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How to Prepare and Cook Broccoli

broccoli floretsFresh broccoli will have a delicate flavor and texture.

The peak season for broccoli is early fall through early spring. Cool-weather sweetens the taste of broccoli so for the best flavor fresh broccoli should come to the table before the weather warms.

How to Choose Broccoli

  • Select broccoli with tightly closed, compact bud clusters and an even deep green color. The stems should be a lighter green than the buds.
  • Avoid broccoli with large, thick, whitish stalks. They will be tough, woody, and strong tasting.
  • Avoid yellowing or wilted stems or leaves.
  • When broccoli heads begin to form dots of yellow, the plant is about to flower and should be harvested right away.

How to Store Broccoli

  • Refrigerate broccoli unwashed in an airtight bag for up to 4 days.
  • Broccoli can be frozen for up to 3 months after it has been blanched.

How to Prepare Broccoli

  • Soak broccoli in salted water or vinegar for 10 minutes to dislodge any insects.
  • Remove tough leaves and wash the florets in cold water before eating or cooking.
  • If you plan to cook the stalks, trim the butt end first and then peel the stalks before cooking.
Broccoli florets
Separate the flower heads from the stalks to cook separately

How to Prepare Broccoli for Cooking

  • The flower heads cook more quickly than the stalks.
  • Separate the flower heads from the stalks to cook separately, or evenly split the stalks lengthwise in halves or quarters and slice them all the way up to but not through the flower head.
  • The heads can be cooked whole or if they are too large they can be separated into florets for even cooking.

How to Blanch Broccoli

  1. Prepare a bowl of ice water for cooling the broccoli after cooking.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil. Add a tablespoon of salt.
  3. Add the broccoli florets (if cooking separate from the stems; see above) and cook for 1 1/2 minutes until crisp-tender.
  4. Remove florets with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into the ice water.
  5. Bring water in the pot back to a boil, then cook 1 1/2 to 2 minutes until the stems are also just tender, a bit longer for less crisp stems.

How to Steam Broccoli in the Microwave

  1. Place the broccoli florets and stems in a microwave-safe dish.
  2. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of water over the top.
  3. Cover the dish and microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Remove the lid carefully and check if the broccoli is tender.
  5. Microwave in additional 1-minute bursts until tender if necessary.
Steamed broccoli florets
Steamed broccoli florets

How to Steam Broccoli on the Stovetop

  1. Add a few inches of water to a pot then insert a steamer basket. The water should not touch the bottom of the steamer basket.
  2. Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the broccoli florets and stems and cover.
  4. Steam for 4 to 5 minutes or more if necessary until tender.

How to Sauté Broccoli

  1. Place a skillet with a light coating of oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the florets and a pinch of salt.
  3. Toss the florets to coat with oil.
  4. Add the stems 1 minute later.
  5. Cook and stir frequently, until the broccoli is bright green and tender.

How to Stir-Fry Broccoli

  1. Use a wok that’s cast iron, stainless steel, or rolled carbon steel.
  2. Heat a wok over high heat for several minutes.
  3. Add oil, preferably canola, peanut, or another oil with a high smoke point.

How to Roast Broccoli

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Toss dry florets and stems with a few teaspoons of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  3. Spread the broccoli on a foil-lined baking sheet in a single layer
  4. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the broccoli is crunchy there are caramelized brown spots.

How to Bake Broccoli

  1. Add broccoli to baked dishes including casseroles, frittatas, quiches, and pasta. 
  2. For tender broccoli in baked dishes, steam florets before baking.
Broccoli soup
Broccoli soup with cream.

How to Purée Broccoli for Soup

  1. Chop florets and peel the stems.
  2. Simmer florets and stems until tender in chicken or vegetable stock.
  3. Purée in a blender with other soup ingredients. 

How to Use Broccoli Stalks Raw

  1. Shave stalks into ribbons with a Y-shaped peeler with a horizontal blade. The horizontal blade allows even pressure against the stalks when making the ribbons.
  2. Add the ribbons to green salad or coleslaw or toss with a vinaigrette and sprinkle with cheese, and you have yourself a perfect summer salad.
Steamed broccoli
Break up raw flowerets into a salad or serve them with a dipping sauce or vinaigrette.

How to Serve Broccoli

  • The key to capturing broccoli at its sweetest is to take it out of the field or garden before the weather warms too much and get onto the table right away.
  • The young emerald-green florets of broccoli can be served raw dressed with vinaigrette or accompanied by a dipping sauce.
  • Mature broccoli—both the budded flowers and stems–can be boiled or steamed and eaten cold as a salad or hot as a side dish.
  • Broccoli can be served raw as an appetizer with a dressing or cut up on a salad. Break up raw flowerets into a salad or serve them with a dipping sauce or vinaigrette.
  • Create broccoli slaw with peeled and shredded stalks.
  • Cooked broccoli is good warm or cold when still slightly firm or crunchy.
  • Cooked broccoli can be served with cheese, béchamel, Mornay, béarnaise or Hollandaise sauce, au gratin, or in casseroles, or with melted butter or puréed.
  • Add broccoli to soups, stews, omelets, soufflés, quiches, and pasta.

Broccoli Flavor Partners

  • Broccoli has a flavor affinity for anchovy, balsamic vinegar, butter, cheese, chicken, chiles, garlic, lemon pasta, and sausage.

Broccoli Nutrition

  • Broccoli is rich in vitamins A and C and is a good source of potassium and fiber.
  • One large broccoli stalk contains 32 calories.
Broccoli in garden
Broccoli is always harvested before its buds open to yellow flowers. The plant’s stems and leaves are also edible.

Get to Know Broccoli

  • Broccoli is a hardy biennial grown as an annual. The tight clusters of tiny blue-green flower buds that grow at the stalk ends can be eaten raw or cooked. The stems are usually cooked.
  • Broccoli is usually green but can be also white or purple. The plant grows 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) tall with a central stalk that grows to 36 inches (90 cm) high.
  • Broccoli is always harvested before its buds open to yellow flowers. The plant’s stems and leaves are also edible.
  • Broccoli is also sometimes called spouting broccoli, Italian broccoli, Calabrese, and brocks.
  • Calabrese or sprouting broccoli is actually a variety of broccoli with large, tightly packed blue-green flowers. The flower head of Calabrese is larger than other broccoli. Calabrese is named after the town of Calabria in Italy.
  • Broccoli Romanesco—sometimes called romanesco or broccoflower—is not all broccoli but a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. Romanesco has a distinctive yellow-green pointed spiral cone-like flower that is edible. Its flavor is somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower.

Broccoli Facts and Trivia

  • Broccoli is one of the oldest members of the cabbage family. It got its start on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and in southern Italy. The ancient Greeks and Roman were eating broccoli 2,000 years ago.
  • The word broccoli is a corruption of the Latin brachium which means “strong arm” or “branch” a reference to the plant’s stout stems and tree-like resemblance.
  • From Italy, broccoli spread to Northern Europe. Catherine de Medici introduced broccoli to French cusine when she became the queen of France in the mid-sixteenth century.
  • Thomas Jefferson brought broccoli seeds from Italy to Monticello, but broccoli did not catch on in the United States until the 1920s when the vegetable growing D’Arrigo brothers of Northern California’s Santa Clara Valley started advertising broccoli on national radio.

The botanical name for broccoli is Brassica oleracea var. italica.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Broccoli

How to Harvest and Store Broccoli


Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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