Asparagus is a vegetable that is transformed by hot-and-fast cooking. It's why we love roasted and stir-fried asparagus, and why we fall in love each spring with grilled asparagus. Grilling makes asparagus tender while imparting a delightful char and smoky flavor — but to be honest, grilling asparagus can be tricky. Most asparagus is just wide enough to slip between the grill grates and fall into the fire.
Last summer, I learned the super-simple solution for grilling asparagus that makes them easier to flip and keeps them from falling into the grill: skewers. Threaded together, you can cook five to six skewers at once and transform fresh asparagus into a fast and fancy side with just olive oil, salt, and pepper.
A Quick-Start Guide to Grilling Asparagus
Flawless grilled asparagus requires a three-point plan for success.
- Choose the best asparagus for the job (hint: bigger is better).
- Skewer the asparagus to make flipping easier and falling obsolete.
- Grill over direct heat after everything else is off the grill.
The Best Asparagus for Grilling
Thick asparagus spears are best for skewering and grilling. Not only are they easier to skewer, but they're also less likely to overcook on the grill. How thick, you ask? About the thickness of your pointer finger is a good starting point. One bundle of asparagus will feed about four people, and require four to six skewers for grilling.
Skewer the Asparagus for Easier Flipping
Creating a sort of two-tier asparagus kabab is the secret to easier handling of these fine spears on the grill. Run one skewer through the fattest part of the stem end of the asparagus first. This makes it much easier to run a second skewer through the top third of the spear to stabilize the whole thing. If using wooden skewer first, make sure they've been soaked in water for at least an hour before grilling.
What about thin asparagus?
The best alternative to skewers for grilling thinner asparagus spears is to use a metal cooling rack as a conductor between the grill grates and the asparagus. Sure, you can buy a special vegetable basket just for grilling, but chances are you have a metal cooling rack that can be used instead and costs less. Grill the asparagus over direct heat, as suggested below, but watch the asparagus closely, as it can cook in half the time as thick asparagus.
For the Best Grilled Asparagus, Timing Is Everything
Throw your asparagus on the grill after you remove your grilled chicken, pork, or steak to rest. It cooks quickly and will be done before you slice the roast. It makes excellent use of the grill's residual heat.
Be sure to preheat the grill for at least 30 minutes before grilling. Grill over high, direct heat for 6 to 8 minutes, flipping once. For nice grill marks, make sure that the grill's grates are clean and debris-free and the asparagus has a nice, even coat of olive oil before grilling.
How To Grill Asparagus
What You Need
thick asparagus, rinsed, trimmed, and dried
9x13-inch baking dish
4 to 6
wooden or metal skewers
Gas or charcoal grill
Soak the skewers: If using wooden skewers, soak in water at least 20 minutes or overnight.
Prepare the grill: Heat an outdoor grill to high (about 450°F to 550°F).
Season the asparagus: Place the asparagus in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Drizzle with the oil, season with the salt, and toss to combine.
Cut the lemon: Cut 1/2 of the lemon into very thin slices. Reserve the remaining lemon half for squeezing onto the cooked asparagus.
Skewer the asparagus: Organize the spears a little, grouping like sizes together into groups of 5 to 6 spears. Thread 1 skewer through the middle of each group of 5 to 6 spears. Run a second skewer a few inches beneath the first, tucking a few lemon slices between the spears. If using wooden skewers, trim any excessive overhang with a pair of kitchen shears if desired. Repeat until all the asparagus is skewered.
Grill over direct heat: Place the skewered asparagus on the grill and cook until grill marks appear, about 4 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until tender, bright green, and charred in spots, 2 to 4 minutes more.
Dress with lemon: Transfer the asparagus to a serving platter. Season with more salt if desired and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.