How to Cook Asparagus, 5 Ways

Get the most out of this snappy, versatile vegetable.

Rachel Baron|Aug 23, 2022
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Asparagus may be one of our favorite vegetables. With a delicate grassy flavor and superior snap, it tastes like spring distilled into a single bite—even if you’re eating it in the fall. Incredibly versatile, asparagus is fantastic both raw and cooked.

Whether you’re picking it up at the farmers market or at your local supermarket, you should know how to get the most out of the asparagus you’re buying. Here are some tips on what to look for when picking out asparagus, how to prep it, and some of our favorite ways to cook it.

How to Buy Asparagus

You’ll typically find asparagus sold as tightly bound bundles standing up  in an inch or two of water or ice, which keeps it from drying out. Look for firm, vibrant green stalks: if they’re very easy to bend and feel rubbery, they’re past their prime. A common misconception is that slender asparagus is better, but thicker stalks can also be tender and flavorful if they’re super fresh.

When choosing asparagus, you should also look for tight tips with buds that are fully closed; avoid those with flowering buds, which may indicate older spears. A slight purple tinge is fine, as long as the tips still appear bright and aren’t dried out-looking. You can also find varieties of asparagus that are a beautiful purple color throughout, as well as more mild-tasting white asparagus.

As with most produce, asparagus tastes best when it’s in season—February to June, depending on where you live. Asparagus from the farmers market will likely be fresher than what you can get at the grocery store, since it’s being picked either that morning or the day before. Of course, you can still get excellent asparagus at the grocery store if you know what to look for.

How to Prep Asparagus

Asparagus is extremely easy to prep. You don’t even need a knife to trim it: just hold the ends and gently bend them upwards. If the asparagus is fresh, you’ll be able to easily snap off the bottom inch or so. Conventional wisdom dictates that asparagus stalks will naturally snap off at the point where the tougher part ends, but you can actually snap it anywhere along the stalk.

Of course, you can still chop the ends off for efficiency’s sake: simply line up your spears based on where the ends appear to toughen—usually the point where green fades to white—and slice.

You don’t need to peel your asparagus, but some people prefer to remove the slightly fibrous outer layer before cooking, especially at the thicker end of the stalks. And, if you prefer smaller pieces for a salad or stir-fry, feel free to slice your spears crosswise into smaller segments.

How to Boil Asparagus

Boiling is one of the easiest ways to cook your asparagus while maintaining its vibrant color and crisp texture. While the idea of boiled vegetables might be off-putting, as some  vegetables can often be boiled to within an inch of their lives, properly boiled asparagus might change your mind.

To start off, you’ll need to fill up a large

Saucepan or Stock Pot

(size dependent on the number of stalks you’re cooking)  with water and bring it to a boil, making sure to salt it generously. Much like with pasta, salting your water is crucial for well-seasoned asparagus. You’ll also want to have a large bowl of ice water ready on the side to dunk your asparagus into once done cooking, as this will halt the cooking process and keep your spears bright and crisp.

Once your water is at a rolling boil, add your asparagus and cook just until they’re bright green— no more than 2–3 minutes. Technically, this method of quickly boiling is called blanching.  Scoop out your cooked asparagus and plunge them directly into the waiting bowl of ice water. Leave in the ice bath for 2–3 minutes, then remove to avoid waterlogging.

How to Steam Asparagus

Steaming is also a great way to cook asparagus, if just a tad bit fussier—it requires setting up a pot fitted with a steamer basket. Once you’ve done that, however, steaming your asparagus is ideal for fast, even cooking, and is even better than boiling for preserving nutrients and flavor.

To steam, add an inch or two of water to a pot large enough to hold your steamer basket, like a

Saucier

, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add your asparagus to the basket in an even layer, cover with a lid, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Asparagus is done when bright green and easily pierced with a knife.

Like boiled asparagus, steamed asparagus can be a bit bland on its own, so feel free to go all out with a homemade

hollandaise sauce

or

perfect poached egg

— though a simple squeeze of lemon always works, too.

How to Roast Asparagus

Roasting any vegetable

gives you a complex sweetness and depth of flavor you can’t get from any other cooking method. While boiling or steaming preserves more of asparagus’ fresh, vegetal taste, proper roasting makes for beautifully browned spears that still maintain some of that signature crunch and gentle sweetness.

Toss your asparagus onto a

Sheet Pan

or

Roasting Pan

and pop in a hot oven, around 400 degrees, with plenty of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook until just tender (i.e. you can easily pierce them with a fork) and lightly browned.

Roasted asparagus is an excellent side dish on its own with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil, though a punchy dijon vinaigrette wouldn’t be amiss either.

How to Sauté Asparagus

Sautéing

is another fast and easy way to cook asparagus, using a small quantity of oil and relatively high heat for perfectly cooked spears with a hint of

golden brown

.

To sauté, add oil to your Frying Pan and turn the heat to medium high. When hot, add asparagus and cook, tossing occasionally, until cooked through with spots of brown. You can cut your spears into segments or leave them whole for a more dramatic presentation.

Though it requires you to be a bit more hands-on , this method combines the best of steaming and roasting.

How to Grill Asparagus

Grilling outside is one of our favorite parts of spring and summer cooking. Luckily, asparagus loves the grill. Just like tossing a few sausages or burgers on the grill gives your meat the perfect smoky char, asparagus benefits majorly from a few minutes on the grates.

Once your grill is heated, place the asparagus on a Grill Frying Pan or Griddle to avoid losing spears between the grates, while still imparting that smoky char taste only a grill can impart. Alternatively, you can place them directly on the grates though you may lose a few stalks between the grates that way.

Serve however you like, though we prefer to eat it outside—perhaps with an expertly

grilled piece of fish

.

Ready to Try it for Yourself?

With five different asparagus cooking methods now at your disposal, it’s time to grab a bundle and get started. Just make sure to do it justice with the right Cookware that will help bring out the natural flavors of a fresh asparagus spear.