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Home & garden.

Updated: 25 Nov 2021

How to cook sprouts

Ensure your sprouts aren't a Christmas dish that your guests avoid with our top cooking tips.
Liz Ransome-Croker
Brussels sprouts in roasting dish

Sprouts have been a traditional staple of Christmas dinners for many years. But that doesn't mean everyone loves them. 

We show you how to make your Brussels sprouts so tasty that even sprout haters will be asking for seconds.

Believed to have been cultivated in Brussels, possibly as early as the 13th century – hence the name – sprouts are a member of the cabbage family. 

Sprouts have become synonymous with Christmas dinner, probably in part because they're in season from October to March. 

They're also a hardy vegetable, able to withstand harsh winters and frost. According the celebrity chef Delia Smith, the frost even 'sharpens the flavour'.

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Brussels sprouts: top cooking tips

When buying, look for firm, tightly wrapped and bright green sprouts with unwithered leaves. Smaller sprouts are said to be sweeter and more flavoursome.

Once picked, the ends of sprouts can go slightly yellow, but shouldn't be black, so avoid those. If possible, buy sprouts still on the stalk to ensure that they are fresher.

Smaller sprouts are said to be sweeter and more flavoursome.

If you have bought them on the stalk, simply twist them off. Remove any damaged or discoloured leaves, trim the base – especially where it has gone black/yellow – and wash.

A lot of people put a cross in the base, believing that will ensure they cook more evenly. But equal numbers say it makes no difference at all and just adds to the time you'll spend cooking rather than celebrating over Christmas.

Larger sprouts should be cut in half though so that all the sprouts are around the same size, ensuring they cook evenly.

Preparing brussel sprouts

Or you could try chopping your sprouts even finer. Shredded sprouts are nothing like the soggy sprouts detractors moan about as you sauté them rather than boiling. And what's more, they take minutes to cook. 

Use the shredder attachment on your food processor and then add the sprouts to a frying pan where you've been cooking off bacon chunks and chopped chestnuts.  

Find the best food processor – one that helps you avoid ones that prep veg unevenly, are a pain to use and faff to clean. 

Roasting and frying sprouts

Whether you're roasting or frying your sprouts, you'll need to add oil or butter to the pan, depending on the recipe. Frying can take as little as two to 15 minutes, and roasting around 25 to 30 minutes.

When frying, some recipes (such as Delia's recipes below) recommend boiling or steaming the sprouts first so they're partially cooked. This can be for as little as 30 seconds, or five minutes, and will reduce the time needed in the frying pan.

Roasting or frying sprouts means you can add interesting flavours to them.

Use a skewer to check them as undercooking sprouts can be as bad as overcooking them. They should be tender but still a little crunchy.

Boiling or steaming sprouts

Boiling is the traditional way to cook sprouts. Boiling doesn't take long – around five to 10 minutes. It's the same for steaming. Either way, add a pinch of salt (and pepper if you like) to the pan or steamer and check them part way through to ensure you don't overcook them and make them mushy. 

To make your dish a little different, add butter or even flavoured butter (try combining a pat of butter with some grated parmesan) to the top.

Whether you decide to boil, fry, steam or roast your sprouts, you'll want to make sure you have a reliable hob and oven. Did you know that we have found hobs and ovens that heat unevenly, or that don't actually stick to the temperature set?

Make sure you avoid appliances likes these and a burnt or undercooked Christmas dinner by finding the best built-in oven and best hob.

Brussel sprout on a fork

What do you put on Brussels sprouts?

How you cook your sprouts determines what you add to them. You can either boil, steam, fry (as above) or roast Brussels sprouts. Frying and roasting them means they are left a little crisper than boiling. 

It also means you can add other food and flavours to them, such as bacon or chestnuts we've mentioned above, or other tasty combinations such as parmesan and chilli. Scroll down to see Brussels sprouts recipes from Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson for more on how to do this.

Brussels sprouts recipes from top chefs

How long will sprouts last and can they be frozen?

Uncooked and in the fridge in an airtight container, sprouts will be at their optimum for around four days to a week, but might last up to two or three. 

Once cooked, they should still be good after around three days, but this depends on whether you have added other ingredients to them. For example, if you have added pancetta, you'll need to check the packaging for how long you should keep the meat.

You can freeze cooked sprouts for around 10 to 12 months, but again, this depends on what they're cooked with. 

Why do some people hate Brussels sprouts?

There is actually science behind why some people dislike sprouts. The chemical isothuocynates, which is naturally broken down in Brussels sprouts when cooked, is believed to make food seem very bitter to some people, while to others, it doesn't make any difference. 

They may also be put off by a bad experience with horribly cooked sprouts.

Why are sprouts good for you?

Sprouts contain a number of nutrients, including vitamin C, B and A, as well as fibre, protein and potassium. They're very high in vitamin K in particular, which is good for repairing injuries and regulating blood clotting, but might not be as good for those on anticoagulants, such as warfarin. 

Some people have said they may also be a way to help lower your risk of cancer and protect/maintain your DNA.

Overcooking them will diminish a lot of these benefits, though.

How do they help with weight loss?

Sprouts are part of the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes broccoli, kale and cauliflower. These types of vegetables are high in nutrients and low in calories. Other cruciferous vegetables are also said to have many of the same health benefits as sprouts.

Why do Brussels sprouts cause gas?

We've probably all been there – various family members being unpleasantly gassy after Christmas dinner and blaming it on the Brussels sprouts. And there is actually some truth to their accusations. 

Brussels sprouts contain components, including a sugar called farrinose, that can be harder to break down. They therefore need to be processed by bacteria in the large, instead of small, intestine, which is where a lot of gas comes from.

But this is also the case for other vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, so you can't blame it all on the sprouts.