This ultimate guide shows you how to cook beets for salads, side dishes, and appetizers as well as offers useful tips and tricks on how to buy, store, peel, and serve them.
Beets are a very nutritious vegetable. They are a good source of vitamin C, iron, and magnesium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, potassium, and manganese. Beets have a low glycemic load of 3. In addition, beets are delicious, very inexpensive, and easy to store.
Unfortunately, beets aren’t very popular. Many people say that they don’t like beets. But I am convinced that if you know how to cook beets properly, you will appreciate them more and include them in your menu as often as possible.
Red beets taste great in soups and raw salads. But the most convenient and versatile way of preparing beets is cooking them whole.
How to buy beets
You can buy red beets with greens still attached or just beetroots without the greens. Beet greens are not only edible, they are also delicious and packed with nutrients. When buying beets with greens, make sure the leaves are nice and fresh so that you can use them too. If you want to learn how to cook beet greens, check out this easy sauteed beet greens recipe.
Beets without greens are totally fine too. Beetroots stay fresh for a long time, so don’t hesitate to buy them even if they don’t have any greens. Just make sure that the beets you choose are firm and free of blemishes and soft spots. I often prefer to buy beetroots instead of bunches of fresh beets with greens because I can buy as many beets as I need, pick the size I want, and don’t have to deal with the greens. Beets without greens are also cheaper.
Beets vary in size. I prefer to buy beets that are medium in size (about 2 to 4 inches in diameter) because I don’t want to spend time peeling small beets and very large beets are tougher and less flavorful. The beets that will be cooked together should be of uniform size so that they are done at the same time.
How to store beets before cooking
If your beets still have the greens attached, cut the greens off leaving about 1 inch of the red stalks. Beetroots keep well in the fridge in a plastic bag for up to 3 weeks. Beet greens, on the other hand, should be consumed within a couple of days because they wilt pretty fast.
How to prep beets for cooking
If the beets still have the leaves attached, cut them off leaving about 1 inch of the stalk. Wash the beets under running water to remove dirt and sand. If needed, scrub them with a brush.
Don’t peel the beets and don’t remove the long root end if it’s still attached to the beet. If it’s too long, shorten it in half. To preserve the nutrients and flavor keep the skin of the beets intact as much as possible.
Tips on handling beets
Red beets will stain anything and everything they come in contact with – your hands, the countertop, your expensive cutting board, your kitchen towels, etc. Keep in mind that some stains can be permanent. You can use gloves to avoid contact with the beet juice but if your hands still turned red, don’t worry because the stains are usually gone after you wash your hands a couple of times.
Beets get really hot when they are cooked. So make sure to let them cool before you handle them.
How to cook beets for salads, appetizers, and side dishes
Although cooking whole red beets doesn’t require any complicated cooking techniques, it’s still important to follow a few simple rules to get the best result. Here is how you can cook beets on the stove, in the oven, and in the microwave:
1. How to boil beets
To boil beets, place them in a deep saucepan and add enough water to cover the beets by at least three inches. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook the beets for about 1 to 1 1/2 hour or until they are tender.
When boiling beets, make sure to check on your beets every once in a while because the water can evaporate during cooking exposing the top part of the beets. Even worse, the water can evaporate completely, and the beets might start burning. If the water starts evaporating, make sure to top it up; otherwise, the part of the beet that is sticking out will remain uncooked.
Boiled red beets are usually juicy and plump. But a big disadvantage of the boiling method is that a lot of red pigment leaks into the water and the beets lose their bright red color. To avoid this, add one to two tablespoons of vinegar to the cooking water.
2. How to roast beets in the oven
A very popular way of roasting beets is wrapping each beet in aluminum foil and roasting them in the oven at 400F for about 1.5 to 2 hours or until they are tender.
If you are roasting quite a few beets, wrapping each of them in foil might become quite wasteful. So if you don’t want to wrap every single beet in the foil, you can place the beets into a baking dish and cover the dish with the foil instead or simply use a baking dish with a lid.
Wrapping beets in a foil helps to trap the moisture in the beets and also makes for easier cleanup because beet juices won’t run onto your baking dish during cooking.
Another advantage is that you can roast your beets while you are cooking something else in the oven. Just tack it somewhere in the corner while you are roasting a chicken or making a casserole.
If you don’t have any foil on hand, don’t want to waste it on the beets, or, like me, don’t like wrapping food in aluminum foil, you can roast beets without wrapping them in foil. Just place the beets in the baking dish, put them in the oven and roast until they are done.
As you can see in the picture above, the beets that were roasted without the foil (on the left) have a dry wrinkly skin. They are also not as plump as the beets that were roasted in foil (on the right). But their flavor is very rich and concentrated.
The biggest disadvantage of using the roasting method of cooking red beets is that it takes a long time, usually two hours for medium size beets.
3. How to steam beets
Steaming isn’t the best method of cooking whole beets because they are a very dense vegetable and take a long time to cook. However, small and especially fresh baby beets can be steamed quite successfully.
To steam beets, place them in a single layer in a steam basket, add water to the steamer, bring the water to a boil, cover, and steam for about 1 hour or until the beets are tender. Check on the beets every once in a while to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated and add more water if needed.
4. How to steam-roast beets
Steam-roasting beets is a happy medium between boiling, steaming and roasting them and results in juicy beets with a wonderful flavor. It’s also quicker than dry-roasting them. I dry-roasted, and steam-roasted beets that were almost identical in size and the steam-roasted beets were done almost 30 minutes faster.
To steam-roast beets, place them in a baking dish. Add about 1 inch of water. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil making sure the foil doesn’t touch the beets. Leave a small opening at one corner to let the steam out. You can also use a baking dish with a lid. Place the beets in the oven and roast them at 400F for about 1 to 1 1/2 hour or until you can easily pierce them with a fork.
Be very careful when removing the foil from the hot beets because the steam under the foil is extremely hot.
5. How to cook beets in the microwave
The microwave method is the fastest way of cooking beets. Usually, the beets are done in about 20 minutes.
Another advantage of this method is that the beets don’t produce any smell. When you boil, roast, or steam-roast beets, you will often notice a distinctive smell. Some people are very sensitive to it, so if you or anyone in your household can’t handle this smell, try cooking beets in a microwave.
To cook beets in a microwave, place the beets in a single layer in a microwave-safe dish. Add about 1 inch of water to the dish and cover it with a lid. Cook the beets on high for 10 to 12 minutes (depending on the size of the beets and the power of your microwave oven). After the microwave turns off, leave the beets inside for 10 more minutes.
2 Mistakes People Make When Cooking Beets
Beets taste best when they are very tender. So the first mistake people make when cooking whole beets is not cooking them long enough. Beets take a really long time to cook. If you’ve had a look at the above cooking methods, you probably noticed that the cooking times are anywhere from one to two hours for medium-sized beets. If you have to cook large beets the cooking times will be even longer. So, make sure to properly check if the beets are done before you finish cooking them.
The second mistake people make is not peeling the beets before serving them. If someone says they don’t like beets because they taste like dirt, I wonder if maybe they tried beets that weren’t peeled. Beet peels are edible but their texture isn’t very pleasant and they also might still have some grit left on them so it’s better to peel the beets before eating them.
How to check if beets are done
To check if the beets are completely done, insert a fork into the beet and push it to the center. Don’t use a knife because it might just slice the beet and you won’t really know if it’s done or not. The fork should slide inside very smoothly without much resistance, and it should also come out very easily.
Keep in mind that when you pierce the skin of the beet, it will start to release the juice through the holes so resist the urge to constantly test it for doneness. If you make too many holes in the skin, you will drain a lot of moisture and nutrients out of the beet.
How to peel cooked beets
Before you start peeling the beets always make sure they are cool enough to handle. You can either leave them to cool by themselves or run cold water over them.
Cooked beets can be peeled quite easily with a vegetable peeler or a knife. You can also rub off the skin using a paper towel or even peel them with your fingers.
How to store cooked beets
Cooked beets can be stored in the fridge for up 5 to 6 days. You can store them whole or slice them into bite-size pieces to easily add to your meals. Make sure to store the beets in a glass container with a lid so that they don’t dry out.
Cooked beets can also be frozen and kept in the freezer for up to 3 months.
How to serve cooked beets
Now that you’ve learned how to cook beets, it’s time to eat them! Beets are great for making ahead because they keep very well in the fridge. Cook a few beets on the weekend, put them in the refrigerator and you will have a healthy side dish for weeknight dinners.
Beets taste great with just a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and pair well with goat and feta cheese, garlic, nuts, seeds, quinoa, balsamic vinegar, spinach and more.
Here are few recipes for you to try:
- Mediterranean Beets with Garlic and Olive Oil
- Beet Quinoa Salad with Goat Cheese and Grapefruit
- Detox Kale and Beet Salad
Now it’s your turn
I’ve had a lot of fun testing all the cooking methods (and eating all the beets 🙂 ) and I hope that you’ll find this guide to cooking whole beets helpful.
Now it’s your turn. Have you cooked red beets before? Have you tried any of these methods? Which one do you like best? What’s your favorite way of serving cooked beets? If you have anything else to share with us, please leave a comment below.
- 2 medium red beets (about 2 to 4 inches in diameter)
- If the beets still have the green leaves attached, cut them off leaving about 1 inch of the red stalks. Wash the beets and scrub them with a brush if needed.
- Place the beets in a deep saucepan and add enough water to cover the beets by at least three inches. Optionally, add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the water.
- Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook the beets for about 1 to 1 1/2 hour or until they are tender.
- Option # 1: wrap each beet in aluminum foil or place the beets in a baking dish and cover it with a lid. Option #2: place the beets in a baking dish.
- Roast the beets in the oven at 400F for about 1.5 to 2 hours or until the beets are tender.
- Place the beets in a single layer in a steam basket.
- Add water to the steamer, bring the water to a boil, cover, and steam for about 1 hour or until the beets are tender.
- Check on the beets every once in a while to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated and add more water if needed.
- Place the beets in a baking dish.
- Add about 1 inch of water. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil making sure the foil doesn’t touch the beets. Leave a small opening at one corner to let the steam out. You can also use a baking dish with a lid.
- Place the beets in the oven and steam-roast them at 400F for about 1 to 1 1/2 hour or until you can easily pierce them with a fork.
- Place the beets in a single layer in a microwave-safe dish. Add about 1 inch of water to the dish and cover it with a lid.
- Cook the beets on high for 10 to 12 minutes (depending on the size of the beets and the power of your microwave oven).
- After the microwave turns off, leave the beets inside for 10 more minutes.
- Insert a fork into the beet and push it to the center. Don’t use a knife because it might just slice the beet and you won’t really know if it’s done or not. The fork should slide inside very smoothly without much resistance, and it should also come out very easily.