Brussels sprouts are probably one of the top vegetables that often get a bad rep, and are often disliked by many children and adults. But this nutrient-dense food is often misunderstood — and improperly cooked — which is why their delicious flavor isn’t always maximized.
A member of the Brassica family, along with broccoli, kale and cauliflower, Brussels sprouts look like small, cabbage-like buds that grow on a large stalk.1 This plant was cultivated in Italy during the Roman emperors’ reigns, and was named after the city of Brussels, Belgium. The cultivation and consumption of this vegetable has been referenced since the 1200s.
The thing about Brussels sprouts is that they can be tricky to cook. Leave them on the stove for too long, and they will turn mushy, overly smelly and will lose their bright green color — a sign that they’re overcooked, making them unappetizing. However, if properly cooked, these vegetables will have a bright green color, a pleasant, nutty-sweet flavor and a mildly crisp texture.
How to Cook Brussels Sprouts: Prep Them Properly First
Whether you’re making pan roasted, baked, sautéed, grilled, fried or steamed Brussels sprouts, there are three important preparation steps you need to follow: washing, trimming and cutting. Here are some basic steps to get you started.2,3
- Wash the Brussels sprouts using lukewarm water, either by running them under the tap or submerging them in water in a bowl for 10 minutes. Remember to use lukewarm water specifically, as it is better in removing dirt and chemicals than cold water.
While the first one is faster, the second method actually cleans them better, dislodging dirt and chemicals both on the exterior and in the inner folds of the leaves. You can also add baking soda to help clean Brussels sprouts more thoroughly. This is crucial if you’re working with conventionally produced vegetables, as baking soda has been found to help remove pesticides better than just water.
According to one study, baking soda can remove as much as 96 percent of toxic pesticides that contaminate most produce, such as the fungicide thiabendazole and the insecticide phosmet. The researchers used a concentration of about a teaspoon of baking soda for every 2 cups of water, which they deemed an effective ratio, and used it to gently scrub the produce for 12 to 15 minutes.4
The only disadvantage with soaking them is that the Brussels sprouts can become waterlogged. If you're going to sauté, grill or roast them, you have to allow them to dry first.
- Using a ceramic knife, trim a little bit of the tough stem off, which will make the vegetable more tender. Remember not to remove too much, no more than an eighth of an inch, or the leaves will fall apart while cooking. Afterward, remove any brown or yellow leaves, as they’re already wilted.
- Cut an X shape into the top of the sprouts if cooking them whole. This is because the outer leaves cook faster, and by the time the center is cooked, they will already be mushy and overcooked. By carving an X into the sprouts, they will cook more thoroughly.
- If cutting into smaller pieces, make sure that they’re all the same size so they will cook evenly. The website Enjoy How to Cook recommends Brussels sprouts with diameters bigger than 1 1/2 inches to be cut in half. If you have a variety of sizes, bigger ones should be cut in quarters and medium sprouts in half.5
Once you’re done prepping, you can now try any of these methods to cook the sprouts. The sweet, delicate flavor of Brussels sprouts pairs well with bacon, beef and other meats, making them a delicious side dish. Each cooking method has its own advantage and disadvantages, so select the one that best suits your preference.
How to Cook Brussels Sprouts in a Pan
Cooking Brussels sprouts in the pan not only retains their beneficial compounds better than steaming or boiling, but they also don’t get too overcooked and they won’t have a strong smell. Plus, it also lets them caramelize, bringing out their delicately sweet and nutty flavor.6 Here’s how to cook Brussels sprouts in the pan:7
Pan-Sautéed Brussels Sprouts
Cook time: 15 minutes Serving Size: 2-3 servings
- 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
- 1 1/2 tablespoons raw butter
- 1 tablespoon Dr. Mercola’s coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Melt a tablespoon of butter in a pan with the coconut oil, over moderate heat. Add garlic and cook until about one minute. Transfer to a small bowl.
- Reduce heat to low and arrange the sprouts in the pan, cut sides down, in one layer. Sprinkle with pine nuts and salt to taste. Let cook, without turning, for about 15 minutes or until the undersides are golden brown and crisp tender.
- Transfer sprouts to a plate, browned sides up. Add more garlic and remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter to the pan and let cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the nuts are more evenly pale golden, about one minute.
- Spoon this mixture over sprouts and sprinkle with pepper.
How to Boil Brussels Sprouts
Take note that boiling Brussels sprouts can cause some of their flavor to leech out. However, if you’re after a mild-tasting dish, then this would be perfect for you.8 Here’s how to do it.9
Easy Way to Boil Brussels Sprouts
Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes
- 1 quart Brussels sprouts, washed and prepped
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons raw butter
- Pepper, to taste
- Place the sprouts, salt and water in a saucepan, until completely submerged. Add more water if needed.
- Cover the pan and boil sprouts gently, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crisp tender.
- Drain and season with butter pepper. Serve while hot.
How to Steam Brussels Sprouts
Steaming is a good way to cook Brussels sprouts, especially if you don’t want to use oil or butter. It makes them tender but not overcooked, and they do not end up waterlogged or soggy. You can use a steam basket or just place the vegetables in the pan.10
Direct Steaming Method:
- Fill the pan with a half-inch of salt water and let boil.
- Add the sprouts, cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Let cook for five minutes or until sprouts have become tender to the bite or the water has evaporated.
Using a Steamer Basket:
- Place an inch of water in a pan and let boil.
- Place the sprouts in a steamer basket and place over the boiling water. Let steam for five minutes or until tender to the bite.
How to Cook Brussels Sprouts in the Oven
Roasting is a wonderful way to enjoy Brussels sprouts, mainly because it gives them a deeper flavor. The natural sugars in the vegetables are caramelized, highlighting their inherent sweetness. Here’s what you should do:11
Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Cook time: 35 to 40 minutes
- Brussels sprouts, prepped and halved or quartered
- Coconut oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Herbs and spices (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Toss the sprouts with salt, pepper and coconut oil, and any herbs or spices you might like. Make sure the vegetables are thoroughly but thinly coated so they will not dry out.
- Place the sprouts in a roasting pan, in a single layer and into the oven. Let cook for 35 to 40 minutes until they are nicely browned. Halfway through cooking, stir them. You can also add in pine nuts, cheese or almonds.
- Serve and enjoy.
A great ingredient that will add a depth of flavor to oven-roasted Brussels sprouts is balsamic vinegar. You can check out my Balsamic Drizzled Brussels Sprouts recipe, a variation of the recipe above.
How to Cook Brussels Sprouts on the Grill
If you love hosting barbecues, then grilled Brussels sprouts will be a wonderful dish you can make. Grilling adds a smoky flavor to the sprouts, complementing its natural sweetness. Try this recipe:12
Grilled Brussels Sprouts
Cook time: About 10 minutes
- 16 ounces of Brussels sprouts, halved
- 2 tablespoons raw butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
- A pinch of salt
- 1 lime, halved
- Brush butter over the sprouts and season with pepper, garlic powder and salt.
- Place the sprouts on the preheated grill and let cook until tender, and have grill marks. This would take about 10 minutes.
- Before removing from the grill, squeeze lime juice over the sprouts. Serve while hot.
Here’s a Healthy Meat Recipe That Features Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are versatile — as noted above, they can perfectly be served on their own, as a side dish or a healthy snack. However, you can also use them as an ingredient for another dish. Here’s an example: Braised Pork Shanks recipe by Australian chef Pete Evans.
Mouthwatering Braised Pork Shanks Recipe
Cook time: 2 hours Serving Size: 6-8 servings
- 2 organic pork shanks (about 2 pounds each)
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons good-quality animal fat, plus extra if needed
- 6 French shallots, halved
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons Dr. Mercola’s apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
- 1 rosemary sprig, leaves picked and roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 14 ounces canned organic whole peeled tomatoes
- 6 cups organic chicken bone broth
- 2 bay leaves
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Season the pork shanks with salt and pepper. Melt the fat in a large flameproof casserole dish over medium-high heat. Add the pork shanks and cook, turning occasionally, for six minutes until golden brown. Remove the shanks from the dish and set aside.
- Add more fat to the dish, if needed, then add the shallots, garlic and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a further minute until the vegetables are lightly caramelized. Add the vinegar, stir to deglaze and cook until the vinegar has evaporated, two to three minutes.
- Pour in 1 cup of chicken broth, bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half, about five minutes. Return the pork shanks to the dish, then add the Brussels sprouts, chili flakes (if using), rosemary, fennel seeds, paprika, tomatoes, remaining broth and bay leaves. Stir and bring to a boil.
- Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for two hours.
- Flip the pork shanks in the liquid, add more broth or water if needed, and cook for another two hours until the pork is tender and falling off the bone.
- Remove the shanks and vegetables from the braising liquid with tongs.
Brussels Sprouts Nutrition and Health Benefits
Despite being overshadowed by other Brassica family members, Brussels sprouts are one of the most nutritious vegetables out there. It’s a good source of manganese, potassium, fiber, choline and even B vitamins.
In addition, they boast of an impressive array of antioxidants and phytochemicals, which may help fight diseases like cancer. Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that your body uses to make isothiocyanates, which activate cancer-fighting enzyme systems in your body.13 These vegetables have been actually linked to the prevention of various cancers like colon,14 ovarian cancer15 and more.
Brussels sprouts also help prevent inflammation. Aside from vitamin C, they contain important antioxidants like isorhamnetin, kaempferol, ferulic and caffeic acids, and the relatively rare sulfur-containing compound called D3T (3H-1,2-dithiole-3-thione). These antioxidants help ward off chronic oxidative stress and curb inflammation in the body.
Don’t Say ‘No’ to Brussels Sprouts — Learn to Cook Them Properly Instead
Brussels sprouts get a lot of hate from adults and children alike, but that’s likely because they’re not properly prepared. Follow the tips above when cooking these vegetables, so you can truly enjoy their crunchy texture and sweet, nutty flavor — who knows, this nutrient-dense green veggie may just turn out to be your new favorite food!
+ Sources and References