15 Bean Soup with Smoked Ham Hocks Recipe


15-bean-soup

Very few things can bring joy to the heart of a Southern cook, even one who happens to live in Alaska, like the words “Smoked Ham Hocks.” When making a braised dish or a stew, even bacon and butter can’t hold a candle to a good hock. While both of the latter give a lot of flavor to a dish (just ask the French about butter), the smoky, salty, purely porcine assault of flavors from a good smoked ham hock is absolutely beyond compare.

For those who have never used a ham hock, it is basically a pig’s ankle joint.  A hock is mostly connective tissue, fatty skin and, in the cases of the larger examples, a bit of extremely tough meat.  Most cooks use hocks in the same way that they would use soup bones, cooking them with vegetables or beans to add flavor and then removing the hock before serving.

Hocks are generally sold in packages of two to four.  In my case, I got four hocks for just under four dollars and made enough soup to feed a family of five with leftovers for the next day.

In Southern cooking derived from areas hit hard by constantly poor times or from the dust-bowl era, the meat is separated from the hock and added back to the dish before serving.  It is a subsistence food generally overlooked by most cooks, which tends to make it an ideal choice for low cost cooking.

15-bean-soup-the-making

As for flavor, a smoked hock is cured in much the same way bacon is.  Hocks are salt cured and smoked, which gives them an incredibly long shelf life. (They will last nearly indefinitely in the freezer if packaged properly.)

Though made in the same process, ham hocks are meatier than bacon.  They are chock-full of collagen and connective tissues, which not only changes the flavor, but deepens and concentrates the very nature of everything done with them.  If bacon is a gateway protein, then hocks are where the gateway leads.

Hocks are inexpensive, overlooked and come from very humble beginnings.  All of those things tie deeply into my family history, but none of them are the reason I buy smoked hocks when I see them.  I buy them because they remind me of home.  Because their flavor is unmistakable. Because they are comfort food, soul food and love, all in one place at one time.

I’m a southern boy, and I love me some hocks.

If you’ve never tried them, never seen them or even if you have never heard of them you have to see if you can find some and make a batch of this soup, greens, or just toss them in a stew pot for a pork stock like you have never imagined before.  I think you’ll find that you have something special on your hands.

This was a perfect dish for a freezing cold winter evening.  My wife agreed, though the kids found it to be a little much. (They aren’t huge bean fans.)  For me, this was a near-perfect finish to a long, cold day.  One that I would be happy to serve to family and friends at any time.  I hope you agree.

15 Bean Soup with Smoked Ham Hocks Recipe
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced (Depending on your tastes)
  • 2 to 4 smoked ham hocks, depending on size and amount of meat on the bone)
  • 32 ounces chicken stock
  • 64 ounces cold water
  • 1 - 20 oz package 15 bean soup mix (Just the beans, toss the flavor packet)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 -14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Method
  1. Sweat onions with a small pinch of salt in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until just translucent. Add garlic and continue cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Add ham hocks to pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add chicken stock, water and beans to pot. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Stir, making sure all beans are in the liquid. Add bay leaves and thyme. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until beans are just tender. Add tomatoes and simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove bay leaves and discard. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. (Warning, hocks can be VERY salty, so go light on the salt until you've tasted the soup!)
  4. Remove hocks and shred meat from bone. Place a few pieces of the ham meat in the bottom of a serving bowl. Ladle soup over and around ham pieces. serve immediately.
  5. Share and Enjoy!

What I would have done differently had I thought of it at the time:

Watch the salt! Hocks are salt cured.  The addition of four made for a salty dish. (It also would have cause my Grandmothers’ eyes to roll, if it didn’t make her faint.  Four hocks in a pot is something she would have considered an extreme luxury.)

Links to other recipes like this:

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Comments

    • says

      Will do Peter! I just recently found that i can buy soup bones and smoked neck bones locally, so i will be trying those very soon. I haven’t seen any smoked ribs yet, but will very happily dive into them if I do.

    • Keith says

      I have found that adding a quarter cup of lemon or lime juice, lets you forget the Beano, You won’t be needing it. I put the juice in every pound of beans I cook. Sorry, it doesn’t work with canned beans which are already cooked. I got hooked on hocks at an early age because we were a poor family and hocks and neck bones were given away free by the local butcher. And, ham hocks are good with any kind of beans. I have a real good recipe for home made chili if anyone wants it.

      • donna says

        Hi keith, i was reading how to make 15 bean soup recipe and came across your comment. can i have your recipe for home made chili if you don’t mind. thanks. happy holidays!

  1. says

    I used to buy ham hocks to cook with garbanzos, but haven’t done so in a while. For some reason, they fell off my radar. Thanks for reminding me.

    Hope all is going well in Alaska. That’s the stop we’re doing next week on my Culinary Tour. Why don’t you join us?

  2. says

    Jerry, it looks so delicious! Great photos. After much hunting I finally found smoked ham shanks at one specific Stater Bros. Market! Only $1.99/lb.! Am making tomorrow’s dinner tonight, using your Braised Ham Shank recipe. Made it once before and it was amazing! Figure if it sits in the fridge overnight, all the flavors will meld even more. Thanks again for the recipe and your help. Now I’ll have to try this recipe. Hope you’re all staying warm up there!

  3. says

    I’m not a Southern cook, and I love me some hocks, too! You already know I love beans :). Great info — I don’t know that I ever considered what joint a hock came from. A big pot o’beans sounds like a great thing for a lazy Sunday.

  4. Kattywee says

    I HAVE MADE 15 BEAN SOUP FOREVER..MINE DID NOT HOLD A CANDLE TO THIS ONE!!! IT WAS GREAT AND IS NOW (MY) OFFICIAL BEAN SOUP RECIPE..

    THANKS

  5. says

    This is the first bean soup recipe that wasn’t a flop for me! Only personal twists that I put on it was: 16 bean soup mix (didn’t find 15), 1 tbls. stone ground dijon, 1 teas. each of white pepper and cheynne, 1 tbls Emeril’s Essence, and made a bouquet of bay leaves, thyme sprigs, dill sprigs. I followed the method, except put everything in my slow cooker after 1 hour because I needed my big pot to make the Thick & Creamy Potato Soup you feature. The saltiness was just right for me, but my husband added a few grinds of sea salt to each bowl he tried. There are only 2 of us, but next time I have to double the recipe! Thank you so much and this is the best site…I am really lovin it!

  6. Pat says

    And don’t forget to make a pan of good cornbread to go with this dish….

    I grew up in west Texas eating pinto beans and cornbread, found the 15 bean soup ages ago and have been making it ever since.

  7. says

    Looks yummy! I love bean soup! Try this tip…beans benefit tremendously from a splash of cider vinegar stirred into the bowl upon serving. (Alternately, if you like, use a few drops of Tobasco with the vinegary heat to punch things up.) This tiny splash of acid really wakes up and brings out the best in the beans. Thanks for a great recipe!

  8. T says

    What I would suggest is adding wash the beans thoroughly, soak the beans overnight with baking soda, then wash the beans thoroughly again. I’ve never had hocks before because I usually use a ham bone. I basically do the same recipe but I also use lima beans, the bigger the better. I hope they turn out good!

  9. Laura says

    I swore, “Onions” before I started making this soup, but it didn’t seem to make a difference in the flavor (see first line of directions : ). Seriously, thanks for a wonderful recipe. Never used ham hocks before, but will look for them, now. I suspect that they are also what gave the greens we ate in a restaurant in Charleston, that fabulous flavor.

  10. GDizzle says

    This soup is fantastic! I made it with out tomatoes because I’m allergic and it is still amazing. I was cooking for two, so my husband and I ate it for a week and NEVER got tired of it! I’m making my second pot now! Thanks so much for posting.

  11. Chasmo says

    I found out when you soak your beans over night do the same to your ham hocks it helps to balance the salt out to be less salty soup

  12. robert says

    i make my bean soup with left over ham bones , from a spiral cut ham much better than ham hocks and less salty . plus you can also add left over spiral ham

  13. Gail says

    Hi, This sounds delicious. I am hoping you can tell me how to utilize this recipe
    using a crock pot….I must be gone all day and would like it ready around 5 pm.
    Thanks!

  14. marlys cox says

    Making this soup with the leftover Christmas ham. I add kale in the last 30 minutes and then serve the soup with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream and a tablespoon of sherry or marsala wine. Love your recipe.

  15. Danny says

    So your photo looks like a nice creamy kind of thick soup and mine is rather thin, like a broth, i followed the recipe, any ideas??

    • says

      Danny,
      If yours came out more soupy, just simmer for a while uncovered to let some of the liquid evaporate. Most likely your pot seals more tightly than ours, so less liquid was lost. Also, give the soup a good stir to break down some of the softer beans. the starches inside will help to thicken the soup as well.

  16. Kaye says

    Terrific recipe, thank you. I put a slice of ham, diced, in the micro to heat. Put in the bottom of the bowl before adding the soup. My husband likes ham, but I like the hock flavor, no ham. I didn’t see the pot should be covered.

  17. anna says

    It’s Short Sunday. We just turned our clocks ahead an hour, so it will make a short day. I started soaking my beans last night. What a great recipe! I also have made beans and failed terribly before. I am not from the south (Michigan) but always envied those women who could scratch up grub such as this! Now at almost age 50, I can too! Thanks Jerry!

  18. Tawn says

    Hi Jerry-

    I’ve always been fond of my father’s version of this recipe, but yours BLEW his out of the water. I made a big pot last night and got some hocks that had a TON of meat on them. I followed the recipe to a “T” except I put about 8-10 peppercorns in the soup along with the bay leaves, etc. I am enjoying leftovers today, and bragging to my pops about how much better I am in the kitchen now than he. Again, marvelous recipe! Thank you so much for sharing! Will be doing this again!

    • says

      Tawn,
      Wow. That’s high praise! Especially since this is just a variation on my Mother’ recipe. I’m sure she would have been happy to hear how much you enjoyed it.

  19. Kelley says

    I’ve made this several times and have this simmering right now to enjoy this very chilly night. I only wish I’d started it sooner…..Its going on 7:30 and it probably has another hour of cooking…..my bad for not soaking the beans. Usually I’ll use a leftover ham bone from a spiral ham but use the ham hocks when the other isn’t on hand for me. Tonight its the ham hocks and its killing me that its not almost ready. The house smells amazing!! Beans and cornbread are one of my comfort foods and your bean soup is the best I’ve had!

  20. Paula says

    We just finished eating supper a little bit ago, and it was my famous homemade Ham & 15-bean soup. I only discovered the “15-beans” mixture last year, and swear by them now. My recipe isn’t too much different than yours, except I think the “hocks” they have here in central PA are more like the lower part of the leg, above the ankle. I never buy the ones that look like the ones you pictured. I have sworn by Ham Hocks forever, and they are the ONLY ham I will use in my bean soup, and in my Ham, Potatoes, & Green Beans dish. The flavor is the BEST ham flavor on earth!!!
    For my Bean Soup, I use at least 4, and sometimes 6, hocks. I let it boil all afternoon in a huge stock pot, while the beans simmer at least 3 hours in a separate pot. My recipe mimics yours for the most part, but I add 6 – 8 large Russet potatoes chopped into bite sized pieces, about an hour before I plan to serve. I take all of the ham and bones and fat out of the pot about a half-hour before adding the potatoes, separating all of the meat from the bones, grissle, and fats. Then I add the beans, meat, and potatoes all in and let it all simmer together for the last hour, until the potatoes are soft and the soup has thickened up somewhat. Serve with fresh hot bread and butter, or cornbread. It just isn’t right to not have potatoes in this soup! Try it; you’ll love it!! (I also add some hard-boiled eggs chopped up real small; helps to thicken it too. I like my soups more like stews, not “soupy”)

  21. Amy Fitzingo says

    This is the first time that I have Used ham hocks and, let me tell you, I am DEFINITELY making this again!!! Thank you for the detailed information and easy to follow recipe. I felt very confident in trying this new dish because you armed me with knowledge!
    I would love to learn of more recipes that use ham hocks as well as other commonly over looked cuts of meat

  22. Kevin O'Dell says

    I want to make this recipe for the guys on my crew, 10 men so I will probably double it. My question is, 2 of the guys on my crew are Muslim and don’t eat pork, but I know how much flavor the hocks really add. Do you think I could get close to that flavor by using smoked turkey legs? That’s also a really dark meat and there is a lot of collegen and connective tissue in the turkey leg as well to give that richness and mouth feel. What do you think?

    • says

      I’m cooking tomorrow with the turkey as a substitute for hocks. I am reluctant to use hocks because of the fat. I think it will be great, healthy, and fragrant.

      • Jerry says

        Patty,
        There’s actually not a whole lot of fat on a ham hock, but this recipe will work perfectly with smoked turkey as well. I hope you enjoy it!

  23. Jessica says

    Hi! Ive been using this recipe pretty much since you posted it (Love it!!) but now i have moved to Colorado and had an epic failure with the beans (high altitude cooking is so different than coat cooking i have found). I soaked the beans overnight, and then cooked them according to recipe and had super crunchy beans, still. Any suggestions to adjust for High Altitude? I read on another blog about adding baking soda to the beans while cooking them and it will soften them, but i didnt think i could add baking soda to this recipe. So, i guess i answered my own question, sort of. I guess i need to cook the beans first, and then follow your recipe. If you have any other suggestions, i would love to hear them! Thanks again!

    • Jerry says

      Jessica,
      For higher altitudes, beans take a LOT longer to cook and to absorb water. If you soak your beans, do so overnight. If not, plan to add an additional hur or two to the cooking time, or perhaps use a pressure cooker.

  24. Cindy says

    Couldn’t find ham hocks today to save my life. So am trying it with sliced country ham butts. We shall see. Also couldn’t find 15 bean, but found a 9 bean. LOL…winging this go round.

    • Jerry says

      Cindy,
      Welcome to the wonderful world of Cooking by the seat of your pants! I’m sure your dish will turn out marvelously.

  25. william soroka says

    Soaked the beans overnight with left over whey from a ricotta cheese I made. In the process of prepping the meal….excited.

    • Jerry says

      Beans soaked in Whey? Now there’s something I haven’t heard of before. Be sure to let us know how they turned out!

  26. Marta says

    Thank you for this recipe…I am in the process of making it, BUT pre-soak beans or not?
    I did the quick method, boil 2 mins and let sit.
    Wish me luck!

  27. Amy says

    @Kevin O’Dell – I made this soup last night with smoked turkey legs and it turned out great!
    Jerry, thank you for the great recipe! I think this is the best bean soup I’ve ever had. I did make some changes. First of all, I used my 6 qt pressure cooker, so I didn’t need to bother soaking the beans. As mentioned, I used smoked turkey drumsticks, 2 of ‘em, 1 lb each. (I love ham, but I already had these in my freezer.) Instead of the 15 bean mix, I raided my pantry and used 2 1/2 oz each of navy, black, small red, garbanzo, and baby lima beans, green split peas, black eyed peas, and red lentils. I added carrot and celery. I used fresh thyme instead of dried, since I had it in the house. After the beans were tender, I added 2 small-medium bunches of collard greens, chopped, and simmered until they were tender, about 30-40 more minutes. The smoked turkey isn’t as salty as ham, so I did end up adding quite a bit more salt at the end. Delicious!

  28. Carolyn says

    2 ham hocks at the store I shop at were 9 dollars! That seems outrageous. Don’t know if it is just this store or in general…I though ham hocks were suppose to be inexpensive!

  29. SJ Miller says

    This recipe is fantastic. If you want to stretch it further and add some more veggies inexpensively, add carrots and celery at the beginning with the onions and garlic. At the end add chopped chard with the addition of the tomatoes.

    Also, Worcestershire sauce is a great addition. I pour some in with the broth and a couple splashes in my bowl when I serve myself.

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