Classic Three Bean Salad

This Classic Three Bean Salad is a delicious vintage side dish. A mixed bean salad recipe featuring a combination of kidney beans, green beans, and wax beans, tossed in a tangy dressing, this salad is fast and easy to prepare. It’s perfect for summer picnics, potlucks, summer BBQs, or to accompany a main dish. {And if you love an easy bean salad recipe, check out my recipe for Italian Green Bean Salad. Or for another summertime cookout favorite, check out my recipe for The Best Old-Fashioned Creamy Coleslaw.}

3 Bean Salad

While there are many variations of Three Bean salad, this recipe is for what I consider to be the original 3-bean salad from the 1950s and includes a mix of green beans, kidney beans, and yellow wax beans. It’s a recipe I’ve made for years now and is similar to the ones in my vintage cookbook collection. So I believe this is the old-school version that our Grandmas probably used. Other ingredients in this classic recipe include bell pepper, onion, and a sweet and tart vinegar dressing. 

Of course, you can use different types of beans to suit your taste. Many varieties of beans work perfectly in this salad including navy beans, lima beans, pinto beans, black beans, cannellini beans, and great northern beans. Try using garbanzo beans (chickpeas) for a Mediterranean bean salad. 

And something that I love about this recipe (besides being very tasty) is that this three-bean salad recipe uses canned beans, making this a pantry recipe. I love to be able to whip up a salad or side dish at a moment’s notice using ingredients I have on hand. (If you’re a regular reader, you know that having a stocked pantry and being prepared are very important to me.)

Classic Three Bean Salad

So let’s talk about the simple ingredients for Classic Three-Bean Salad:

Green Beans – While you can use fresh green beans, canned green beans are traditional. They are tender and have the right texture for soaking up the flavorful vinaigrette dressing. If you want to use fresh green beans, you’ll need to cook the green beans first. Cook them in salted, boiling water until they reach the desired doneness, and then immediately soak them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and proceed to use them in your salad. 

Wax Beans – Like green beans, canned wax beans are better in this salad. If you want to use fresh beans, you’ll need to cook them to your desired tenderness before using them in the recipe. 

Red Kidney Beans – I like to make it convenient and use canned kidney beans for this bean salad. You can cook your kidney beans from scratch if that’s your preference.

Green Bell Pepper – The green pepper gives this 3-Bean Salad a bright, fresh flavor. If you’re not a fan of green bell peppers, use an orange, yellow, or red bell pepper. 

Onion – I prefer a red onion in this recipe, but a sweet or yellow onion also works great. 

Oil – Use a neutral or lightly-flavored oil. I prefer to use light-tasting olive oil, but you could also use avocado oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, or whatever oil you prefer. 

Sugar – As with many vintage recipes, the dressing for this bean salad contains quite a bit of sugar. I use raw cane sugar, but white sugar will work just as well. If you’re watching your sugar intake, feel free to adjust the amount of sugar to your taste. You can also use the sugar substitute of your choice for a sugar-free bean salad. 

Vinegar – I use apple cider vinegar in the dressing because I like the fruity flavor. You can also use red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, or plain white vinegar. 

Dry Mustard – This is ground mustard powder. If you don’t have this on hand, substitute the same amount of regular prepared mustard. 

Salt – I use sea salt or Kosher salt, but any type of salt will work. Adjust the amount to suit your taste buds. 

Black Pepper – Any type of black pepper is fine, although freshly ground pepper is always more flavorful. 

Original 3 Bean Salad

Tips for making 3-Bean Salad:

  • Make your salad at least 4 hours before serving. Overnight is even better. Be sure to keep your salad refrigerated until ready to serve. 
  • When dressing your salad, hold back about 1/4 cup of the dressing to toss with the salad just before serving. 
  • Try adding fresh herbs to your bean salad. Chopped fresh dill, basil, thyme, or oregano are delicious. I also enjoy a pinch of celery seed. 
  • Add a splash of fresh lemon juice or lime juice to make the dressing even more flavorful. 
  • You aren’t limited to 3 types of beans in this bean salad. Add more beans and try it as a 5-bean salad. 
  • Promptly refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container. Store for up to 3 days in the fridge. 

So that’s all there is to making a Classic Three-Bean Salad. If you make it, I hope you love it. And don’t forget to follow me on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram so you don’t miss a post. 

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Original 3 Bean Salad

Classic Three Bean Salad Recipe

  • Author: Melissa Lynn
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 6 Servings 1x


This Classic Three Bean Salad is a delicious salad perfect for parties and picnics, and features a combination of kidney beans, green beans, and wax beans, in a tangy dressing.


Units Scale

For the Salad:

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can of green beans, drained
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can of yellow wax beans, drained
  • 1 (16-ounce) can of red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely diced or thinly sliced
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced or thinly sliced

For the Dressing:

  • 1/2 cup neutral flavored oil (avocado oil, light olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or zero-calorie sweetener of your choice) *see notes below
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry ground mustard (may substitute prepared mustard)


Toss the salad ingredients together.

  1. Prepare the dressing by whisking together the dressing ingredients.
  2. Keep 1/4 cup of the dressing aside and store in the refrigerator.
  3. Toss the salad mixture with the remaining dressing and refrigerate until ready to serve. If time allows, marinate the salad in the fridge for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight.
  4. Just before serving, toss the bean salad with the reserved dressing.


This is a vintage recipe that calls for quite a bit of sugar. If you are watching your sugar intake, you can replace the sugar with the non-caloric sweetener of your choice. If you do this, however, please add the sweetener to your taste because alternative sweeteners are often many times sweeter than real sugar.

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes

Keywords: summer salad, bean salad

Three Bean Salad


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