How to Buy and Prep Brussels Sprouts

Prepping Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are one of my absolute favorite vegetables, but it was only recently that I developed such an affection for them. I know there is a significant number of people who dislike them because they’ve only had them over-cooked, which is a big sprout no-no. Overcooking any vegetable can make for an unpalatable meal, but sprouts, being cabbages, can reach a special level of grossness if cooked too long.

Cabbage contains sulfur compunds that become increasingly pungent the longer it is cooked. If you’ve ever been in a kitchen with over-steamed brussels sprouts, you know what I’m talking about. Not only can you smell it, but you can taste it too; it becomes bitter and generally unappetizing. Well, to me anyway.

The good news is that as long as you understand why this is happening, it’s easy to avoid. If you give your sprouts just a little extra attention (and a little less time in the pot), you’ll be rewarded with a nutty, almost sweet, tender-crisp miniature cabbage of love. But I’m biased, if you can’t tell.

However, no matter how expertly cooked they are, you need to start with quality sprouts to have satisfying meal.

Exhibit A: Three Sprouts of Varying Quality
Three Brussels Sprouts, of varying quality

The sprout on the left is what we’re shooting for, but let’s start with the middle one. Its leaves are loose, it feels light and airy. Even squishy. Squishy is bad. If you picked it up, you’d feel the loose leaves – it’s almost spongy. The sprout on the right has a similar problem, but it’s mostly due to its elongated shape. Trimming the end of this sprout causes it to fall apart completely, which is not what we want.

What we do want is the sprout on the left, round and heavy for its size. If you pinch it there is no give, since all its leaves are densely packed. Despite one or two around the base, all the leaves are held tightly together. Like, water tight. This is exactly what you want. Spend an extra minute picking out your sprouts so all of them look and feel like this. They should also be of similar size so they cook in the same amount of time.  If you can’t find sprouts that meet these standards, it’s time to consider a different vegetable for dinner.

Trimming the sprout
Prepping Brussels Sprouts

With a sharp knife, trim off a small amount of the end of the sprout. Peel off the outer leaves (they might just fall off after trimming) until you see a slightly lighter green, clean, shiny surface emerge. Some sprouts will require you to peel off more leaves than others, but when in doubt, less is more.

Depending on what you’re doing with them, this might be as much prep as they need. In this state they can be steamed or roasted whole with great results. Some people use a sharp paring knife to cut a shallow X in the bottom of each one so they cook more evenly.

You can also halve them: (my favorite recipe)
Halved Brussels Sprouts

Or hash them: (recipe)
Hashed Brussels Sprouts, raw

So go! Hurry! The sprout season is ending! You don’t want to have to wait until next October to try these, do you?


  1. Lindsey

    So dare I ask… is there any hope of using frozen sprouts in your recipe. I had a dream that there was a bag in my fridge and the next morning they were there (or perhaps I just had a flashback to when I bought them)

    I really want to try to do something with them… but am I just wasting my time?

  2. Lolo

    Vicki – Thanks, but the idea for hashing them is from Orangette!

    Honor – I eat them wayyyy too much!

    Lindsey – I honestly have no idea! If you feel like trying it and reporting back, go for it. I imagine you’d have to defrost them gently. I’d love it if it worked, I could eat sprouts all year round! I’ll try to look for a bag and try them out. I have a feeling that fresh is better, but who knows!

    Mikaela – Thanks! I’m all about spreading the good word about sprouts. They get such a bad rap!

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  4. Jennifer

    I was just Googling to find out if you could eat Brussels sprouts raw (my boyfriend tells me you can’t), and I found this page. (I don’t particularly desire to eat them raw, but was simply curious.) I have never picked out and peeled the leaves off Brussels sprouts; I buy them frozen, when I cook them myself. I admit I’m lazy, and that’s partially why I don’t eat more vegetables at home. But I’m delighted to see the comments here, that so many others love Brussels sprouts as much as I do!

  5. Valerie

    I’m from Ohio and I love brussel sprouts! For the first time, I planted some (from small starter plants) this past spring. They grew into these amazing 4 ft tall plants with giant leaves. Under the leaves all along the thick stock, dozens of sprouts, perfectly shaped started to appear about the beginning of September. These are the most delicious sprouts I ever ate. A few minutes boiling and a little butter and salt… heaven!

  6. nathan

    actually RAW brussels sprouts are very tasty, and healthier than cooked ones (many vitamins and beneficial molecular compounds are degraded or destroyed by cooking).

    i recommend using a mandolin to slice them really thin so the texture is nice. great in salads!

  7. Emily

    mmm…Brussels sprouts.
    They are definitely best if picked after a frost though – much sweeter. In fact, the best brussels sprouts I’ve ever had were picked Christmas day during a mild winter (I live in southern Ontario…in Canada…)

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  9. Pete

    My mum used to cut that ‘X’ in the bottom and then cook them until they were mush. Couldn’t stand the little bastards until I tried cooking them myself.. no X, and just a quick steam, delish!

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  13. Joni

    I love Brussels sprouts! I often cut them in half, coat them in oil and salt and roast till outer leaves are crispy — my favorite way to eat them! Yum! I also like them steamed, with butter and garlic. I mix the cooked sprouts into beef stew just before it’s eaten, or cold tossed in green salads. I wash the outer leaves well and freeze them to use later in soup stock. Now that I know I can eat them raw, I’ll try that, too. I’m trying to do 51% RAW meals to get proper amount of enzymes. I actually just cooked some sprouts I got at the farmers market — much better than store bought! Great site!

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