Grilling just may be the best way to cook asparagus. First, as you'll see below, grilled asparagus is crazy easy. Second, the charred, smoky flavor the grill adds highlights the grassy essence of asparagus. Third, grilled asparagus tastes just as good straight off the grill as it does at warm room temperature an hour later, making it a great addition to large parties or buffets by letting you get some of the grilling done ahead of time.
Speaking of which... this recipe is easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled. It's more a method than a recipe, so feel free to experiment with sauces and toppings once you get them off the grill.
- Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for high heat (you can hold your hand an inch above the cooking grate for just 1 to 2 seconds before pulling it away because it feels so hot).
- Trim or peel the asparagus (see How to Trim Asparagus and/or How to Peel Asparagus if you've never prepared asparagus before).
- Toss the asparagus with the oil to coat it thoroughly. Feel free to use more oil, if you want; to coat it with a minimal amount involves lots of tossing.
- Place the asparagus on the grill, cover, and cook until the asparagus color heightens and grill marks appear, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the asparagus, cover, and cook until tender, about 4 to 5 more minutes.
- Remove the asparagus from the grill. Sprinkle it with salt and lemon juice, if you like. Serve the grilled asparagus hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Early in asparagus season, the simply lemon juice-dressed asparagus is likely to satisfy, since it highlights the unique asparagus flavor that's been missing from your taste buds since the previous spring. As the season goes on, however, and the asparagus itself becomes less of a compelling draw, you may want to make a sauce to go with it. I'm a fan of aioli, a French garlicky mayonnaise, or rouille, a red pepper mayo popular in the south of France, both of which can be dolloped onto the grilled asparagus or offered on the side sort of for dipping. For those less interested in mayo, a shallot vinaigrette or a fresh basil vinaigrette are both tasty options.
* Look for fat asparagus spears to put on the grill—their meatiness works well with grilling and they're easier to manage on the grate (and less likely to fall through!). Contrary to popular belief, thin asparagus isn't more tender than fat asparagus and are not younger, at least the spears aren't. The thickness of asparagus spears is dictated by how old the plant itself is (asparagus plants will produce asparagus for up to 20 years) and the specific variety of the plant. Tenderness has to do with how the asparagus was grown and how recently it was harvested.
As with so many vegetables, fresh equals tender. In fact, if they are equally fresh, fat spears will be more tender since they have a thicker inner core so the peel-to-core ratio is lower.