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The Best Way to Boil Asparagus

Here’s the quickest and easiest way to cook asparagus on the stovetop! Takes only 10 minutes tops.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Hello spring and hello asparagus! What’s your favorite way to cook asparagus?

I love them grilled, roasted, baked in to a frittata, or made into soup. But if I’m honest with you, the method I use most often to cook asparagus is to shallow boil them on the stovetop.

What’s shallow boiling (or shallow poaching)? It’s is sort of a cross between boiling and steaming. You don’t use much water, so it hardly takes any time for the water to heat to a boil.

You don’t have to submerge the asparagus completely in the water. If the water doesn’t cover the asparagus, use a lid to cover the pan to capture the heat of the steam.

boil water for steam boiled asparagus

You can season the water with salt, garlic, herbs, or lemon zest. I usually use a large pinch of salt, a unpeeled garlic clove cut in half, and a strip of lemon zest.

You could add some thyme, oregano, or bay leaf, or just skip the seasoning and use plain water (I do recommend adding salt at least).

cover pot to boil asparagus

You can of course use more water if you want, it just takes longer for the water to heat up, and any flavoring agents you add will not be as concentrated.

That said, if you already have a pot of boiling water going, for example for pasta dish that will be using the asparagus, you can easily boil the asparagus in that.

How long do you cook asparagus?

How long you cook the asparagus depends on their size and how old they are. Skinny asparagus spears will cook up in only a minute or two.

Your average asparagus will take about 5 minutes. Large asparagus can take 6 to 7 minutes, and if they are a bit old and tough, even longer.

The trick with cooking asparagus so they stay vibrant green?

Cook the asparagus no longer than 6 minutes, then rinse them with cool water for a few seconds to stop the cooking. Vegetables will go from vibrant green to olive green at about the 7 minute mark of cooking.

The Best Way to Boil Asparagus



  • 1/2 pound asparagus (or up to a pound), thin, medium, or large
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half (optional)
  • 1 strip of lemon peel (optional)


1 Prep the asparagus: Snap or cut off any woody bottoms of the asparagus spears. If working with medium sized or large asparagus, if you want (for a fancy presentation) you can use a vegetable peeler to peel the outside of the lower inch or two of the asparagus.

2 Heat water in a large skillet: Fill a large, wide skillet with about 3/4-inch of water. Add salt. Add the cut garlic and lemon peel if using. Bring the water to a boil on high heat.

3 Boil the asparagus: Add the asparagus in an even layer. If the water doesn’t cover the asparagus, cover the pan. If using thin asparagus, cook only for 1 to 2 minutes. Medium asparagus, 5 minutes. Large asparagus 6 to 7 minutes.

4 Rinse with cool water: Rinse briefly with cold water to stop the cooking and then transfer to a serving dish.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil or butter to serve.

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family’s recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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