Learn everything you need to know about how to smoke asparagus and take this typically mundane side dish to the next level!
Why Smoked Asparagus?
Smoked vs Grilled Asparagus
Let’s face it, everybody and their brother has been served a side of “grilled asparagus” at a neighbor or friend’s backyard BBQ.
And while grilled asparagus can be delicious, most often it is served under seasoned, overcooked, limp, and burnt tasting.
Versatility and Convenience
The great thing about smoking asparagus, besides the enhanced flavors that come from the woodsmoke, is you have a lot more leeway in cooking times before the asparagus gets overcooked because you are cooking it at a lower temperature.
So it tastes better AND you are less likely to screw it up.
The trick is putting it ON the smoker at the right time and temperature, and also taking it OFF at the right time BEFORE it is overcooked, which we will get into more detail below.
What to Look for When Buying Asparagus to Smoke
According to foodtown.com, you should look for asparagus stalks that are firm to the touch, stand up straight, and have a smooth texture.
Stay away from asparagus that already looks limp or wilted.
Finally, the tips of the asparagus stalks should be closed and firm, not spreading or soft.
How to Smoke Asparagus on a Pellet Grill
Before we dive in, here’s a great overview from Ace Hardware demonstrating how to smoke a batch of asparagus on a Traeger brand pellet grill.
Although he is using a speciality type of pellet grill, you can follow the same principles on ANY grill or smoker, as we will detail below.
If you want to use a vegetable basket like the one he uses in the video to keep your asparagus from dive bombing between the grates, check out this one that we like from Amazon.
Best Wood for Smoking Asparagus
Most likely your main wood choice will be based on whatever protein you are smoking alongside for the asparagus to accompany that day.
However, smoked asparagus is great to make while your giant hunk of meat is resting, or even if you are making something entirely different for it to accompany on another grill or inside the house.
So don’t limit yourself to just whatever wood you are using to smoke the main course.
Mesquite and Hickory
Mesquite and Hickory are two great wood choices that pair wonderfully with asparagus you should consider.
While the strong flavors from these two woods, particularly mesquite, can overpower many proteins during a long smoke, they work great when doing shorter smokes on vegetables and seafood.
You can impart A LOT of distinctive smoke flavor in a relatively short period of time.
Plus the strong favor of asparagus holds up well to the smokiness of both types of woods.
How to Prepare Asparagus for Smoking
Trimming the Ends
The woody, fibrous ends of the asparagus need to be snapped off before smoking them.
You can do this with a knife and cutting board, but there is a much easier and effective way.
Pro Tip: Hold the fatter end of the asparagus about 1/4-1/3 away from the end with two hands and your thumbs pointed together, pressed against the stalk and pointing away from you.
Then push your thumbs away from you like you were breaking a small stick or twig.
The asparagus will snap in exactly the right place every time, leaving you free from having to guess where to trim the asparagus or leaving too much woody root attached to the end of the stalk for your guests to have to chew through.
Lastly, and this is optional but works well on very thick stalks, you can use a peeler to peel the exterior off the asparagus for a more refined presentation.
Top Seasonings and Sauces for Smoked Asparagus
You would never serve a beautiful rack of lamb or a prime ribeye steak to a guest without any seasoning, so why do so many people neglect to season their veggies?!
Asparagus NEEDS salt and pepper, at a minimum, no matter how you prepare it.
The next most important is a squeeze of lemon juice, squeezed on after its cooked (a good rule of thumb is that citrus should usually be added to meats and veggies AFTER they cook)
Add some butter and garlic, or go all out with a bernaise or hollandaise sauce, and now you are truly in business.
Best Times and Temperatures for Smoking Asparagus
The great thing about smoking asparagus is you that can really do it at any reasonable cooking temperature between 225-400°F.
So not matter what the asparagus is accompanying on the smoker, whether it’s a slow cooking pair of lamb shanks at 225°F, or a roasted chicken or turkey crisping up at 350°F, you can throw the asparagus right on there with it.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Asparagus?
Asparagus cooking times with indirect heat
Now, obviously the cooking chamber temperature you set for your protein is going to affect how long the asparagus takes to cook.
On the low end at 225°F, the asparagus will take about a full hour to cook,
On the high end if smoking at 350°F, the asparagus should be done cooking after only 10-15 minutes.
What temperature is best for smoking asparagus?
Your asparagus will eventually fully cook no matter which option you choose. So that leads us to the obvious question of: Which temperature is better?
All else being equal, the lower temperature will give your asparagus more time to absorb smokey flavor, and you will have a much lower risk of over cooking it due to the time it will take to cook.
At the higher temperature though, you may get a better crispy exterior on the outside of the asparagus, the asparagus will obviously be done sooner, but you do have the risk if overcooking it if you take your eye off of it for too long.
In our recipe below, we split the difference and smoked our asparagus right at 275°F for 35-45 minutes.
Pro Tip: Smoke the asparagus while the meat is resting
One clever option, if you are smoking a larger roast like a lamb shoulder or a fresh ham at a low and slow temperature like 225°F, is to put the asparagus on AFTER you remove the meat from the smoker.
Large cuts of meat like this generally need about 20 minutes or longer to rest before serving.
This leaves you with the perfect time to crank the heat up on the smoker above 300° F, add some new wood like mesquite that you may not want to use on your meat, and then throw on the asparagus.
You can now give the asparagus your full attention while the meat does its thing resting on the counter inside.
How Can You Tell When Smoked Asparagus is Finished Cooking?
Perfectly cooked asparagus should be tender but still crisp and definitely not limp.
Some culinary websites say the asparagus should still be bright green once cooked, however, on a grill or smoker where the asparagus is exposed to woodsmoke and combustible gases like from charcoal, you are likely to lose that bright green color pretty quickly.
This is ok.
Honestly, the most accurate way to check your asparagus is to taste test it. Keep one spear set aside as your tester.
When you think they are getting close to finishing, take a bite. If it’s not done, throw it back on and continue to test this same piece until it tastes just right,
Quickly remove the asparagus from the cooking chamber when they are done.
Pro Tip: Keep them spread out on a pan, not stacked on top of each other.
If you stack them on top of each other the ones on the bottom are likely to overcook and start to get limp and soggy.
Using a Vegetable Basket or Pan when Smoking Asparagus
Vegetable Grilling Baskets
Whenever you are smoking smaller foods like vegetables or shrimp, its best to use a vegetable grilling basket to keep the smaller foods contained and easier to move around and manage.
Another great feature of the vegetable basket is that the holes allow more heat and airflow to penetrate than a pan would allow if you are direct grilling.
We particularly like this one from Weber due to its strong construction and inexpensive price, however there are MANY options available in all sorts of shapes and and sizes, as well as materials like stainless steel or cast iron.
Pans and Skillets
If you don’t have a vegetable basket, or want to make a sauce while you are smoking your asparagus like the garlic and butter sauce we use in the recipe below, then a pan is the way to go.
You can use either a disposable aluminum foil pan, or an oven safe skillet, like this cast iron one from Lodge we love to use that is also rated #1 on Amazon (we think with good reason).
Setting up your Smoker for Asparagus
New to smoking?
Like we said, you are most likely setting up your smoker to cook main dish for the asparagus to accompany, and if so, make sure to follow THOSE instructions for setting up your smoker.
If, however, you are just in the mood for smoking some asparagus by itself, here are the best instructions for setting up different types of grills and smokers to do just that.
Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about a half a chimney’s worth of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.
If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, don’t bother with filling it just for some asparagus.
Light a charcoal chimney about 1/3 way with charcoal and wait about 20 minutes for it to fully ignite.
Once lit, add the briquets to the center depression you created.
Keep the dampers about 1/2 way to 3/4 open until the temperature is to about 275-300 deg F. Then slowly close them down until you are maintaining a temperature of 325-350 deg F.
Add 1 chunk of smoking wood once the smoker is up to temperature and put your asparagus on, preferably in a pan or vegetable grilling basket.
Plug your electric smoker in and turn the temperature to 325 deg F.
While it comes up to temperature, add smoking wood chips, not pellets, to the smoking wood tray.
Place your asparagus on the rack and close the door.
Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets, preferably mesquite or hickory if you are ONLY cooking asparagus and no other foods.
Plug in the pellet grill and turn the temperature to 325 deg F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your asparagus on the grill, preferably in a vegetable grilling basket or pan.
Never used a pellet grill before? Read our Ultimate Guide to Pellet Grills to learn why they are so easy and how to set one up for success every time.
Gas or Charcoal Grill
On a gas or charcoal grill you will likely need to use a smoker box filled with wood chips, or a pellet tube smoker filled with wood pellets.
Think you need a fancy smoker to smoke food at home?
Great smoked food can be made right on your current gas or charcoal grill.
If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!
In the case of asparagus, we would opt for the smoker box with wood chips since the asparagus will not take long to cook. Save your pellets for longer smoking foods.
Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your asparagus to be on the other side.
Remember, we are cooking the asparagus INDIRECTLY, like an oven, not DIRECTLY over the burners or coals.
Once the temperature of your grill is around 300 deg F., place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your meat on the opposite side.
Continue bringing the temperature up between 325-350 deg F.
Best Ways to Serve Smoked Asparagus
While asparagus usually plays a supporting role on the plate, there is no reason it can’t shine as a co-star to whatever else you are serving alongside it.
Your smoked asparagus will undoubtedly stand out on its own even with just some salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon to finish, however there are some additional options if you want to go a little bigger.
You can follow the recipe below to see how we smoked our asparagus in a pan with butter, garlic, and shallots, or try you own sauce recipe in the same fashion right on the smoker.
Alternatively, asparagus can be smoked and then drizzled with a balsamic reduction, and white wine cream sauce, or even a fancy bernaise or hollandaise.
Just try to make sure any sauce you add pairs well with whatever protein, starches, or other sauces you are serving as things will undoubtedly mix on the plate.
What Other Food Can I Smoke?
Looking for some more smoky inspiration?
So glad you asked.
Check out some of our other great recipes of smoked and grilled food to try out at your next outdoor BBQ!
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder with a Turkish Spice Rub
- Perfect Smoked Lamb Shanks
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Grilled Bratwurst
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Perfect Grilled Hamburgers
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Pellet Grill Turkey
Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours! You’ve got to check it out!
Smoked Asparagus with Shallots and Garlic Butter
- Gas Grill with Smoker Box or Pellet Tube Smoker -OR-
- Charcoal Grill -OR-
- Smoker (charcoal, propane, electric, or pellet)
- 12 inch Cast Iron Skillet (preferably) or aluminum foil pan
- Smoking wood chips, chunks, or pellets, preferably mesquite or hickory
- 1 lb asparagus trimmed
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves fresh garlic minced
- 4 Tbsp butter cut into tiny cubes
- 1 shallot peeled and sliced thin
- kosher salt to taste
- fresh ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ lemon juice fresh squeezed
Set up Smoker
- Preheat smoker or setup grill for indirect grilling at 275°F.
Prepare and Season Asparagus
- Wash and trim the woody roots off the bottoms of the asparagus stalks
- Drizzle and toss with olive oil and then spread the asparagus evenly in the pan
- Spread the tiny cubes of butter, garlic, and shallots on top of the asparagus.
- Season with Salt and Pepper
Smoke the Asparagus
- Add smoking wood to the grill or smoker once it is at 275°F.
- Place the pan in the smoker, OR on the opposite side of the heat if using a grill so it is cooking indirectly. Close the lid.
- Toss the asparagus occasionally with tongs as the butter melts to coat the asparagus and incorporate.
- Smoke the asparagus for roughly 35-45 minutes or until tender but still firm
Remove and Finish
- When the asparagus is done, remove the asparagus from the hot pan so it does not continue to cook.
- Transfer the remaining butter and garlic sauce to a separate container or remove the pan from the heat.
- Plate the asparagus with some shallots from the pan on top and drizzle with some extra butter/garlic sauce.
- Squeeze fresh lemon juice over to finish.