How to Prep Asparagus for Cooking

Get ready to cook asparagus! Here's how you trim and prep asparagus to get it ready for roasting, grilling, sautéing – however you want to eat!

asparagus on cutting board

Alison Bickel

Asparagus is easy to love, and when it’s good, you should be eating tons of it.

But in order to do that, you need to prep it first. Thankfully, it’s easy to get asparagus ready to cook!

3 Ways to Trim Asparagus Stems

Though asparagus rarely arrives at the grocery store with dirt or grit on it, it’s a good idea to rinse it off before cooking. Run it under cold water and then pat it dry, if needed.

The bottoms of asparagus stems tend to be tough and fibrous, which is why most people prefer to trim them. You can do this a few different ways.

Chopping asparagus

Alison Bickel

1. Cut Them

In foodservice operations, where they have to move through crates of produce, they usually just eyeball the spot where the tough end meets the tender stem, then use a knife to lop off the ends in one go. Fast, but you waste a lot of asparagus this way.

where to snap asparagus

Alison Bickel

2. Snap Them

A more nuanced method is to snap the bottommost part of the stems off one by one. Common wisdom says if you bend an asparagus stalk, it’ll naturally snap off right where it’s tough. But if asparagus is fresh, you can snap it almost anywhere.

shaved asparagus on a cutting board

Alison Bickel

3. Peel Them

The outer skins of asparagus are what’s tough, so the least wasteful, yet fussiest, way to handle this is to peel the lower half of each stalk with a vegetable peeler. This is almost impossible to do with thin asparagus, so only those with a pile of thick spears should bother.

Trim a half-inch off the very ends with a knife, then peel the skin from the lower half to one-third of the stalk. Discard the peelings.

Hate wasting the stem ends you trimmed? Save them for vegetable stock! (Yes, they will make your stock taste like asparagus.) Or you can, you know, just throw away the tough ends. No one needs to know but us.

chopped asparagus on a cutting board

Alison Bickel

Cut Into Pieces or Leave Whole?

You can cook asparagus spears whole. Often, this is preferable. It makes a pretty presentation, and, dinner company allowing, you can eat them with your fingers.

If a recipe calls for asparagus cut into segments, you can cut them on the bias for a smart look. I like to leave the tips a little longer if they’re especially narrow—that way, all the asparagus pieces cook at the same rate.

But who needs a knife? Not I. As a good Midwestern girl, I grew up snapping green beans all summer long, and now I snap my asparagus the same way. If the asparagus is firm and fresh, you can just snap it into segments with your hands. It’s tactile and calming and takes about as much time as using a knife.

Shaved Asparagus and Potato Pizza
Shaved Asparagus and Potato Pizza.

Alison Bickel

Shaved Raw Asparagus

The most common way to prep asparagus for eating raw is to shave it into long ribbons with a vegetable peeler and dress it for salads. It’s not my favorite, but hey, I’m not the boss of the world. But this does feel like a whole new way to eat asparagus!

roasting asparagus on a baking sheet

Alison Bickel

The Best Ways to Cook Asparagus

Asparagus plays nicely with every cooking method. Lucky you! Here’s a rundown.

  • Sautéed: This works best with asparagus cut into segments.
  • Roasted: Asparagus roasts quicker than any other vegetable. Thin spears tend to burn and shrivel down to nothing in the oven, so we prefer medium to thick spears for roasting.
  • Grilled: As with roasting, thicker spears are preferred for grilling. Thin spears will disappear through the grill grates.
  • Steamed: Long spears look especially elegant when steamed, especially with hollandaise or good mayonnaise on the side.
  • Boiled: Simply lay asparagus spears in a skillet, top it off with water, and bring it to a boil in a flash.
  • Stir-Fried: Asparagus and sesame oil taste fabulous together. Stir-frying combines seaming and sautéing, so you get tender-crisp results. Use segments two inches or shorter to keep the cooking time brief.
  • Sous Vide: This method makes overcooking asparagus impossible.

We have dozens more wonderful asparagus recipes just for you. Give them a look!