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Quick and Easy Red Beans and Rice

These Quick and Easy Red Beans and Rice with smoked sausage and ham are made with canned beans and are ready in less than an hour!

When you don’t have time to soak and cook beans, my version of this classic Louisiana Creole dish is the way to go. It’s a lot faster, but the flavor is all there (no one will guess you didn’t cook it all day). And it’s budget-friendly!

In fact, it’s so darn good that I never make red beans and rice the conventional way (i.e. the long way).

Along with the canned red beans, smoked sausage and ham, it’s got onions, green bell peppers and celery (aka “the trinity”), garlic, Creole seasoning, and bay leaf. The ham stock is made simply with a ham base and water, and it adds so much great flavor!

It’s said that this dish was once a Monday tradition in many New Orleans households. Ham was frequently part of the big Sunday meal. Since Monday was laundry day, the leftover bones and scraps were used to make red beans and rice, which could simmer away on the stove all day while the wash got done.

So yeah, my recipe isn’t 100% authentic because I don’t use dry beans or ham bones, and I don’t cook it for hours.

But, hey, that’s totally okay because it’s incredibly delicious in its own right, and it can be served as a hearty and comforting dinner any night of the week. Try it and see for yourself!

red beans, sausage, ham, vegetables, and sauce in a pan with a pot of white rice and a small bowl of green onions on the side

Red Beans or Kidney Beans?

Did you know that red beans (sometimes called small red beans) and red kidney beans are not the same?

Red beans are smaller, oval-shaped and pinkish red. They have a mild, slightly nutty flavor, smooth skin, and a creamy texture.

Kidney beans are larger, shaped like a kidney, and dark red. They have a stronger flavor, thicker skin and a firmer texture.

In general, these beans can be used interchangeably in most recipes. For this recipe, I prefer to use the small red beans because that’s what was traditionally used in red beans and rice. Plus, I just like them better.

I have no trouble finding canned small red beans in my local grocery store (and I live way out in the country). But if you can’t get them, you can use red kidney beans instead.

The Meat

The name Red Beans and Rice might sound like a vegetarian dish, but it’s not (although you could make a meatless version; see Substitutions and Variations below).

Classically, besides the beans being simmered with ham bones and leftover pieces of ham, andouille sausage is also added. Andouille is a spicy, smoky sausage often used Creole cooking. Use it if you can get it!

More often than not, I can’t find a good andouille sausage where I live (and, honestly, it can sometimes be a little too smoky for my taste). So, in addition to ham, I usually use smoked kielbasa. I guess that would make it a Creole-Polish fusion dish!

two bowls of red beans and rice, one with a spoon in the bowl, and a small bowl of green onions on the side

Ingredients You Need

Note: Ingredient amounts are in the recipe card below.

  • Olive oil
  • Smoked kielbasa (or andouille sausage)
  • Ham (I use a boneless ham steak)
  • Onions
  • Green bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Creole or Cajun seasoning (I recommend a low-salt or no-salt blend; see Note below)
  • Ham base
  • Water
  • Canned small red beans
  • Bay leaf
  • Salt
  • Cornstarch (to make a slurry to thicken the sauce, if needed; optional)
  • Long-grain white rice (I use basmati or jasmine)
  • Green onions

Note: Use your favorite store-bought or homemade Creole or Cajun seasoning. If you have a decently stocked spice cabinet, consider making some. You might already have everything you need (and you can control the amount of salt and heat)!

I use Emeril’s Essence Creole Seasoning recipe as a basis: 2½ tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon dried thyme, and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (reduced from 1 tablespoon). I omit the salt.

You’ll only need a tablespoon of seasoning for this dish, but it’s nice to have a batch on hand for the next time you want to make it or to use in other dishes like Cajun Chicken Pasta, Cajun Spiced Deviled Eggs, Cajun Spiced Oyster Crackers, Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, and more!

Note: The above video is just a brief overview of the steps. Scroll down to the recipe card below for the full printable recipe with detailed instructions and ingredient amounts.

Recipe Tips & Tidbits

  • I hold back on adding any salt until the very end. The smoked sausage, ham, ham base, and Creole or Cajun seasoning (if you don’t use a no-salt version) will all have salt in them, so you may not need to add any at all.
  • The level of spicy heat will depend on the Creole or Cajun seasoning you use. If you want more heat, add some cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes or serve with your favorite hot sauce.
  • I use Better Than Bouillon ham base (#notsponsored), which says to use 1 teaspoon per cup of water. Some brands (such as some powdered versions) may direct you to use 2 teaspoons per cup of water.
    • You want 3 cups of stock total, so just follow the directions on whichever brand you use.
  • If the beans are too thin or soupy after simmering, use a cornstarch slurry to thicken it up (this is how I do it).
    • Start with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon of cold water. Make sure the sauce is simmering/bubbling and stir in the slurry, a little at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency.
    • Alternately, you could try mashing some of the beans (about ½ cup or so) before adding them to the pan to help thicken the sauce as it cooks.

Substitutions & Variations

  • Red kidney beans can be used if you can’t get small red beans.
  • Other beans, such as black beans or pinto beans, would also be delicious even though they’re not red (sometimes you just have to go with what you’ve got).
  • Can’t find ham base? Use chicken base instead.
  • Serve it over brown rice instead of white rice. Since brown rice takes much longer to cook, I’d suggest getting it cooking first before you move on to making the rest of the dish.
  • For a meatless version (but not vegan), omit the ham and smoked kielbasa and add another can of beans in their place. I recommend keeping the ham base for that delicious flavor.
red beans with sausage, ham and vegetables being spooned onto a bowl of rice

Storing Leftovers, Freezing, Make-Ahead & Reheating

Storing Leftovers

Store leftover red beans and rice, once cooled, in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days (the beans and rice should be put in separate containers to keep the rice from getting mushy).

Rice safety: To help prevent foodborne illness, always cool rice quickly and refrigerate or freeze it within an hour after cooking.

Freezing

To freeze red beans and rice, once cooled, place the beans and rice in separate airtight freezer containers or freezer bags and freeze for up to 3 to 4 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.

Make-Ahead

This dish is one of those that gets even better after it sits in the fridge overnight, so you can definitely make it ahead of time (or make it a freezer meal)!

If you are going to make it ahead, I recommend just making the beans in advance and cooking the rice when you serve it (fresh-cooked rice beats reheated rice every time) .

When making ahead, if there are any leftovers to store, remember to start counting the days from the day you originally made it and not the day you serve it.

Reheating

Reheat the beans in a pot on the stove over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until hot throughout.

Reheat the rice in a small pot, covered, on the stove over low heat. Add a splash or two of water to “steam” the rice and bring back some of the moisture it might have lost while in the refrigerator. Heat until hot throughout.

You could also reheat in the microwave.

a spoonful of red beans and rice being taken out of the bowl

What to Serve with Red Beans and Rice

Although this red beans and rice is a meal all on its own, here are some of my favorite side dish ideas to serve with it.

I hope you try this Quick and Easy Red Beans and Rice recipe and love it as much as I do. Thanks for visiting today!

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More Recipes With Beans To Try

If you make this recipe, I’d love to know how it went! Please leave a star rating and comment below. Thanks!

a bowl of red beans and rice with a spoon on the side

Quick and Easy Red Beans and Rice

These Quick and Easy Red Beans and Rice with smoked sausage and ham are made with canned beans and are ready in less than an hour!
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Author: Michelle / Now Cook This!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 3
Estimated Calories: 600

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ pound smoked kielbasa or andouille sausage, cut into quarters lengthwise and sliced about ¼ inch thick
  • ½ pound boneless ham steak, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup chopped onions, about ½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup chopped green bell peppers, about ½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup chopped celery, about ½-inch pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Creole or Cajun seasoning, low-salt or no-salt version recommended, homemade or store-bought (see notes below)
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 teaspoons ham base, I use Better Than Bouillon (see notes below)
  • 2 (15.5-ounce) cans small red beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch, to make a slurry to thicken the sauce, if needed (optional)
  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice, I use basmati or jasmine
  • ¼ to ½ cup thinly sliced green onions

Instructions

  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat (I use an 11 or 12-inch skillet).
  • Add the smoked kielbasa (or andouille sausage) and ham; cook, stirring occasionally, just until they start to get very lightly golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Add the onions, green bell peppers and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and Creole (or Cajun) seasoning; cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
  • Add the water and ham base; stir to combine.
  • Add the beans and bay leaf; stir to combine.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove the lid and continue simmering, uncovered, for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • While the bean mixture is simmering, cook the rice according to the package directions; keep hot.
  • After simmering, if the sauce is not as thick as you would like, use a cornstarch slurry to thicken it up. Start by mixing 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of cold water in a small bowl until well-combined. While the sauce is still simmering, stir in the slurry, a little bit at a time, until the desired consistency is reached (you may not need to use it all or you may need to use more).
    Alternately, you could mash some of the beans, about ½ cup or so, before adding them to the pan to help thicken the sauce while it cooks.
  • Taste the bean mixture; add salt and adjust the seasoning, if needed.
  • Remove the bay leaf.
  • To serve: Spoon the beans over the hot cooked rice in bowls and sprinkle with sliced green onions.

Notes

  • Andouille sausage is traditionally used in red beans and rice, but I can’t always get it, so I usually use smoked kielbasa instead. 
  • Small red beans are traditional and recommended in this dish. If you can’t find them, red kidney beans can be used instead.
  • Better Than Bouillon ham base says to use 1 teaspoon per cup of water. Some brands (such as some of the powdered versions) may direct you to use 2 teaspoons per cup of water. You want 3 cups of stock total, so just follow the directions on whichever brand you use.
  • I use Emeril’s Essence recipe as a base to make homemade Creole seasoning: 2½ tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon dried thyme, and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (reduced from 1 tablespoon). I omit the salt. You won’t need all of it for this recipe, but it’s great to have on hand).
  • The heat level will vary depending on how spicy the seasoning blend is that you use. If you want more heat, add some cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes or serve with your favorite hot sauce.
  • Store leftovers, once cooled, in separate airtight containers (one for the beans, one for the rice) in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.
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