The Best Ways to Prep + Cook Beets

February 26, 2014

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Don't be scared. Here's how to tackle beets, from the prep to the plate.

Beets from Food52

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Let’s face our fears today and talk about beets. Commonly associated with aggressive sounding soups (borscht) and stained clothing, this vegetable gets a bad rap and is often overlooked at the grocery store. But after learning how to buy, prepare, and cook them without producing a crime scene in the kitchen, you may never pass up beets again.

Buying Beets

The red beet may be the most iconic, but two other types exist at the market -- golden and Chiogga -- offering different flavors and colors to explore. For something less earthy, less messy to prep, and much sweeter than the traditional red, go with the golden. For something with attitude, give the striped Chiogga a shot. They both keep their perky hues best when used raw.

Beets from Food52

Whatever type you pick, choose beets with firm bulbs and bright green leaves. (Pro tip: The smaller the size, the more tender the texture.) Once you’re home, store the bulb separately from the greens, leaving about an inch of the stem on the beet. And if you grab the wrong kind, don’t fret. Mix and match them freely in your favorite recipes.

Cooking Beets

Beets from Food52

Now for the most dreaded part of this topic, let’s talk stains. You can always opt for gloves or pressuring a friend to do the dirty work. Or you can follow these four commandments for a dye-free experience: 

To prevent ruined clothing: Leave your whites for Labor Day and wear an old apron.

To prevent unwieldy peeling: Drag the peeler or edge of a spoon towards you instead of away.

To prevent stained countertops: Grate beets over a bowl in the sink or place a large, old rag under the cutting board before slicing.

To prevent messy pans: Follow Amanda’s directions and close up each beet in foil before roasting. Place scrubbed beets on a long peice of aluminum foil; sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper; close up the beets into a foil packet; and roast until tender, approximately 45 to 60 minutes.

Roasting beets from Food52 Beets from Food52

Beets from Food52

If the unthinkable happens, treat the beet stain immediately. And if you’re out of cleaner, try using a piece of white bread or a paste made from equal parts of baking soda and water to remove the juice from clothing and carpets..  

Eating Beets

Smoked, pickled, caked, and carpaccio’ it multiple personalities or call it magical, but beets run the spectrum of savory and sweet. Watch them transform in these five dinners. Or experiment on your own with some of beets' favorite playmates: creamy cheeses, bitter greens, toasted nuts, or tangy acids. And don’t go topless; check out a recipe for those beet greens.

What are your favorite ways to cook beets? Let us know in the comments!

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

In January of 2004, I received a diagnosis that changed my life. I was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that in my case attacked my kidneys and brain. Due to the intensity of the initial “flare up” of the disease, I became renal insufficient and eventually faced kidney failure. Amazingly, through great medicine, wonderful family and friends, and an enormous amount of support, I became stronger and healthier and miraculously, my kidneys partially regenerated. I no longer depend on dialysis and by regulating my diet, I depend on fewer medications. Five years later, I work part time and live a full and utterly enjoyable life. My dietary restrictions have transformed into a real passion for food and I hope to be able to pass along my favorite finds to others facing similar dietary challenges. Be creative, be friendly, and be full!


TerryKes October 19, 2015
I just roasted a bunch of beets I bought from the farmer's market last week. I ate the entire bunch myself, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkled with salt & pepper. YUM. The next day I panicked and scheduled an appointment with my physician ... that is, until my husband reminded me of the beets. Yep, a common side effect of gorging one's self with beets is, you guessed it, very pink urine. The joke was on me!
Alex T. October 19, 2015
You need to try this, cook your beets anyway you like, and cut them into bite pieces. On the side make Tahini (about 5 table spoons) mix it with lemon juice,salt, smashed garlic and add splash of water too.Mix the beets and the Tahini sauce...It is the best.
Ellie G. October 19, 2015
I cut the beets (boiled) in small cubes, add mashed garlic, an apple cubed, walnuts salt & pepper and mix them with a sauce made by 1/3 mayo 2/3 Greek style yoghurt some vinegar and a splash of olive oil.
Alex T. October 17, 2015
I cook beets almost once a week, I zap them till it is half way cooked, and finish the baking in the oven.
Marty L. October 16, 2015
I don't peel my beets until after they're cooked. Roasted or simmered, the skins slip off easily!
[email protected] June 18, 2014
Dear sodium Girl,
My name is "The Crazy Truffle Lady" and I have been checked for Lupus only to discover that my ANA Levels were not high enough for concern. My body is very messed up and although my bones hurt, my muscles and nervous system keeps me in pain all the time. I struggle every day with this pain and have been going through recipes that I think may be healthier but when you mentioned you actually have a lifestyle of recipes for yourself I was amazed. I have never heard of specific foods to treat Lupus. I was examined by a local Physician who is suppose to be a specialist in Arthritis and he said I had to have blood taken every 6 months to watch what happens. Another doctor I had to see for an unrelated problem read my chart and said I had Lupus. So...I am fed up with the lot of them and would just like to see if food will help me change the symptoms of this (whatever disease). I tried to take some medicine for something else they said I had ( Fibromyalgia) ??? and it made me sick as a dog so I just stopped taking it. Do you have simple recipes somewhere I could go to and then print out? I love all foods and the reason for my name is because I am a Chocoholic too. I know...that's not making it any better but when I'm frustrated and bored from being in bed ( after awhile there is only so much reading and "some" TV that I can handle) I need to make some serious changes. I found you from checking out this recipe for beets. Thank you very much for any help you can give me...I love all foods.
[email protected] June 18, 2014
Dear Sodium Girl,
OOPs...I meant to say that after being in bed, being bored, "I will eat chocolate" and know I need to make serious changes. I also need to loose more weight so any light recipes will be even better. Go anything for pain??? I have been using Dr. Richard Schultz's products ( Herbalist in CA.) which are seriously excellent but the expense is more than I can bear right now. I would like to use as much food as possible to correct this problem. Thanks again!
delicia.sampson.7 March 5, 2014
I have learned not to peel the beets prior to cooking. Roast or simmer in the washed skins, then when cool enough to handle, rub skin off with paper towels. There is less waste, less mess and gives the beets a beautiful polished look. Especially nice if using in a salad.
[email protected] June 18, 2014
Thank you! That sounds excellent. I do that with a lot of other veg's but I never thought of that for the beet. Much less waste and not nearly as messy.
Susan G. March 3, 2014
Microwaving a lot of vegetable these days, from sweet potatoes in their skins to broccoli. Anyone do beets this way, in a bit of water or do skins not come loose so easily? Peel and cut up first? Can't handle the labor of the foil wrap method.
AliceH March 3, 2014
As far as stained fingers go, I never worry about them; they eventually come off by the end of the day. But then I have never gotten a professional manicure nor do I worry about soil-stained fingers/nails from gardening without gloves, either. What do I do with beet water? I pout it down the toilet, put the seat down, and wait for an unsuspecting family member to exclaim in shock. Fun.
Patricia H. March 9, 2014
Beet water: Soup stock, smoothies, freeze in ice cube trays for use in stocks and gravies, marinades......
Bianca4s March 3, 2014
I used to put my beets into little foil packets a la Jamie Oliver along with balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, black pepper, olive oil, fresh marjoram or thyme and salt - delicious, but now I just toss them in a bowl with olive oil, s&p, the garlic some fresh herbs and the occasional dash of vinegar - and roast at 425 for about 45 min. they are rustic and wonderful! If I want a more fancy presentation, I set them in a glass baking dish put some kosher salt atop each beet fill about half-way up the beets, cover in foil and gently roast at 400 for 45-50 minutes. These are best used in a more elegant salad with avocado, frisee and shallot -YUM!
DragonFly March 2, 2014
I make a beet salad with potatoes, chopped green onion, chopped pickles, a little fresh dill and olive oil, also bake beets then sprinkle a little feta on top or I will cook beets, slice, then bake them briefly in the oven with a little organic maple syrup. I love beets! Thanks everyone for sharing!
Ecuacan March 2, 2014
I scrub them and cook them in the pressure cooker with the skins on. All the moisture stays inside as they are cooked quickly in 1/2 cup of water. (Pressure cooker makes the best potatoes for mashing, too!). I remove the skins a soon as they are cool enough and then cut into bite size pieces and dress with olive oil, salt, chopped dill or parsley and lemon juice. I usually make a big batch so I can dress some with a vinaigrette to eat cold with crumbled goat cheese or feta and any roasted nuts or seeds. Yum!
Marla March 2, 2014
I wash beets, slice them and then steam for 10 - 15 minutes with the greens on top. Put a spoon full of coconut oil, maybe a little salt and yummm
Emily March 2, 2014
The simplest and neatest method is to first scrub the beets well under cold running water, then boil them for about an hour, and them them cool in cold water. The skins rub off without peeling. Beets are delicious added to tossed salad with crumbled goat or feta cheese.
Dee D. March 2, 2014
Yes, it's quite true. Do NOT peel beets, wash them down, boil and the skin will easily yield. BUT here's a little multitasking, towards the end of the beet cooking, add maybe 6 raw eggs in their shell. You want to end up with hardboiled...BUT do not discard the red water -- remove the beets and continue with whatever recipe. The eggs will remain in the red beet water and refrigerate them for 1-2 days, and when you then peel the egg the whites will be amazingly red. This looks gorgeous on a plate when sliced with cold meats, say roast beef and a horseradish sauce, and anise, etc.
Britastina March 6, 2014
I'll bet those make stunning deviled eggs! Going to try them this afternoon.
Acourtne1 March 2, 2014
I don gloves and peel he beets, cut them in bite-sized pieces, salt and white pepper, dot of butter and enclose in a foil packet.
Cook at 400 for about 30 minutes. At the same time, I do the same thing to turnips, sometimes Yukon potatoes, carrots and rhutabagas. I love vegetables and really enjoy them this way. Sometimes, I slice and heat a bit of rotiserrie chicken.
Kathleen March 2, 2014
Personally, I scrub the beets well and love the skins on the beets I eat. While many fear what might enter the beets, I prefer to just consume my veggies without worry. Too, the beet skins add a wonderful texture. Yes, organic!
Jim March 2, 2014
Why bother peeling beets? The skin is tender and unnoticeable when they are cooked. I have no idea why people peel potatoes, carrots and beets, it's just an unnecessary amount of work for nothing.
May March 2, 2014
Because - and someone can correct me if I'm wrong - apparently it's the skins of those vegetables that hold the most chemicals - good and bad - from the soil. OK if they're organic, presumably!
May March 2, 2014
Otherwise I agree, potato skins and the rest are often the tastiest part of the veg.
A L. March 2, 2014
My grandmother and mother used beets like an everyday veggie and now so do I. I wash them and boil unpeeled until tender. Immediately immerse them in cold water for a couple of minutes and using your hands roll off the outer skin. No need to peel beforehand and this prevents the mess of peeling. I've never had a beet stain using this method which is an old one going back at least three generations and now used by my daughters.
catalinalacruz March 2, 2014
I second this -- no need to peel. The skins practically slip off after the beets are cooked, then cooled enough to handle. For baby beets, peeling is not necessary, but for mature beets, slip the peel off.
dunham March 1, 2014
Regarding stains: I've found that when my hands are stained red by beets, liquid hand soap won't clean all of the red off, but old-school bar soap will clean it off easily.
cucina D. February 28, 2014
I agree" my pans look just like this too and this is exactly how I cook my beets to use in multiple recipes... thanks for the great article :)