Evenly seasoning asparagus spears is never a sure bet.
Asparagus has a natural nonstick coating that makes salt just bounce right off. Tossing the vegetable with some oil helps the salt stick, but there are still two problems: You’re left with uneven distribution, and none of that seasoning reaches the interior of the spears.
Want asparagus that’s evenly seasoned inside and out? Brine it.
Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter
The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.
When you think of brining, you probably think of brining turkey and roasts. And you’re right. It’s one of our favorite—and scientifically-proven—ways to enhance meat’s flavor.
However, unlike other vegetables, asparagus has a tough and waxy exterior that prevents liquid and seasonings from getting in. So before submerging the spears in the brine, gently prick them with a fork.
This creates openings that allow salt from the brine to travel to the interior of the asparagus through diffusion. The result is deeply and uniformly seasoned spears ready for charring.
In our recipe for brined grilled asparagus we follow these steps:
- Use a fork to poke holes up and down the asparagus spears, about 20 holes per spear.
- For every pound of asparagus dissolve 1 part kosher salt to 8 parts water, or ¼ cup salt in 2 cups of water.
- Add asparagus to brine. Weigh the spears down with a plate to keep them submerged.
- Let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour. No need to emulate a long turkey brining time.
- Transfer asparagus to a paper towel–lined plate and pat dry. Discard brine and grill.
Bonus tip for the road: To check that your asparagus is properly grilled, hold it horizontally. A well-grilled spear should just begin to bend, not completely flop, under its own weight.