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Senate Bean Soup

Senators come and go. One ham and bean soup recipe stays the same.

Here’s the authentic, official U.S. Senate bean soup recipe, a hearty and easy ham and bean soup that has been on the Capitol Hill menu for ages. Perfect for cozy fall and winter nights. 

bowl of senate bean soup with ham and salad on wooden table

Why I Love Senate Bean Soup

As a former U.S. Senate staffer, I can testify to the merits of the Senate Bean Soup recipe.

For my first job out of college, I worked as an entry-level Senate staffer in one of the country’s most expensive cities. The job barely paid the rent — though I did once ride an elevator with Mikhail Gorbachev. On the days I did not bring a sad, homemade lunch, I headed to the Senate cafeteria and got a cup of (very affordable) Senate Bean Soup — stuffing a fistful of free Saltine cracker packets into my bag for good measure.

This easy Navy bean soup, though sometimes labeled touristy, is salty and thick and stick-to-your-ribs. Maybe that’s why it’s been on the menu every day but one, for over 100 years.

senate bean soup ingredients ham hocks navy beans onion

Food History of Senate Ham and Bean Soup

According to the U.S. Senate, the history of Senate Navy Bean Soup is more legend and guesswork than verifiable fact. One story says that in the early 1900s, Idaho senator Fred Dubois actually passed a resolution that the soup remain on the menu every day. (In its early days, the Senate Bean Soup recipe included potatoes; it no longer does.)

Another story says that in 1903, Minnesota senator Knute Nelson expressed his fondness for the soup.

Either way, some form of Senate bean soup has been on the menu every single day for 110 years — with one exception. For one day during World War II, the bean soup was unavailable due to food rations.

The House of Representatives has its own competing bean soup, which likewise remains on the House cafeteria menu every day.

bowl of senate bean soup with ham and salad on wooden table

Senate Bean Soup: Recipe Notes

If you want to enjoy official Senate Bean Soup today, there are two options. One option is to head to the Senate cafeteria, on the ground floor of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The other is to make the recipe yourself.

Because this is an easy soup to make, and requires no more travel than to the grocery store, the “make your own” ham and bean soup option gets my vote. Just a few notes:

  • Start with the ham and beans. Many soups call for cooking the onions first, and then adding everything else. But here, the ham and beans cook together first. This not only makes a delicious ham stock, but the beans cook and get infused with flavor from the outset.
  • Cook the onions in the butter just until translucent, then add to the soup. Stir, simmer, and season.

senate bean soup recipe

Adapting the Senate Bean Soup Recipe for Home Kitchens

The soup flavors are best described as hammy and beany. Probably because those are the only ingredients other than an onion and dab of butter! That is a good thing.

The original recipe is vague, so I have added a few specifics, like a suggested quantity of salt and pepper. I start with cold water, instead of the suggested hot water, because hot tap water generally is not as clean. This should be a very thick soup.

Technically, I would have liked to add something like, I don’t know, a bay leaf? But I stuck to the original as much as possible, so that is why the recipe is so simple.

Sometimes people ask if this can be made in a crock pot or instant pot.

The answer is yes! The instant pot will certainly speed the cooking time due to the high pressure. That said, you will have to adapt the cooking times for a crock pot or instant pot on your own; I am an old-fashioned pot person!

Finally: This Senate ham and Navy bean soup makes a fantastic recipe for those leftover ham bones around Easter or Christmas.

Did you make this Senate Bean Soup recipe? How was it?

bowl of senate bean soup with ham and salad on wooden table

You’ll also like: Great Vegetarian Chili and 5 Tips for Perfect Grilled Cheese

bowl of senate bean soup with ham and salad on wooden table

Senate Bean Soup (The Official Recipe)

Senate Bean Soup is a historic recipe that's always on the Senate menu for a reason. With not much more than navy beans, a ham hock, and water, you can have one of the country's most satisfying, and famous, ham and bean soups.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time3 hours 30 minutes
Course: dinner, lunch
Cuisine: American
Keywords:: beans, comfort food, easy, ham, patriotic, senate, soup
Servings: 4 people


  • 1 pound dry navy beans
  • 3/4 pound smoked ham hock
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (optional, but I recommend as it will help the beans soften)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • kosher salt, to taste (I do about 2 teaspoons)
  • fresh black pepper, to taste


  • Rinse the navy beans and pick over. Place beans into large pot with the ham hock and two quarts of cold water and the baking soda, if using.
    PRO TIP: Baking soda is not part of the official recipe, but it is my secret weapon when cooking dried beans. The alkaline pH helps soften the beans' tough exterior and helps speed cooking a bit.
  • Bring just to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for approximately three hours (yep) in a covered pot with the lid barely cracked, stirring occasionally, until the beans have fully softened.
    TIP: The water quantity should be accurate, but If the pot of beans starts to look a little dry, add more water until you have a very thick, creamy soup consistency.
  • Remove the ham hock and set it aside on a dish to cool. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent and lightly brown. (Mmm..butter and onions. Doesn't that smell good?) Add the diced, buttery onion to the soup.
  • Pull meat from the ham hock into bite-sized pieces and return the meat to soup. Stir. Discard the picked-over ham bone.
    Before serving, bring the soup to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Serve on its own or with a nice green salad to complement the richness of the soup.


This Senate Bean Soup recipe is based on the original. The ingredients and quantities are exactly the same, with the addition of a little optional baking soda to help soften the beans and speed the cooking a bit. 
This soup will keep in the fridge for up to three days, and freezes well. 


  • Steve B.

    5 stars
    Foolproof and came out very tasty and creamy. I have not had the original version from the Senate building, but this tasted surprisingly flavorful and satisfying for having so few ingredients. I added a little extra water.

  • I am in the middle of making this, my dad made homemade bean soup, he learned to make it in the Army, during WWII, it was always real good and I have yet to find his way of making it, none taste the same, so I am trying your recipe, but I don’t see soup in the ingredients, and my navy beans are taking a long time to get soft, I gave up and put them in a crock pot. I soaked them over night then boiled them for half an hour….they are around 8 years old, are they just not any good now? I thought they had a 25 yr shelf life…..

  • Amanda R.

    5 stars
    Oh my! So easy, so very delicious. I halved it and had to refill water midway, otherwise it was per recipe. Thank you!

  • Barbara Hiner

    Ate this when we visited DC and took our daughter. It’s a great memory.

    • Unpeeled

      What a nice memory to have! I always thought it was so cool that anyone could eat at the Senate dining room; you don’t have to be a staff member.

  • I’ve always liked Senate Bean soup, I’ve had on several occasions in DC. It isn’t a highly flavored soup, no one wanted a belching Senator arguing legislation. Put a couple pinches baking soda in the pot to help with this. This recipe has stood the test of time but can be altered to suit anyone.

  • joanne a.

    2 stars
    I followed the recipe exactly. After three hours the beans still aren’t cooked. I”m on hour five. I thought it was odd that the beans weren’t soaked overnight. I should have trusted my gut. Very disappointed.

    • Unpeeled

      Hello and thank you for the comment. I am sorry to hear that this did not work out! Was the water simmering enough, and did you have a lid on as directed to help the beans cook faster? Five hours is a VERY long time to have to cook beans–even without pre-soaking them! I would be so frustrated as well. Those are the troubleshooting ideas I can think of. Again, I empathize with you; having a recipe not work out can be so disappointing.

  • Linda D.

    5 stars
    I grew up with soup made this vary way, but as I got older, I needed more. I make mine with both onion and celery and a can of drained Rotel tomatoes with hot chilis. I also add a couple tsps of Better than Boullion chicken to the 2 cups of water. I think the addition of the celery, tomatoes & bouillon make it a much tastier recipe..

    • Anne-Marie

      Your beans remained hard because they’re old. Try it again with beans from Rancho Gordo, you’ll love the results.

    • 5 stars
      I use Better Than Boullion to strengthen the flavour on all the soups I make,
      and I’ll never go back to not using it. I like your idea of the tomato addition with hot peppers – going with your suggestions. Very hard to find organic celery and unfortunately celery is one of the vegetables that is highest on the list for amount of pesticides. Maybe I’ll toss in a tablespoon of celery seed.
      Thanks for your suggestions.

  • barbara stroud

    5 stars
    I made this yesterday – it turned out EXCELLENT! I was hesitant to use the potato, but through it in, and I’m so glad I did, it was FABULOUS – an interesting addition. Smelled amazing!

    • Unpeeled

      So glad you enjoyed!! Doesn’t it smell so good and hammy while it’s cooking?

  • Sari Goldman

    I love this soup. If you don’t eat ham you can buy a smoked turkey leg and thigh to add to the beans.

  • Stacey Tease

    5 stars
    So I’m American living in Ireland for years. Always loved my Mom’s bean soup. This recipe looked familiar. Had a ham hock and ham leftover. Stood in Tesco on my phone trying to find substitute for navy beans- decided on cannellini beans. Made in crockpot- 1 quart cold water, 1 quart boiled water from kettle. Only about 1 1/2 lb ham/ ham hock but was plenty. Took 2 hrs to boil (started at 8 am) on high. Moved lid to leave open slightly and let it go until 4. Took out ham to cut up ,added onion, salt and pepper and 4 slices smoked American style bacon as ham had clove flavouring. Left on low another hour and it was so thick, hearty and delicious.!

    • Unpeeled

      I am so very glad you liked it! It’s great to know that cannellini beans worked well. Isn’t it such a good, hearty soup? And please let me know if you have come across a good Irish brown soda bread recipe; I am eternally in search ever since I ate it every day there on a vacation!

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