Absolute Best Tests

The Absolute Best Way to Cook Broccoli, According to So Many Tests

August 27, 2020
Photo by Ella Quittner

In Absolute Best Tests, Ella Quittner destroys the sanctity of her home kitchen in the name of the truth. She's boiled dozens of eggs, mashed a concerning number of potatoes, and seared more porterhouse steaks than she cares to recall. Today, she tackles broccoli.

The year is approximately 25 B.C., and the world’s primordial broccoli is about to be presented to a human for possible consumption. “Aspetti!” hisses the emperor’s chef, his eyes wide as the tiny treelike structures make their way to the grand dining table of Domus Augusti. “Wait! Is there any way to make it look any less…limp? Or any more…green?” But it’s too late—the florets are already in motion. And the emperor, never one to mince words, takes a single bite before pronouncing it “fine but kinda boring,” thereby relegating it to side dish status, at best, for thousands of years.

I’m fairly certain that none of the above actually happened, unless you count as fact a wild quarantine dream I had on Advil PM, which also involved Billie Eilish and, at one point, a boy I barely knew in high school.

But consider the gist: Bad broccoli is a bummer. The green stuff, which does in fact have origins in ancient Rome, is said to have been engineered by the Etruscans, as an offshoot of cabbage. And some of its many modern iterations—looking at you, cafeteria steam tables, salad bars, and my late grandmother’s “casserole surprise”—are a stark reminder of that cabbagey connection, with brocc that’s soft and grassy, lacking in notable character. (No disrespect to properly prepared cabbage, which is a separate topic.)

Good broccoli is, however, a revelation. We’ve all had it. Maybe you even make it at home, and are just reading this article as a favor to my mom. Good broccoli is the stuff not of quarantine nightmares, but of year-round daydreams, with tender, savory stalks and, optionally, crispy browned tops. Sometimes it’s encased in a delightful tempura crust, or blended into a deeply flavored soup. Sometimes it’s the star of a stir-fry, or the best supporting actor in a curry. Sometimes it’s just chilling by itself on a sheet pan and you’re not sure if you’re allowed to eat it, but you suspect your significant other will say it’s for his lunch the next day, so you sneak a floret while he’s just out of sight and burn the roof of your mouth.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“If you want the broccoli warm when you serve it, simply turn the heat up to high again and now, if you want to, give it a quick saute, just to heat through. It's delicious at room temperature. ;o)”
— AntoniaJames

In any case, good broccoli is an important cause, and one I happily agreed to research for Absolute Best Tests. (Broccoli’s cousins, broccolini, broccoli rabe, and gai lan or kai lan, aka Chinese broccoli, each have their own cooking nuances, which are not discussed in this article—but please DM me if you want to discuss cruciferous vegetables at any hour.)

Read on for the results of my marathon broccoli trials.

Controls & Fine Print

I prepared nine heads of broccoli—yes, I averted my eyes in the grocery checkout line in lieu of explaining the task at hand—the exact same way:

  • Trimmed the very bottom of the stalk
  • Peeled the tough outer layer from the stalk
  • Cut the stalk into coins, roughly 3/4-inch thick
  • Broke the florets apart into roughly even pieces, about 2 to 4 inches long

For cooking methods that involved a fat, I used extra-virgin olive oil, except in the case of the stovetop sauté, for which I used vegetable oil. I seasoned only with kosher salt.


“Cook Forever”

  1. Set a large, covered pot of water over high heat.
  2. When it reaches a boil, remove the lid and add the broccoli florets and stem coins. Boil the broccoli for 5 minutes, then drain.
  3. In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil over a medium flame. (If you’re following the real recipe, this is where you’d add garlic and anchovies, and sauté a few minutes.) Add the broccoli, season with salt, and turn the heat to the lowest possible setting.
  4. Cover the pan and cook for about 2 hours, until broccoli is extremely tender, gently stirring a few times throughout. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve.

See this Genius recipe by Roy Finamore for full instructions.


  1. Set a large, covered pot of water over high heat. Prepare an ice bath.
  2. When the water reaches a boil, remove the lid and add a couple tablespoons of salt. Add the broccoli florets and stem coins, and cook until they reach desired tenderness.
  3. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the ice bath.
  4. Before serving or proceeding with another recipe, drain on towels and season with salt.


  1. Set a large pot with a few inches of water and a steamer basket over high heat, then cover.
  2. When the water comes to a boil, add the broccoli florets and stem coins to the steamer basket, then cover again. Steam for about 5 minutes, until the broccoli reaches desired tenderness.
  3. Season with salt before serving.

Stovetop (Sauté & Steam)

  1. In a large wok or sauté pan, heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.
  2. Add the broccoli florets and stem coins and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli has browned in places and perked up to a bright green, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add a few tablespoons of water and cover the pan to steam the broccoli for about 3 minutes, until it’s fork-tender.
  4. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

Slow-Roast (325°F)

  1. Heat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Toss the broccoli florets, stem coins, and a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil on a rimmed sheet pan. Season with salt.
  3. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 1 hour.

High Heat–Roast (425°F)

  1. Heat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Toss the broccoli florets, stem coins, and a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil on a rimmed sheet pan. Season with salt.
  3. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. (If the crispy bits begin to burn before the stalks are tender, you can turn down heat to 350°F or so and continue to cook.)


  1. Set a large, covered pot of water over high heat.
  2. When it reaches a boil, remove the lid and add a couple tablespoons of salt. Add the broccoli florets and stem coins, and cook until they reach desired tenderness, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Drain and season with salt to taste before serving.


  1. Heat the grill to medium. Toss broccoli florets and stem pieces with a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and pinches of salt.
  2. Grill until tender and slightly charred, flipping once or twice midway through, about 8 minutes total.


  1. Place broccoli florets and stem coins in a microwave-safe bowl and add a few tablespoons of water.
  2. Cover the bowl and microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Drain and season with salt before serving.


The Crispies

Slow-Roast (325°F)

I won’t bury the lede here: Slow-roasted broccoli is perfect in almost every way, except for its visage. (Unless you like your broccoli wizened and shrunken, like it’s been wandering through a forest without water for weeks.) But looks be damned, slow-roasted broccoli is tender, with concentrated flavor and lots of crispy bits, almost like French fries.

Roast (425°F)

Roasting at a high heat resulted in deliciously crispy broccoli. That said, it browned so quickly that I had to pull it from the oven before the stalks were fully cooked, which might suit someone looking for more bite.

Stovetop (Sauté & Steam)

The sauté-and-steam method is great for efficiency, and for optimizing both crispiness up top and tenderness down below. Aim for as little water as possible in the steaming step to avoid soaking previously crisped bits.

Charcoal Grill

Should you fire up a charcoal grill solely to cook broccoli? No—you can get similar results at a high temp in the oven, with less prep time. But if you’ve already got the grill going, and you like a bit of char and bite-back, grilled broccoli will have a fair amount to offer you.

The Softies

“Cook Forever”

Roy Finamore’s method for cooking broccoli, which involves blanching then sautéing over a super-low flame for two hours, produces the Cadillac of broccoli. It’s admittedly something of a bummer to look at, devoid of liveliness in color and structure, but it has the texture of broccoli-butter, and that’s more than enough reason to give it a go.


I so desperately wanted to like boiled broccoli, because I have a thing for underdogs. But despite being exceedingly simple to execute, the method didn’t have much to offer, unless you’re a fan of super-soft brocc. The actual flavor was weaker—as if it’d been leached away by the cooking water—than that of the other methods, besides the blanched batch.


Blanching produced broccoli that was nearly identical to the boiled batch in texture, just a few shades brighter, since blanching stops enzyme actions that can cause fading.


Microwaving broccoli is certainly efficient, about 5 minutes from start to finish. The end result is similar to boiled broccoli in both texture and flavor.


Steaming broccoli produces a more deeply flavored, almost earthy specimen than boiling, blanching, or microwaving. If you’re looking for a soft brocc with just a hair of structure, steaming will bode well.

So, What's the Best Way?

If you’ve got an hour

Slow-roast broccoli for the most concentrated flavor, without sacrificing crispy treetops. (Not a technical term but it should be.)

If you don’t have an hour

Consider grabbing a wok and sautéing broccoli at a high temp for just a few minutes, before finishing with a quick in-pan steam.

If you are a soft-broccoli lover

Break out the steamer.

For a real treat

Consider Roy Finamore’s “cook forever” technique, which really does take forever in broccoli speak (two and a half hours all in). But it’ll be two and a half hours well spent.

What should Ella test next? Let us know in the comments, or send her a message here.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Fodder
  • Chickie
  • Diane May
    Diane May
  • Anonymous
  • Kelsey Kavanagh
    Kelsey Kavanagh
Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


Fodder March 8, 2023
I’m going to disagree. A quick 30 second blanche plus ice bath, followed by a slow roast or stir fry keeps everything tasty, toothy and fresher without the sulfurous notes that put people off. And it shortens the cooking time. Blanching before adding to a salad is also highly recommended.
Chickie March 8, 2023
I found my wife and my favorite way is to oil and season the broccoli with salt, dried thyme, garlic and onion powder, then spread on a baking sheet, place in cold oven, turn oven to 500-525* and roast until oven hits set temp, at which time it should be roasted perfectly. Remove, toss with lemon juice, and place in bowl, top with some parmigiano reggiano. You get lots of crispy bits, a few blackened bits, and the broccoli turns almost creamy.
Diane M. March 8, 2023
I usually microwave broccoli for 45 seconds to ONE minute (covered dish with only the water left from rinsing) before adding it to a stir fry where the edges get crisp. It's perfectly palatable after the quick zap and before the wok. Five full minutes in the zapper? Hell no!
Anonymous March 7, 2023
My favorite broccoli is steamed, but instead of butter - a nice LEMON INFUSED OLIVE OIL and of course salt. I just drizzle it on top.
Kelsey K. March 6, 2023
Favorite method for broccoli (or cauliflower, or asparagus) - toss with a little oil, salt and pepper on a sheet pan- broil in oven for 5ish mins until the florets are a little crispy.
bsg71 March 6, 2023
i'm a professional cook and my favorite way is still how i learned from my dad, stovetop saute and steam method, saute the the Broccoli in olive oil with garlic and red chili flakes, add some vermouth cover with lid and let it cook, you can serve it still bright green or long cook till it turns army green, either way is really good the vermouth really adds a flavorful dimension to it and you can always omit the garlic or chili flakes to suit your taste.
Jacque March 6, 2023
This is intriguing - do you use red or white vermouth?
bsg71 March 6, 2023
white vermouth
Linda W. March 6, 2023
Love my roasted broccoli. But I really want to hear about that dream!!
david D. March 6, 2023
If you haven't tried broccoli deep fried, you ought to. Not breaded or battered, just deep fry some broccoli and sprinkle it with some good salt when it comes out.
nita March 6, 2023
The best way to cook broccoli is stir-fry. The tastiest part of broccoli is the stem. Peel off the tough outer layer with a veggie peeler.
Rosalind P. January 18, 2022
I'm a little late to this party, and I agree with the general approaches to get an al dente, tasty broccoli. But there's a whole other approach to this vegetable that turns out a completely different dish -- also delicious. Italian-style sautéed broccoli -- "overcooking" the broccoli until it's very, very soft and then stir-frying it in a pan with garlic and chili flavored olive oil. The result is a creamy dish that's great on pasta. It's not meant to compare to or compete with the al dente broccoli that's more common. Think of it like peanuts vs. peanut butter. Both great. Both have a place.
Kay September 21, 2021
Wash but don't dry. Chop into bite size pieces. Put in in a glass bowl with a lid. Microwave for 3 min tops with a little salt and olive oil. It is quick, still slightly crisp, and delicious. 5 min is way too long.
Barbara C. September 21, 2021
Yes! And a recent study shows microwaving retains the most nutrients
healeydriver November 7, 2022
absolutely right..... 3 min is max time in the microwave (in a covered dish with freshly washed vegetables ---rinsed but not dried). 5 minutes in the Microwave turns veggies to mush. I like to add a bit of butter, garlic, and lemon before tossing in the microwave, but that might violate her cook-test rules. Makes a nice side dish when sprinkled with parmesan cheese before serving.
J May 13, 2021
Cooking the florets along with 3/4” stem coins (in other words, huge) will not work. I notice that the author is silent as to whether both are perfectly cooked with any of the methods. Delicate florets + 3/4” stem coins cooking to perfect doneness together is simply impossible according to any of these methods. NO! Either cook separately, or choose a method that allows one to retrieve the florets and let them stem coins cook further. OR make 1/8” stem coins, which actually will cook together with the florets in any of the methods suggested!
DKS March 31, 2021
Three minutes is plenty for boiling broccoli in salted water (unless you're using too little water--it needs to return to a boil quickly); then drain and toss with olive oil and add some flaky salt, like Maldon. Basta così!
Lee C. September 27, 2020
I'm with Julia Roberts, we even share a birthday; Broccoli, steamed, no salt, no oil, no butter; I Love Trouble. ; )
MegWood September 13, 2020
I am curious if you could do this for asparagus. I am truly addicted to the stalks of greenery and would love to know the best cooking technique. Though I have already discovered that I love them crispy as opposed to soft. But it would still be a lovely read for me.
Kevin S. September 14, 2020
I use this approach with many of my veggies (broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, etc.). As indicated in a prior post on this thread, I use a steam then saute approach (medium high heat). I start with a small amount of water with a twist or two of salt. I vary the amount of water depending on how hard or soft the veggie is. I normally use 1/3 cup for broccoli & cauliflower, 1/4 cup for zucchini and 1/2 cup for carrots. Asparagus varies (1/4 cup for small, 1/3 cup for medium, and 1/2 for large stalks). Best wishes.
John M. September 12, 2020
Thanks for the nice tour of the broccoli neighborhood. We like it - we eat it several times a week - and we're open to new ideas.
Tim September 12, 2020
I’ve been steaming for 4or5 minutes till “al dente” then draining, squeezing lemon juice on then sauté in butter, treating like risotto letting in soak up then adding more till tinder. Kids love it!!!
Mary September 12, 2020

The steam sautéed method it does the same thing but without the added step of draining. By using only 1/3 cup water to 1 to 1-1/2 lbs of broccoli (or any other veggie), all you have to do is remove the lid and sauté it in your butter, lemon juice, white wine, etc
Tim September 13, 2020
I will try tonight!!
Julie O. September 11, 2020
If we haven’t already eaten it raw...I’ll try one of these!
Kevin S. September 11, 2020
I too prefer the Stovetop method but I reverse the process. I put about 1/3 a cup of water and a twist or two of salt in a saute pan, add the broccoli and steam at medium high heat until all the water has evaporated. Then I add butter and saute to al dente, add a sprinkle of Herbs de Provence for the last minute and serve.
Mary September 11, 2020
Steam/Sauté Method is my absolute go to method for broccoli and most veggies. I learned this from Pam Anderson's cookbooks and it never fails. Use a sauté pan, add veggies, a healthy pat of butter, and 1/3 cup of water. Bring to a soft boil for 4-6 minutes, remove lid and sauté until the water is fully evaporated, then season. It’s easy to cook, easy to clean, and always perfect.