I had always heard that pencil thin asparagus is the best, and that has always been what I look for. But now I've heard from a few (what I would consider reliable) sources that skinny isn't better when choosing asparagus. My local grocery tends to get really fat (stems easily an inch in diameter) asparagus that otherwise looks great (nice color, tight tips, no wrinkling). I've always avoided this asparagus even though I love roasted fresh asparagus, because I've expected it to be woody. Is that the case?

I've never peeled asparagus, I've just snapped off the ends at the "break" point. If the consensus is that this fat asparagus is worth trying, should I peel it before roasting?

  • 1
    I've never seen green asparagus that thick, do you mean white asparagus?
    – rumtscho
    Oct 2, 2013 at 11:05
  • 1
    Nope, we never get white asparagus, but during the winter months we get some seriously thick green asparagus.
    – Jolenealaska
    Oct 2, 2013 at 11:19
  • I've seen asparagus that thick only in restaurants, and it was delicious, definitely not woody. It surprised me how good it was, but I don't know where to buy it for myself. Oct 3, 2013 at 1:07
  • @CareyGregory LOL, just come to Anchorage in December-February, that time of year that's all we get!
    – Jolenealaska
    Oct 3, 2013 at 1:11

4 Answers 4


Martha's Vinyard Magazine suggests that the diamater of the stalks is not directly related to their age as one might suspect:

Some might assume thinner spears are younger and therefore more tender. The diameter, however, has more to do with the age of the plant itself and the particular asparagus variety.

They go on to cite Cook's Illustrated, saying:

[T]hin and thick spears as equally sweet, nutty, and grassy, but ... thicker spears have a slightly better, more tender texture. The reason is that the fiber is somewhat more concentrated in thinner spears.

You can peel asparagus if you choose to. Personally, I peel the base of thicker stalks. Mark Bittman recommends peeling from just under the flowers to the base of the stalk on the thicker stalks.

Thinner stalks may be easier to saute or grill, and thicker ones more suited to steaming, poaching, and so on, but this is more related to the time it takes them to cook through.

See also:

  • There's also just tons of variation in texture within sizes; you can get horribly tough thin asparagus, and very tender thick asparagus.
    – Cascabel
    Oct 3, 2013 at 16:52
  • My experience matches Cook's Illustrated - thick stalks are much less woody. I typically marinade in balsamic vinegar, S&P and olive oil for a half hour before grilling, tough skins have never been an issue. May 12, 2014 at 18:52

Well, after reading the answers and comments here, I was anxious to try the fat asparagus next time I saw it in the store. Wouldn't you know it? For the next several months all I found was the normal, skinny stuff. Then lo and behold, yesterday my store had the fat asparagus again. (BTW, a US quarter has a diameter of 24.26 mm, 0.955 in.)

fat asparagus

I treated it my favorite way, which is to toss it with garlic butter, salt and pepper, then roast it at 400F. Usually that only takes 8-9 minutes, this asparagus took 15 minutes. In the name of science, I peeled the stalks of half of it and left the other half unpeeled.

It was delicious.

cooked fat asparagus

I found the peeling to be an unnecessary step. I might peel fat asparagus again, but only if the meal was particularly elegant.

Bottom line is that this was some of best asparagus I've ever had. Assuming everything else looks good (no wrinkling, tight tips, good color) I would not hesitate again to buy fat asparagus.

BTW, it's a good idea to make a little tin foil envelope to protect the tips of asparagus for roasting. I think I learned that trick from Alton Brown.


  • First picture a bit monocultural. What is the diameter of that coin (in mm please :-) )
    – TFD
    May 12, 2014 at 2:09
  • @TFD A US quarter has a diameter of 24.26 mm (0.955 in).
    – Jolenealaska
    May 12, 2014 at 2:28
  • Wow, that is FAT asparagus! Can't get anything like that here! Thinner stuff tends to be a bit more stringy and tougher, great for BBQ, not so nise in a delicate bake
    – TFD
    May 12, 2014 at 2:31
  • @TFD Once I finally tried it, I was quite impressed with the flavor.
    – Jolenealaska
    May 12, 2014 at 2:33
  • Peeling is necessary for white but not for green asparagus. May 12, 2014 at 8:23

I think it depends on the flavors you want to get from the asparagus:

If you're looking for roasted, char-y flavors, it's pencil-thin all the way. Thick ones wouldn't be cooked through in the time it takes for the surface to be nicely charred.

If you're looking for more vegetal flavors, thick ones work well, because you can boil or steam them without having them go limp.


It totally depends what you are doing with it.

My use cases for different thicknesses:

Thin - steam, boil or fry and serve whole as-is. Medium - Chop into chunks, and stir fry Thick - Soups, purees etc.

  • I'd probably like Cream of Asparagus soup. In that application, would you peel really, really fat asparagus?
    – Jolenealaska
    Oct 2, 2013 at 11:23
  • It depends on the asparagus - if it was a bit woody or a bit old, I might.
    – NBenatar
    Oct 10, 2013 at 15:37

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