By Vanessa Greaves

These delectable spears of spring, with their vivid color and delicate flavor, are good hot or cold, dressed up or down. Here's what to look for when you're buying fresh asparagus so your recipes turn out just they way you want them to.

Fresh Raw Asparagus | Photo by Meredith

How to Buy Asparagus

1. Choose Pristine Buds

The tips have the best flavor, so make sure they are firm and unwilted. Do a sniff test, too. Asparagus that's past its prime gets smelly fast.

  • Stalks should be plump and firm, and tips should be tightly closed.
  • Color can be green, purple, or white, depending on the variety. Make sure the color is not faded.
  • A good grocer will chill asparagus or store it standing upright in cold, fresh water.

2. Try for Same-Size Stalks

Asparagus comes in several sizes, ranging in diameter from thinner than a drinking straw to fatter than your thumb. If you have to, undo several bundles so you can put together a pound or so of the stalks you want.

  • Thin, tender spears can be sautéed, steamed, or rubbed lightly with olive oil and grilled.
  • Fatter asparagus spears will need to be trimmed and either steamed or boiled in order to be tender.
  • While some people prefer the smaller spears for their delicacy and tenderness, others like thick asparagus for its more robust flavor and meaty texture.

3. Buy in Season for the Best Prices

Grocery stores often bring in asparagus to coincide with big holiday meals, but that means you'll pay higher prices than you normally would. Fresh asparagus grown in Mexico shows up soon after New Year's, but if you're buying a locally grown crop, you won't see it in the market until springtime. If you're in Florida, that means February; further north, it's closer to April. Buying in season also means much cheaper prices.

4. There is No Storage, There is Only Eating

Asparagus is a one-night-only type of vegetable—it doesn't store well, and it usually doesn't make for great leftovers. For the freshest flavor, try to buy and eat asparagus the same day.

Storing Asparagus | Photo by Meredith
  • If you do plan to store it in your refrigerator for a few days after you get it home, treat it like a bouquet of flowers: trim a small amount from the bottoms of the stalks with a sharp knife and place them in a tall glass with a little water in the bottom. Cover the top loosely with a plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator. Change the water daily. This will help keep the stalks firm and crisp until you are ready to cook them.
  • You can also wrap the trimmed asparagus ends with a damp paper towel and store the stalks in a plastic bag.

Did You Know?
White asparagus is just green asparagus that hasn't seen the light of day. To keep it from turning green, it's grown in total darkness under mounds of dirt. Popular in Europe, white asparagus is tender and mild. Find out more about the underground cult of white asparagus.

Check out our complete collection of Asparagus Recipes.