A beanpot is a type of cookware designed to provide slow, even heat to any ingredients that are cooked inside it. Although beans are frequently associated with the pot and are responsible for its name, almost any type of food that requires slow cooking can be made with a beanpot. The actual design of the pot has been in use for centuries and is made in various shapes and sizes in different countries around the world, where it is known by alternate names such as an olla in Mexico and a handi in India. The beanpot generally has a wide middle area that tapers toward the top to a narrower mouth designed to help retain moisture. The pot is intended to be placed in an oven set on low to moderate heat for several hours, allowing the foods inside to bake slowly.
There are a variety of different materials from which a beanpot can be made, with all the materials being heavy with good heat retention. Very often, the pots can be made from ceramic, different types of clay, cast iron, enameled cast iron or stone. The purpose of the material is to heat slowly and evenly, retaining the absorbed heat for a very long time so the food inside does not burn because of hot spots. When making beans, the consistent distribution of heat not only helps them cook evenly but also allows many of the elements within the beans to break down more completely than with other cooking methods. A lid of some type is almost always part of a beanpot, usually made from the same material and designed to fit snugly so steam does not escape.
Depending on the material from which the beanpot is made, it might be glazed on the inside, outside or both. Unglazed pots that are made from porous materials such as sanded clay or stone will absorb moisture generated during cooking. If the pot begins to dry out slightly, then some of the moisture stored in the walls of the beanpot will be released, maintaining a consistent level of moisture for a longer time than a non-porous pot would. The water level in the pot still might drop when heated, however, and generally needs to be checked several times during cooking.
Many recipes that specifically call for a beanpot often add cold or lukewarm ingredients to the pot and then place the pot in a cold oven. This is especially important for pots that are older, because placing such a pot into a warm or hot oven could cause it to crack or shatter. Pots that are made from more resilient materials such as cast iron can be placed into a warm oven with no problems.