How to Cook Asparagus Like a Pro with Our Test Kitchen's Quick and Easy Methods
If bright green spears of asparagus are your go-to restaurant side dish, you are in for a treat. It's just as easy to make delicious, crisp-tender asparagus right in your kitchen. (Crisp-tender refers to the ability to sink your teeth into cooked asparagus, but it's not mushy and still hasn't lost its firm shape.) With our Test Kitchen's best tips and tricks, you'll learn how to cook asparagus in no time. Whether it's on the grill, stovetop, or oven, here you'll find all the best ways to make asparagus for your best (and fast!) veggie side dish yet. From there, you can use our best asparagus recipes as a guide to your next comforting meal at home.
Buying and Storing Asparagus
Asparagus is in peak season from March through June, but you'll find this popular vegetable in markets year-round. Look for firm, bright green spears with compact, closed tips that are not mushy. Spear size ranges from fat (older plants) to pencil-thin. Whether you choose skinny or thick asparagus spears is a personal preference, but be sure to select uniform spears for even cooking.
Plan on cooking asparagus the day you purchase if possible. If not, store asparagus in a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for up to three days. You can also stand asparagus spears upright in a container filled with 1 inch of water. Cover the asparagus and the container with a plastic bag. Then you just have to choose how to cook asparagus your favorite way. Wondering how much asparagus to buy for your next meal? One pound of asparagus equals 18 to 24 spears or four servings.
One of the most common questions we get asked is: Should I choose thick or thin asparagus spears? And lucky for you, there is no wrong answer. Each of these types of asparagus has its fans. Thin asparagus is tender with a slightly crisp center; thick asparagus has a meatier center and therefore more crunch and texture. For thick asparagus spears, peel off the woody outer part (about 2 inches up the stem end) with a vegetable peeler.
How to Prepare Asparagus
Asparagus is grown in sandy soil, so it needs to be thoroughly washed (especially the tips) with cold water. Snap off the woody base of each spear by bending the spear a few times to find a place where it breaks easily. This is usually around the bottom third of the spear where the woody part starts to turn tender. You can also line up the stem ends and trim off an inch or so. If desired, scrape off the scales on the spears using a vegetable peeler ($9, Target). This gives spears a smooth, clean look and improves tough or fat spears. If desired, asparagus can also be cut into 1-inch pieces for cooking.
How to Roast Asparagus
The key to roasting asparagus is a high oven temperature. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place asparagus on a baking sheet or in a baking dish, and drizzle with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Toss lightly to coat. If desired, season with salt and black pepper. Roast, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until crisp-tender, lightly tossing twice during roasting. If desired, season with herbs and lemon.
How to Grill Asparagus
Cooking asparagus on the grill gives it a slightly smoky flavor. Here's how to grill asparagus:
- Generously brush asparagus with olive oil, melted butter, or margarine. This keeps the spears from sticking to the grill rack.
- Place asparagus on a piece of heavy foil or directly on the grill rack, perpendicular to the wires on the rack. For a charcoal grill, place asparagus directly over the coals.
- Grill, uncovered, 7 to 10 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally. For a gas grill, preheat the grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place asparagus directly over heat. Grill, covered, 7 to 10 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally.
How to Steam Asparagus
The best way to cook asparagus without adding fat is steaming. All it takes is water, which makes it one of our favorite ways to cook asparagus. Place a steamer basket ($20, OXO) in a saucepan. Add water to just below the bottom of the basket. Bring water to boiling. Add asparagus to the steamer basket. Cover and reduce heat. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.
How to Cook Asparagus on the Stove
When you cook asparagus on the stove, it's best to lightly salt the water. It flavors the asparagus as it cooks. Place the spears in a large skillet ($28, Kohl's) and cover with 1 inch of water. Lightly salt the water and bring to simmering. Cook, covered, for 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.
How to Sauté Asparagus
Sautéed asparagus is one of the fastest ways to cook asparagus for a quick dinner. To sauté asparagus, cut cleaned asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet (or heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat). Add cut-up asparagus and cook 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.
How to Blanch Asparagus
Perhaps one of the most common ways to cook asparagus is by blanching them. The spears maintain their bright green color and are crisp in texture, making them excellent candidates for asparagus salads, appetizers, and sides.
- To blanch asparagus, boil in lightly salted boiling water for 4 to 6 minutes until bright green and crisp-tender.
- Quickly add cooked asparagus to a bowl filled with ice water (aka shocking) to stop the cooking.
To make and serve warm without shocking, place asparagus in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Cover with about 2 cups of salted boiling water. Let stand for 10 to 12 minutes or until bright green and crisp-tender. Drain; serve warm.
How to Cook Asparagus in the Microwave
This is the easiest method for preparing asparagus. Simply place asparagus in a microwave-safe dish ($20, Bed Bath & Beyond) or casserole with 2 Tbsp. water. Microwave, covered, for 2 to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender.
Now that you've got all the directions handy for cooking asparagus, it's time to start cooking! Roast asparagus with garlic or roll them in panko breadcrumbs for an easy side dish. Serve a creamy asparagus soup for a starter. Add asparagus to your one-pan skillet meal. No matter which way you choose to cook asparagus, you know it's going to be cooked to non-mushy perfection.