Steamed Asparagus

updated Mar 7, 2022
Steamed Asparagus Recipe

Simple steamed asparagus with or without a steamer basket.


Prep3 minutes

Cook2 minutes to 5 minutes

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asparagus on a plate with lemon wedges on the side
Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

Full displays of fresh asparagus are the green light that spring has finally arrived. After months of subsisting on sturdy squash, now’s the moment to serve delicate spears. Asparagus cooks quickly, no matter the method, but for the most versatile approach, consider steaming. Steaming concentrates the veggie’s fresh flavor — all it needs is a shower of salt and pepper and wedge of lemon for serving.

Is It Better to Boil or Steam Asparagus?

  • Boiling or blanching: Asparagus is submerged in salted, boiling water until bright green and cooked. When boiled, the spears can overcook quickly, which will turn them a drab olive hue and make them taste water-logged — especially if the spears are thin. Some water-soluble vitamins can leach into the water when the vegetables are boiled instead of steamed. Blanching is slightly different because the veggie is boiled very briefly then plunged into ice water to stop the cooking.
  • Steaming: Asparagus is not in direct contact with boiling water. Instead, the spears hover over it and are cooked from the steam. (Note: If you skip the steamer basket, a small portion of the spears will touch the water.) Steaming also cooks asparagus quickly, but because the spears aren’t submerged, the flavor concentrates instead of dilutes and water-soluble vitamins aren’t lost.

Do I Need a Steamer Basket?

No! While a steamer basket will elevate the asparagus above the boiling water, you can also do without one. Add a small amount of water — just enough to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Although small part of the asparagus spears will be touching the water, the steam will do the work of cooking the vegetables.

Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

How Do You Prep Asparagus for Steaming?

The bottom 1 to 1 1/2 inches of asparagus spears can be dry, woody, and tough. Trim the base with a chef’s knife to remove it before steaming.

Steamed Asparagus Recipe

Simple steamed asparagus with or without a steamer basket.

Prep time 3 minutes

Cook time 2 minutes to 5 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


  • 1 pound

    asparagus, preferably thin or medium thickness

  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper


  1. Trim the bottom 1 to 1 1/2-inches of woody stem from the bottom of the asparagus. Cut 1/2 medium lemon into 4 wedges.

  2. Option 1: With steamer basket
    Fill a large saucepan with about 1-inch water and fit with a steamer basket. (The water level should be below the bottom of the steamer basket.) Cover and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus to the steamer basket in an even layer. Cover and steam until just tender and bright green, 2 to 3 minutes.

  3. Option 2: Without steamer basket
    Add just enough water to cover the bottom of a large skillet (about 3/4 cup for a 12-inch skillet). Add the asparagus, cover, and steam over medium-high heat until tender and bright green, 4 to 5 minutes.

  4. Use tongs to transfer the asparagus to a serving dish. Season with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Fill a large bowl with ice water. Prepare the asparagus as directed. Once the asparagus is crisp-tender, transfer directly to the ice bath to stop the cooking. Once cooled, dry with paper towels. Refrigerate in a paper-towel lined airtight container.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.