Here's everything you need to know about prepping the iconic holiday staple, and three foolproof methods for making a green bean casserole everyone will want seconds of. 

By Tiffany Stevens
November 14, 2019

While turkey may be the star of the Thanksgiving show, green bean casserole definitely deserves praise for its strength as a side dish. The hearty classic can make almost anyone want to eat their vegetables, especially once the iconic fried onion topping is added. Green bean casserole is also one of the easiest, and cheapest, dishes to put together. Just a few ingredients—the beans, the topping, and a can of mushroom soup—are enough to conjure the holiday staple.

But traditional green bean casserole has several drawbacks that can make the dish seem lackluster. Primarily, the green beans can get a bit soggy, especially if the veggies used are canned. Going with the original version of this recipe can also be underwhelming; swapping out ingredients, and adding in a few of your own, can take green bean casserole from perfunctory to perfection. To make sure you have the best version of this quintessential Thanksgiving dish, we’ll explore the best ways to boost your casserole ingredients. Then, we’ll take a look at three different cooking methods for putting the recipe together—the oven, the slow cooker, and the Instant Pot. By deviating from the original recipe and experimenting with new cooking methods, you’ll be guaranteed to make a green bean casserole that keeps your guests coming back for seconds (or thirds). 

Caitlin Bensel

Step One: Choose Your Beans

While the classic recipe might call for canned, that’s largely a reflection of the fact that the dish was created to utilize ingredients that most families would already have in their pantry. Cans of green beans are also cheap, and allow the chef to skip any prepping steps that come along with uncooked vegetables. But canned green beans come with a huge drawback: they’re already soft, which means that after being cooked in mushroom soup or gravy, they become downright soggy (not to mention, a very dull color). If you have the time and the budget for it, your casserole will be instantly improved by substituting either frozen or fresh beans in place of the canned. 

If you’re using frozen beans, make sure to thaw them and then gently squeeze out the excess water using paper towels before adding them to the casserole. If you’re using fresh green beans, however, consider taking the extra step of blanching them in boiling water for a couple of minutes before plunging them into an ice bath. While blanching and shocking the beans might take a little extra time, it’s worth it to obtain the best texture and vibrant green color. 

Step Two: Make a Gravy

The mushroom-filled sauce is essential to binding together your green bean casserole, but it doesn’t have to come from a can. Instead of simply turning to Campbell’s for a creamy mushroom sauce, consider providing your own

A great mushroom gravy can be created by sauteing mushrooms and either onions or shallots in butter or oil until soft or caramelized. Once those are done cooking, remove them from the pan. Flour can then be added to make a roux; after the flour and fat mixture has cooked for a bit, milk can slowly be incorporated to make a mushroom-flavored bechamel sauce. 

To give your gravy an additional boost, consider first cooking some bacon before cooking your onions and mushrooms. The fat from the bacon will provide extra flavor, and the crisped bacon can be chopped up and mixed in with the green beans once the gravy is finished. 

Creating a cheese-infused sauce is also a quick and tasty way to mix things up, especially if a guest at your table isn’t fond of mushrooms. For that variation, follow the instructions for making gravy, but add in shredded cheddar cheese after the gravy has started to thicken and stir to incorporate. Alternatively, use Parmesan for a more savory, adult bite.

If you do decide to go the canned route, feel free to enhance it by still adding caramelized onions or shallots and fresh mushrooms. A splash of milk or heavy cream, along with some salt and pepper, can’t go amiss either. 

Step Three: Pick a Topping

You can’t go wrong with fried onions, but you don’t have to stop there either. Consider boosting your topping by sauteing up some red onions to add texture variation to the crunchy, fried topping. Parmesan can also go a long way toward enhancing the flavor. If you’re a fan of cheesy finishers, consider either substituting the fried onions for Cheez-Its, or mixing the two together. Or change it up altogether and go with a buttery panko topping. Fried onions may be classic, but there’s room to play with how you finish off this tasty holiday dish. 

How to Make a Green Bean Casserole In the Oven 

Victor Protasio

Get the Recipe: Old-School Green Bean Casserole

To make the original version of this holiday dish, start by creating your gravy using the steps outlined above. Once the sauce is done, break out a 13- x 9-inch casserole dish, lightly greased, and add your green beans. Make sure to blanch and shock them if using fresh, or to squeeze out excess water if using frozen. If using canned, drain excess water as well. Coat the green beans in gravy, and add any other fillers that you might like in your casserole. Water chestnuts can provide an interesting textural crunch; sauteed red bell peppers can also provide a savory, bright bite.

Related: 5-Star Holiday Side Dishes

Once you’ve combined the ingredients in the casserole dish, bake in an oven preheated to 350°F for 15 minutes. Add fried onions, or a topping of your choice, and return to the oven for 15 more minutes before serving. 

How to Make a Green Bean Casserole In the Slow Cooker

Photo: Greg Dupree; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Adam Hickman

Get the Recipe: Crock-Pot Green Bean Casserole

If your oven is already full with other dishes, the slow cooker can be a great way to make sure a warm green bean casserole still makes it to the table. To make this variation, prepare your beans as you have before, but hold off on the gravy, which we’ll make in the slow cooker. This is also one of the few versions where a can of cream of mushroom soup can actually help, instead of simply providing a relatively bland binder. 

Related: Delicious Side Dishes From the Slow Cooker

Once your beans are ready, mix three quarters of a cup of milk with two cans of mushroom soup in your crock pot. Add salt and pepper to taste, as well. Then, add sauteed mushrooms and onions, if desired, along with half of your green beans. Stir to coat, then add the rest of the green beans and stir again. Cover and cook on high for three hours, or until the beans are tender. 

After the beans have finished cooking, add them to a serving dish and finish off with the topping of your choice. 

How to Make a Green Bean Casserole In the Instant Pot

Photo: Jen Causey; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Green Bean Casserole 

The Instant Pot can be a great way to create green bean casserole without having to dirty up too many extra dishes. For this recipe, start by cooking down your onions and mushrooms in the Instant Pot using the saute function. Next, arrange your green beans on top (don’t stir), put on the lid and turn on the pressure cooking function. While you’ll only be setting it to cook for one minute, the actual process will take closer to ten (5 to 6 for the cooker to reach the correct temperature, and then a couple after the cooking process to let the steam properly escape). Be careful when turning the steam handle to the venting position, and wait until the floating valve drops before removing the lid. 

RELATED: Our Best Instant Pot Side Dishes

Once the lid is safely removed, take the green beans out and Place them in a serving dish. Then go ahead and turn the saute function back on, and resume making gravy as normal. If you’d like, you can whisk flour into heavy cream instead of browning it in the mushroom mixture to make a roux. Either way, keep cooking your gravy until it is smooth and to your desired level of thickness. Then pour your gravy over your beans, top with a crunchy finisher, and enjoy alongside the rest of your family’s favorite holiday classics. 

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