Whether cooked indoors or out, grilled asparagus spears have loads more flavor than steamed asparagus could ever hope to have. High temperature cooking lightly browns the asparagus, creating a toasty flavor that's just plain awesome!
You can buy asparagus year 'round, but the best is found in the spring when the local crop is available. Because it takes less time to reach the grocery shelves, it's much fresher and flavorful.
The first step in making great grilled asparagus is buying it. Choose the freshest you can get. It should be very firm and brightly colored. As fresh asparagus ages, color fades, the skin begins to shrivel and the stalks become limp. Also, look closely at the tips, which should be very tight, showing no signs of softening. When asparagus goes bad, the tips are the first to go. If you're lucky, you have a few asparagus crowns in the ground out back and grow your own. Now that's fresh!
If asparagus is cut from the plant early enough, the stalk is tender to the bottom. But most asparagus is allowed to grow a little longer, which means larger spears, but also tough skin near the bottom of the stalk.
The tough ends can be trimmed away with a knife. You should feel little if any resistance as the blade cuts into the spear. If it seems tough to cut, position the blade higher on the stalk. Instead of cutting, you can simply snap the tough ends off. The stalk will naturally break where the tenderness begins.
If you want more grilled asparagus to serve, peel the tough skin from the stalks. It takes more time, but there's much less waste. Just use a common vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the bottom 2 or 3 inches of each asparagus stalk. Wash the trimmed asparagus in cold water, then dry before seasoning.
Asparagus can be grilled on your gas or charcoal grill, or even indoors on an electric countertop grill. Ribbed cast iron stovetop grill pans are also great for grilling asparagus.
A little oil brushed on the asparagus prevents drying and shriveling, and also helps it to brown. Over charcoal or on gas grills, the heat should be high enough so the asparagus is just-tender when the stalk and tips are lightly browned. There should be no shriveling or shrinkage, and the stems should break with a soft "snap" when broken. If overcooked, the stalks become limp and mushy inside.
One of my favorite ways to grill asparagus is also the most simple method. The trimmed asparagus is given a light coat of vegetable oil then seasoned with salt and pepper.
Over medium direct heat, grill the asparagus until it's lightly browned and just tender. Perfectly cooked, it'll have a bit of crispy feel as you bite it. Depending on the heat of the grill and the size of the spears, figure on 2 to 4 minutes per side.
Remove from the grill, then drizzle with a little melted butter and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Your grilled asparagus spears won't last long, so be sure to have plenty on hand!