How To Make McGuire’s Senate Bean Soup Recipe at Home

If you hail from our nation’s capital, chances are you have heard the stories surrounding McGuire’s Senate Bean Soup. It is a well known soup in the area, which first got its’ start in the 1920’s. Its sill lives on today, but there are many different versions of this cold-weather staple, which we are going to review here today.

Those that enjoy Senate Bean Soup will enjoy seeing the different flavors and ingredients that pop up in this copycat recipe. Those that have never tried Senate Bean Soup, may soon be adding its ingredients to their shopping list to try it for themselves.

The History of Senate Bean Soup

McGuires Senate Bean Soup has a story all its own. It all started in the 1920s, when Padraig McGraith, an Irish immigrant from County Claire, Ireland, was hired as the cafeteria dishwasher at the U.S. Senate in Washington DC. McGraith was homesick and missing the soups and stews he was so fond of eating back in Ireland. In the U.S., Padraig McGraith brought with him many of the recipes he loved as a child, and was now making for his own family, which included 11 children. He learned how to stretch a dollar when it came to feeding his family.

McGraith enjoyed talking with the chefs in the kitchen and told them all about some of his favorite recipes from back home in Ireland. The chefs finally asked Paddy to show them how to make one of his favorite recipes. He decided that he would give them the recipe to one of his favorite bean soups. The soup was a resounding hit.

Today, McGuires still serves that soup, which was coined McGuires Senate Bean Soup and since 1977, the price has never increased on this hearty dish.

According to, Senate bean soup is a beloved menu item on senate restaurants. In fact, Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho and Knute Nelson of Minnesota insisted that this bean soup be on the menu every day.

Many senate leaders have undoubtedly eaten this filling soup during long days on the senate floor.

Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen wrote in 1963 about the soup, “I venture the belief that the marathon speakers of the Senate would agree that the little bean had much to do with their sustained torrent or oratory.”

What is Senate Bean Soup?

Senate bean soup got its U.S. introduction in the 1920s. It was considered by some to be a peasant food because many of the ingredients were affordable back then when people didn’t have much money. Ingredients like beans, ham hocks, and potatoes were affordable and plentiful. So those that had large families and struggling to make ends meat could afford these ingredients, which were both filling and affordable.

Those that had large families could make up a batch of bean soup and feed their children for days, knowing they had full tummies as they conducted their daily chores.

Every day, the senate kitchens and local restaurants feature this soup on their menus, which has become a local Washington, DC staple and favorite.

A quote of the U.S. Senate website states, “Bean soup is on the menu in the Senate’s restaurant every day.”

The Best Copycat Recipe for McGuires Senate Bean Soup:

There are many variations to McGuires Senate Bean soup recipe. As time goes on, just about any classic recipe will see some additions as food appetites change. But most believe that this soup has changed very little since it was introduced to members of the senate in the 1920s.

Here is a great copycat recipe for McGuire’s Senate Bean Soup Recipe!

  • 3 pounds (2 bags) of dried navy beans
  • 4 large yellow or white onions
  • 4 stalks of celery
  • 4 carrots
  • A ham bone and 2 cup of diced ham
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 12 springs of fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoon thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Begin by washing beans in cold water. Put the beans in a colander and carefully check for any rocks or pebbles that may be mixed in with the beans.
  2. Soak the beans in water for at least eight hours, or overnight. Drain the beans, return them to the pot and cover them with five inches of water.
  3. Chop onions, celery, carrots, and garlic very finely. Add this mixture to the pot with the beans.
  4. Add the ham hock or bone and the ham to the bean pot.
  5. Add parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper.
  6. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then reduce heat and simmer on medium-low heat until the beans are tender.
  7. Please watch the water throughout the boiling and simmering process and make sure the beans are always covered with water. If the water begins to simmer away, add more as needed.
  8. Remove the ham hock or ham bone and discard.
  9. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

After the recipe is completed, many set the pot in the refrigerator for at least a day so the flavors can intensify and meld together.

Serve this soup hot with a bottle of hot pepper sauce on the side.

Variations to this recipe:

Just like many classic recipes, there are some variations to this hearty one dish meal. Here are some variations you may wish to try.

  • Some recipes suggest sauteing the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic in butter before adding them to the bean stock. This may add a higher-level of flavor, but does mean an extra step, and an extra dirty pan.
  • Chicken stock is used in many recipes. It is added to replace some of the water after it has been drained from the beans. This adds additional flavor.
  • Some omit using the ham hocks and ham bone. Any type of bone adds additional flavor, which comes from the marrow. Using a ham bone or ham hock adds another flavor dimension. Most authentic recipes will add either or both ingredients.
  • There are some recipes that use different types of beans either instead or in addition to the navy beans. This is personal preference and the choice is yours.
  • Some recipes, like this one from DC, amend this recipe to include 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings, and a chicken bouillon cube, instead of the chicken broth. The bacon drippings are used to sauté the vegetables.
  • A few of the recipes that we saw had amended this recipe so that it could easily be made in an Instapot, and we all know that the fewer dishes we have, the better!

No matter which recipe you choose to use, or if you adapt it to meet the taste of your family, this recipe has a long history, and has kept many people filled up, either at home around their dinner table, or during a lunch break in our nation’s capital.

It may now be time to try it at home for your own family.

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