Here’s how to make the best three bean salad recipe: a fresh spin on Grandma’s! It’s so easy to throw together for picnics and potlucks.

Bean Salad

Here’s a fresh spin on that classic Bean Salad! You know, the kind at picnics and potlucks long into the cicada-buzzing summer? This American classic has been gracing tables for generations, and everyone has their own take on it. Here’s our spin on that bean salad of our youth, with a little less sugar and more freshness. But don’t worry: it’s still an easy three bean salad that’s as easy as dump and stir. We’re dying for you to try it and let us know…is it actually better than Grandma’s? (Sorry, Grandma: don’t be offended!)

The anatomy of a bean salad!

Bean salad is a classic American salad of canned beans marinated in a vinaigrette. It’s a staple at picnics and potlucks, because it doesn’t require refrigeration! It’s a side dish that can sit out in the heat for hours. The origin story of this classic is hazy, but it’s safe to say it originated in the 1950’s because that’s when recipes started appearing in cookbooks (per this source). Either way: Alex and I have been enjoying it for our entire lives.

Bean salad recipes vary and most cooks have their own regional spin. The most common ingredients are kidney beans, green beans, and garbanzo beans (it’s often called three bean salad). Other ingredients you’ll often see are pinto beans, wax beans, and onions. It’s almost always marinated in a dressing of vinegar, oil, sugar and salt.

Bean salad recipe

How to make this three bean salad recipe

Our spin on Grandma’s three bean salad is just as easy to make as the 1950’s style classic. That means the main steps are “dump and stir:” open the bean cans and stir everything together! At the same time, we wanted to freshen up the classic by cutting back on the sugar and adding a little freshness. Here are the elements we added to this three bean salad to make a modern spin:

  • Kidney beans and pinto beans: Why no chickpeas? They can have a tough texture and don’t soak up the marinade as quickly. We prefer pinto beans in a bean salad.
  • Green and yellow beans: Use just green beans for a classic three bean salad. But we like the color contrast of adding yellow wax beans to the mix.
  • White onion and red onion: White onion is standard and has the most classic flavor. Red onion adds brightness with the lovely purple! It’s optional but makes a nice visual statement.
  • Curly parsley: The green confetti adds a fresh flavor and visual flair. Use curly parsley if you have it, but Italian also works.
  • White vinegar and olive oil: The salad where it’s appropriate to use white vinegar instead of white wine vinegar? Bean salad. (And German cucumber salad, of course.) It adds just the right astringent punch, balanced by the salt and sugar.
  • Dill and garlic powder: These spices aren’t standard, but they amp the flavors just enough.
Three bean salad

Eat immediately, or marinate at least 1 hour

You can eat your bean salad recipe right away and it’s very tasty. Or pop it in the refrigerator to let it marinate for at least 1 hour, and it’s even better. The refrigeration time really lets the flavors soak in.

The end result? This recipe has half the sugar as the standard, but it’s just as delicious! It’s got all the classic elements so you feel like you’re eating Grandma’s. We’ll be eating this for years to come.

Tip: how to slice the onions

One area where home cooks can be tripped up: how to cut the onions into slivers! The cut that looks best in this bean salad recipe is different from the standard half-moon shape. Some people call it French cut: it’s a way of making the onion slivers look attractive instead of long and floppy.

  • How to do it? It’s easiest to explain by showing you. Go to minute 1:40 of this How to Cut an Onion video!
  • The basic explanation? Cut slices from the tip to the root (instead of through the middle).

Storage info

How long does homemade bean salad last? Store it refrigerated for 3 to 5 days. Like a pickle, the flavor intensifies over time! It’s great for lunches throughout the week. Beans don’t last indefinitely refrigerated, so make sure not to leave it longer than the storage recommendation.

Three bean salad recipe

When to serve bean salad (really anytime!)

Last but not least: how to serve bean salad! We’re huge fans of this easy salad and we think it works anytime: picnics, potlucks, and meals any time of the year. It’s a great protein-packed vegan side dish, and it helps to make any vegetarian or plant-based meal more filling. It also is great for summer grilled meals. Here are a few other salads you could pair with it for a stellar summer salad spread:

This bean salad recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free, and gluten-free.

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Bean Salad

Classic Bean Salad (Better Than Grandma’s!)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 8 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


Here’s how to make the best three bean salad recipe: a fresh spin on Grandma’s! It’s easy to throw together for picnics and potlucks. 


  • 15-ounce can kidney beans
  • 15-ounce can white beans or pinto beans
  • 15-ounce can green beans
  • 15-ounce can wax beans (or another 15-ounce can green beans)
  • 1/2 medium white onion
  • 1/4 medium red onion (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped curly parsley (or Italian parsley)
  • ½ cup white vinegar*
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon each dried dill and garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper


  1. Drain and rinse the beans. 
  2. Thinly slice the onions into slivers (go to minute 1:40 of this How to Cut an Onion video to see how!). Finely chop the parsley. 
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the white vinegar, olive oil, sugar, dill, garlic, powder, and kosher salt. Add the beans, onions and parsley and stir until coated. You can eat immediately, but for best results refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the salad to marinate. Store leftovers refrigerated for up to 5 days.


*Use standard white vinegar, not white wine vinegar! 

  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Raw
  • Cuisine: Salad

Keywords: Bean salad, bean salad recipe, three bean salad, three bean salad recipe

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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  1. love and have forgotten this recipe, but thank you for sharing it and reminding me since it fits my veg-legume centric diet, much appreciated

  2. I love 3 bean salad but looking for a recipe with WAY less sugar. The old recipe I have uses 1 cup!! Thank you!
    It’s interesting you use 4 beans. I’m not a fan of kidney beans so I usually use pinto beans in their place.
    I like to make a big batch and eat it throughout the week. I use apple cider vinegar though.