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All About Asparagus

Thick or thin stalks? Cold in salad or hot off the grill? Here’s all you need to make the most of this delicious spring vegetable, from shopping and prep to 20 easy, delicious asparagus recipes.

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Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum

Some people see sunshine and daffodils as the first signs of spring. For me, it’s asparagus. When I spot bunches of slender spears at every booth in the farmers market, I know winter is over. And it’s all I can do not to bring home a dozen bunches at once.

Jump ahead to:

Types of asparagus >>

Asparagus FAQS >>

How to buy and store asparagus >>

How to prep asparagus >>

How to cook asparagus: the best-ever asparagus recipes >>

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Types of asparagus

An image of white, purple, and green asparagus
Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum

While there are numerous varieties available for home gardens, when you’re shopping for fresh asparagus, you’ll usually find just these three types:

  • Green asparagus is the one you’ll see everywhere. It has a distinct, grassy flavor.

  • White asparagus is green asparagus grown under cover of soil or darkness. Without light, it doesn’t develop the chlorophyll necessary to turn it green. Its flavor is more delicate with a hint of bitterness, and stalks usually grow thicker than green asparagus.

  • Purple asparagus is a variety cultivated from regular green asparagus. That violet hue appears only on the outside, hiding pale green to creamy white flesh, and the color fades when exposed to heat. Compared to green or white, purple asparagus tastes notably sweet — its sugar content is 20% higher.


Asparagus FAQS

Let’s get into what else you should know about this elegant vegetable.

What are the health benefits of asparagus? 

With just 20 calories and plenty of nutrients in a half-cup serving, asparagus stars in countless healthy recipes. Heart-healthy (and digestion-friendly) fiber makes up more than half of the carbohydrates content, and the spears are rich in vitamin C. Asparagus really shine, though, when it comes to vitamin K, which supports blood clotting and bone health, and folate, which helps with cell growth. Like other vegetables, asparagus also provides plenty of antioxidants, which help protect you from ailments like cancer and heart disease. In asparagus, key antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin E, and flavonoids like quercetin. 

Why does it make your pee smell funny?

Blame it on asparagusic acid, which you’ll find only in asparagus. When your body digests it, that acid breaks down into sulfur byproducts, which provide the signature stink. Not everybody experiences it, though, so if this doesn’t sound familiar just consider yourself lucky.

Which is better, thick or thin asparagus?

Thick spears come from younger plants and thinner ones come older plantings, but as long as they’re juicy and tender, they’re equally good. Keep in mind how you’re cooking them — thick spears are much less likely to fall through the grates on a grill.


How to buy and store asparagus

A picture of asparagus stalks in a jar with water covered with a loose plastic bag
Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum

Before you buy a bunch of asparagus, examine the spears closely. You’re looking for tightly closed tips and full, fresh-looking stalks — these will be the most tender and juicy. If you see any puckering, move on.

Once you get those pretty spears home, refrigerate with the bottoms submerged in water, like a bunch of flowers. Cover the top loosely with a plastic bag. Stored this way, it shouldn’t take up any more room in your fridge than a carton of milk, and it’ll keep your asparagus fresh for three to four days. If you trim the stalks first (see more below), they’ll keep this way up to a week.


How to prep asparagus

A picture of asparagus stalks that have had the lower, tougher portions snapped off
Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum

Wash asparagus just before you plan to use it. Those tough ends are unpleasant to eat, so you’ll want to remove them. You’ve got a few options here:

  • Snap off the woody ends by carefully bending each spear — it should break right where the tender part begins. 

  • To create a more uniform look, use a knife to trim the ends. Poke with the tip of the knife to find the spot where it yields easily, then cut just below.

  • For the most elegant presentation, trim the bottoms with a knife and use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer, going about halfway up each spear.


How to cook asparagus: the best-ever asparagus recipes

Once you’ve got your trimmed asparagus, you can go with one of several cooking methods. 


Asparagus in the oven

A picture of roasted asparagus on a sheet pan
Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum

Whether you’re roasting or baking, asparagus cooks up beautifully with the dry heat of an oven. Make sure not to crowd the pan, since you want room for the air to circulate.

Easy Roasted Asparagus

Yummly Original

Oven-roasted asparagus couldn’t be simpler: Spread your trimmed asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet, add a little extra-virgin olive oil, a little sea salt and black pepper, and pop it in the oven. Once you’ve mastered the basic method, take it up a notch with garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice or a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.


Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

Even the vegetable-averse can’t say no to roasted asparagus wrapped in candied bacon. Yes, I said candied bacon. Maple syrup, olive oil, and black pepper add an irresistible, sweet-and-spicy element to the smoky, crispy bacon and asparagus.

Baked Asparagus Fries

If you want to guarantee that every spear gets eaten, coat your trimmed asparagus in cheesy breadcrumbs before baking. I’m pretty sure I could eat an entire tray of these crunchy, fun-to-eat “fries.”

Cheesy Baked Asparagus

For a more indulgent side dish, bake asparagus in a casserole with heavy cream and Parmesan, topped with more Parm and gooey mozzarella. Towards the end, sprinkle with French fried onions for crispy contrast. Holy moly, would you look at that. 


Asparagus on the stovetop

A picture of steamed asparagus in a saute pan with a little water
Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum

Don’t want to heat up the kitchen? Skip the oven and cook your ‘sparagus in a pan. Options here include steaming, boiling, and stir-frying. Whichever you choose, keep an eye on your timing — too long and you’ll wind up with limp, gray spears.


Steamed Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce

If there’s a more classic way to serve asparagus than simply steamed and topped with eggy, buttery hollandaise sauce, I can’t think of it. It’s so elegant, and yet it takes almost no effort. The hollandaise comes together in seconds, blitzed in a blender! Use the basic steaming technique here whenever you want crisp-tender asparagus.

Asparagus with Dijon Vinaigrette

Here’s an easy side that’s delicious warm, cold, or room temperature. You can steam asparagus or cook it quickly in boiling water, then dunk in cold water to stop the cooking. It all happens in minutes, so put together the vinaigrette before the asparagus hits the pan.

Stir Fry Asparagus Indian style

With its distinctive, grassy flavor, asparagus works well with all kinds of spices. Here, a simple stir-fry spends a few minutes in a skillet with an Indian seasoning blend. It’s so yummy, you’ll be lucky if it makes it to the table before you eat it all. More interested in Thai cuisine? Check out this peppery Thai stir-fry.

Chilled Asparagus Salad

When you have a bunch of twig-thin spears, this easy salad is just the thing. To make it, you blanch asparagus — that means cooking them briefly in boiling water, then transferring to a bowl of ice water to prevent overcooking. If you’re using a large skillet (which is how I do it), you only need about an inch of water in the pan. Once the spears are drained and patted dry, toss them with a sweet sherry vinaigrette, and chill, so the asparagus can absorb the flavors.


Asparagus on the grill

The high heat of a grill — whether it’s gas, charcoal, or a stove-top grill pan — tenderizes asparagus and creates gorgeous, smoky char marks. Pro tip: Rather than grilling each individual spear, use small skewers to connect several together. Turning will be a breeze, and you won’t have to worry about any falling through the grates. A grill basket is another great option for easy outdoor cooking.

Easiest Grilled Asparagus

It really is the easiest: Toss trimmed spears with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and place on a medium-hot grill. Let it go for a few minutes, until those grill marks appear, then use tongs to turn the asparagus. Cook a few minutes more, transfer to a platter, and serve with lemon wedges. If you’re using a gas grill, the total time is less than 15 minutes. 

Grilled Asparagus With Balsamic Syrup

Ready to get a bit fancy? This recipe is just as simple as the “easiest” grilled asparagus, but it adds an extra pop of flavor: While the asparagus is grilling, boil down some balsamic vinegar until it reaches a syrupy consistency. When the spears come off the grill, drizzle with the tangy-sweet syrup and serve.

Grilled Asparagus, Lemon & Dukkah

Dukkah is a Middle Eastern blend of nuts, herbs, and spices, ideal for adding punchy flavor and crunchy contrast. In this case, the dukkah combines toasted sesame seeds, chopped pistachios, coriander, cumin, and fresh parsley. Sprinkled on top of freshly grilled spears, it makes asparagus even more appealing than it already is.

Grilled Asparagus with Mint Feta Pesto

I was sold on this recipe as soon as I read “Mint feta pesto.” The blend of almonds, garlic, feta, and mint gives this asparagus dish a hint of Greece, and the tangy sauce works beautifully with the charred spears.  


Asparagus in the air fryer

Everybody’s favorite healthy-cooking appliance is practically magical when it comes to cooking asparagus. It’s like roasting only faster, and with very little oil.

6-Minute Air Fryer Asparagus

Seriously. You’ll be eating delicious, perfectly crisp-tender spears in less than 10 minutes. I’ve never really thought of asparagus as a snack option before, but I sure do now. The only problem is, I might never leave the kitchen. I’ll eat the first batch while the second batch is cooking, and so on…

Air Fryer Balsamic Asparagus with Sliced Almonds

The crunch of sliced almonds adds so much here — which is not to say that the balsamic-glazed asparagus needs the help. Those spears are perfectly tasty already, but I just love the mix of textures. The nuts get a little toasty in the air fryer, too.

Everything Bagel Air Fryer Asparagus

By now, I suspect everyone in America has a jar of all-purpose everything bagel seasoning in their cabinet. Go ahead, pull it out, because the combination of sesame and poppy seeds, dried garlic and onion, and coarse salt is the perfect foil for quick-cooked asparagus. 

Air Fryer Asparagus with Parmesan

Sprinkling grated Parmesan onto cooked asparagus is a no-brainer way to add flavor. Combining that Parm with cornmeal to make a crunchy crust for air-fried spears, on the other hand, is genius. And rather than painstakingly coating each spear with the crumb mixture, you just top the whole tray before it goes into the fryer.


Bonus recipes that use asparagus

This versatile veggie makes more than just a killer side dish.

30-Minute Sheet Pan Chicken Caprese

Yummly Original

The asparagus may not be the star of the show here — that honor belongs to garlic-buttered chicken breasts topped with tomato and fresh mozzarella — but it sure does make an excellent accompaniment. And it all cooks at the same time, in a single baking sheet. Win-win.

One Skillet Chicken Thighs with Asparagus and Peas

Yummly Original

Grab your ovenproof skillet, because you’re going to want to make this. Chicken thighs meet bacon, shallots, white wine, Dijon mustard, frozen peas, and of course asparagus in a one-pan springtime dinner. The sauce is so luscious, it would be a crime not to serve this with crusty bread to sop it up.

Asparagus Stir-Fry

Don’t let the simple name fool you. There’s a lot of good stuff happening in this vegetarian main dish. Just look at the ingredients list: extra-firm tofu, fresh ginger and garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, toasted cashews, lime juice, hoisin sauce, and fresh herbs? Oh, yes.

Pasta with Grilled Asparagus Pesto

I’m a sucker for pesto in general, but this fantastic version takes things to a new level. To make it, you grill asparagus over medium-high heat, then the spears go into the food processor instead of basil to make the nutty, garlicky, savory sauce. The smoky flavor is just lovely — and using aged gouda in place of Parmesan layers in all kinds of intrigue. This is undeniably pesto, but it’s unlike any pesto you’ve ever had.


Hello, spring!

Asparagus isn’t the only variety of spring produce we’re diving into right now. Get more inspiration in these next articles.

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