’s best-selling side dish, outselling even their creamy mac and cheese, according to owner Jeff Knoch. His customers asked for the recipe so often that he now has printed copies at the ready.

“If someone comes in and says, ‘This is our first time here. What would you recommend?’ We always recommend either the pork ribs and the brisket baked beans or the smoked brisket and the brisket baked beans,” Knoch said.

A cup of fresh brisket baked beans from Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A cup of fresh brisket baked beans from Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Baked beans are neither an afterthought nor an obligatory barbecue accoutrement to Knoch, who spent time ensuring his were smoky, texturally varied, not too sweet and had some heat. Yes, they contain bacon, brown sugar, diced onion and other typical baked bean ingredients, but the real stars of the show are chunks of Knoch’s central Texas-style smoked brisket.

As humble as the baked bean, the brisket is rubbed with salt and pepper — that’s it — and smoked for nine to 12 hours with post oak wood, a mild and traditional Texas chip Knoch gets shipped on the reg.

Knoch fell in love with barbecue while on a trip to central Texas in 1995 — 21 years before he would open his popular Marysville eatery — at a small joint that no longer exists. Born in Ohio, where “barbecue” meant grilled chicken slathered in sauce, Knoch had never experienced the low and slow joys of smoked meat before that trip.

“When I tasted it, that was the germ that got us started,” he said.

He took to the central Texas method, one developed by butchers trying to make their tougher, unsellable cuts more appealing, and updated it for a more tender bite with a guaranteed crystallized, caramelized exterior: Deemed the bark, these deeply flavorful bits are the edge brownie of smoked meats.

“Carrying on a tradition that’s been around for over 100 years is amazing,” Knoch said.

Now back to the beans, wherein the brisket is cubed and mixed with Anaheim and jalapeno peppers, dry mustard and another unlikely star: pineapple tidbits, which Knoch says helps to naturally sweeten the beans and add texture.

The baked beans then head to the smoker for a few hours. Yes, these beans get the double smoke treatment.

The result is a microcosm of both Knoch’s eatery and the central Texas barbecue style: as much smoky and savory as it is unfussy and unmatched in flavor. And oh so meaty.

If you don’t have a smoker, you could cook the brisket low and slow on a grill, or sear and cube some chuck roast, but smoked brisket is truly what makes this dish a standout at Jeff’s.

Feel free to halve or even quarter the recipe, as seven-plus pounds of beans is, well, a lot, but it’s the perfect amount for a large party, barbecue or potluck.

You might be surprised to learn that this dish is not entirely scratch-made. Knoch tried using dried beans and his signature barbecue sauce when developing the recipe, but he found that Bush’s beans and Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce are simply unrivaled when it comes to baked beans, or rather: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Jeff’s brisket baked beans

3 strips of bacon, cut into ½ inch squares

1 sweet onion, diced

1 large Anaheim pepper, seeded and finely diced

3 tablespoons jalapeno pepper, finely diced

1 #10 can baked beans (B&M or Bush’s), about 117 ounces

2 cups pineapple tidbits, drained

2 cups brown sugar, packed

2 cups Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce

½ tablespoon dry ground mustard

¾ pound smoked brisket, cut into ½-inch cubes

Cook the bacon until browned, then add the onion and peppers and saute until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside and let cool for a few minutes.

Into a large, oven-safe baking dish or pot, mix the beans, pineapple, sugar, BBQ sauce, mustard, brisket, onion, peppers and bacon until well combined.

Smoke at 250-275 degrees for 2 to 3 hours, OR bake at 325-350 degrees for 1 to 2 hours. If smoking, stir the beans every 30 minutes to ensure the smoke is distributed evenly.

This dish can be made several days ahead and kept in the fridge prior to being heated up. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 14 days.

If you go

Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ, 9214 State Ave., Marysville, sells smoked meats such as turkey breast, sausage, brisket, spare ribs and pulled pork, as well as sandwiches, sides and a selection of beer. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or until sold out, Friday through Sunday. Jeff’s has counter service for takeout and dine-in. Catering and other inquiries may be sent to jeffknoch@icloud.com. Or call 360-386-9489.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the spring issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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