Though they might seem time-consuming to prepare, dried beans only require a little planning ahead to cook, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with tender textures and hearty flavor. Read on for our guide on how to cook, store and serve these delicious bean varieties, so you’ll cook a perfect pot every time.

Store dried beans in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. Store cooked, drained beans in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in a heavy-duty zippered plastic bag in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Soak dried beans before cooking them for the best texture and flavor. Pick over beans, discarding any misshapen beans or grit. Rinse the beans, put in a bowl, and add cold water to cover by about 2 inches. Let soak for at least 4 hours or for up to overnight. For a quick soak, combine the beans and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, and then simmer the beans for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let cool in the liquid for at least 1 hour.

To cook soaked dried beans, drain and put them in a wide pot with fresh cold water to cover by 2 inches. Add other ingredients as called for in the recipe (avoiding acidic ingredients like tomatoes, which will toughen the beans). Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Partially cover the pot and simmer until the beans are tender (soft but not mushy), 1-3 hours.

Beans are a hearty ingredient in many soups, salads and chilis, or they can shine on their own as a substantial side or vegetarian main. (Note: Canned beans are fine in a pinch when you don’t have time to cook dried beans.)