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How to Cook, Buy, Store, and Use Beets. And Why You Should.
Beets may look scary and confusing.
There are leaves, and stems, and a weird looking attached bulb that typically has little root hairs on it.
It’s not very clear how to prepare beets when you bring home a bunch from the grocery store or market.
But, fresh beets are worth it. They’re healthy, versatile, taste amazing, and look beautiful.
One of the best things about them is that they keep well before and after cooking. That means less times going to the grocery store to get fresh beets. And less time cooking because you can meal prep a big batch at once.
So, this guide is going to help you learn everything you need to know about beets including how to cook them.
Jump to the section by clicking on its name below.
- When is Beet Season?
- Types of Beets
- How to Buy Fresh Beets
- Where to Buy Fresh Beets
- How to Store Beets Before Cooking
- Handling Tips
- How to Prepare Beets Before Cooking
- How to Check if Beets Are Done
- How to Dress Beets
- How to Peel Cooked Beets
What Are Beets?
Beets may look kinda funky and extraterrestrial. But, they are in fact from Earth. They even come directly from the planet since their fruit grows underground (the root of the plant).
Beets, or beetroot as called outside of the U.S., are an inexpensive root vegetable that is grown throughout the world. Originally used in French cooking, it is now especially important in the cuisine of cooler climate countries like Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and throughout Eastern Europe.
The vegetable consists of a bulb that grows underground with leafy stems that grow above ground. The entire plant is edible. Beet greens are often overlooked as a delicious and healthy leafy green that is similar to chard.
The bulb can be cooked a variety of ways. It is also a popular juicing ingredient because of its ability to detoxify the liver and improve blood flow.
Beet Nutrition Facts
According to the USDA, 1 cup (136 grams) of raw beets (about 1 medium beet) has the following nutritional values:
Fat .23 grams
Protein: 2.2 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams
Fiber: 3.8 grams
Sugar: 9.2 grams
Water: 119 grams
So, beets are primary made of water (87.5%). and carbs (10%).
Health Benefits of Beets
Beets are super healthy. Some experts even consider them a “superfood”.
One of the reasons is because beets are packed packed with vitamins and minerals. They have high amounts of fiber, folate, vitamin C, manganese, and potassium. They also contain antioxidants that aid in digestion.
According to Medical News Today, studies show beets may reduce blood pressure, improve digestion, help detoxify the liver, reduce the risk of diabetes, and increase athletic performance.
Potential Downsides of Beets
There are a few potential side affects to consider when eating beets.
First off, they will stain your urine if you consume the red variety. This is harmless from a health standpoint. I’ll leave it up to you if you consider it a downside or not.
Beet leaves and roots are high in oxalates (Source: Healthline). This may contribute to kidney stone formation if you are prone to them.
Lastly, beets contain FODMAPs. These are a carbs that some people have problems digesting. Consuming these could cause an update stomach if you have digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Generally, most individuals handle beets just fine.
How to Buy Beets
The better and fresher the beet, the better it will taste. And the more you’ll fall in love with beets. Keep reading for everything you need to know to buy the best beets.
When is Beet Season?
Beets are harvested starting in early summer all the way through early fall. You will see them at your farmer’s market in a variety of maturity levels and sizes.
Early season beets are smaller and less earthy. They are great raw. And their greens are often young and pristine.
As beets mature through the summer and into fall, they grown in size and earthiness. These need to be cooked using one of the cooking methods outlined later in this post.
In terms of their seasons, you’ll actually find beets through early and mid-winter. Beets keep well for a few weeks, so their season is extended.
Types of Beets
I’m sure you’re familiar with the common red beet. This is what comes to mind when we think of a beet. But, there are multiple other beet varieties that you will find at your grocery store and farmer’s markets. Here are a few to look out for:
Red Beets – The most common variety. Red beets are versatile, earthy, keep well in the refrigerator, and are the most commonly used. They’ll also stain an entire dish pink, so keep that in mind when using.
Golden Beets – If there is another beet variety at your grocery store, it’s probably this one. Golden beets are less sweet than red beets, but also less earthy. They also make for an easier cleanup since they don’t stain everything like red beets do.
Chioggia Beets (pictured below)- You’ll get a beautiful surprise when you slice open a chioggia beet. Their inside flesh is pink and white striped. They are also the sweetest variety and aren’t typically available at grocery stores. Hit up your farmer’s market to find these beauties.
White Beets – Don’t confuse these for turnips which they look very similar to. They are less sweet than the other types of beets and not as widely available.
How to Buy Fresh Beets
Beets are generally available with their leafy tops on or off.
If their tops are still on, inspecting these will be your best bet. It means they were dug up within the past week or so. Look for greens that are perky with no shriveling.
If their tops are removed, look for beets with tight, firm skins. You should not be able to squish them at all.
When buying multiple beets or a bunch, try to get similar sized bulbs. That way they will all take about the same time to cook.
Where to Buy Fresh Beets
Your local farmer’s market is one of the best places to buy fresh beets. You may find some unique varieties like chioggia or white beets. However, that isn’t always an option if you live someplace that is cold for half of the year like me.
I have found Whole Foods to have a solid variety of beets. Plus, they deliver for free if you’re a Prime member.
The most convenient option is to buy your groceries online and have them delivered to your doorstep with the click of a button. There a bunch of services out there that will deliver fresh, high quality produce directly to your door.
I wrote all about them here in the best places to buy produce online.
How to Store Beets Before Cooking
If you buy beets with their stems still attached, immediately cut them off at about an inch above the bulb. Store the leafy stems in a separate bag or container like you would any other salad green.
Place beets in an unsealed plastic bag and store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator if you have one. If you have cellar that you store other root vegetables or potatoes in, even better. Beets need some humidity.
They will keep for a few weeks up to a few months.
Tips for Cooking Beets
Red beets stain much more than golden and other types of beets. Their color does rub off on whatever they come in contact with.
So, your hands and cutting board will get stained.
Wash your hands with soap and water once your done working with the beets. The sooner you can do this, the better. Even if you don’t, the color will fade pretty quickly.
I like to use a separate small cutting board that can be easily cleaned and tossed in the dishwasher like this one. That way, your kitchen and main cutting board won’t have streaks of purple.
If you don’t have another cutting board like this, just wipe off the one you use with hot water. Again, the sooner you can do this before the stain penetrates and dries, the easier it will be to get out.
How to Prep Beets Before Cooking
Firstly, trim off the beet greens asap if your beets have them. See the section above on beet storage. Rinse and dry the greens and bulbs if dirty.
Onto the big question…
Do you need to peel beets?
Yes. But when depends on the cooking process. Beet skins are edible, but bitter.
If cooking the beets whole, you peel the skins off after they’re done cooking.
If eating beets raw or cutting them up before cooking, peel them before you start cutting into pieces.
How to Check if Beets Are Done
When cooking beets whole, you can easily check to see if they’re done by sticking a fork into their flesh. If a fork easily slides into the beet, then it is done. If all of the beets you are cooking are about the same size, then if one beet passes the fork test, they all will.
If your batch consists of different sized beets, cook the larger ones for longer depending on the size difference.
How to Dress Cooked Beets
Dress beets while they are still warm. This will allow them to soak in the acid and better gain flavor.
You want to do this for all root vegetables and potatoes.
How to Peel Cooked Beets
Peeling cooked beets will either be your most favorite or least favorite part of cooking them. On one hand, it’s so satisfying to slide the skin off a cooked beet to reveal a smooth, round bulb. On the other hand, it’s messy and can be frustrating if the beets weren’t cooked all the way.
I get both sides, but I love sliding the skin off. Once the beets are finished cooking, the skins will easily slide off. You can use your hands, but I think using a paper towel works better.
The paper towel will grip the skins better. Plus, it will keep you hands at least a little less purple.
How to Cook Beets
There are many different ways you can cook beets. Their versatility is one of the things I like so much about them.
Each method gives you slightly different results, so consider how you want to use cooked beets before choosing a cooking method.
Cooking Method #1: Boiling
Boiling beets is the easiest method for cooking. However, I find that the boiled beets aren’t as sweet or flavorful as other cooking methods. I prefer to roast or grill beets because of this.
Time: 30-40 minutes
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
Boil unpeeled whole beets for 20-40 minutes until fork tender. Time depends on the size of the beet.
Let cool for a few minutes then peel skins.
When to use: If you’re in a hurry, but want similar results to whole roasted or grilled beets.
Boiled Beets Recipes
You can substitute boiled beets in any of the following recipes.
Cooking Method #2: Steaming
Steaming beets is similar to boiling except the beets aren’t submerged in the water. This keeps retains more of the nutrients instead of losing them in the water.
Time: 30-40 minutes
Insert your steaming basket into a large pot. Fill the pot with water so that it is just below the basket. You don’t want the water touching the beets. Instead, you want the steam to circulate around them. Add unpeeled whole beets to the basket.
Cover pot with a tight fitting lid and bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and steam until the beets are fork tender, about 30 minutes.
Remove beets from pot and let cool for a few minutes. Peel skins.
When to use: If you have a steamer basket and would like to quickly make beets.
Steamed Beets Recipes
You can substitute steamed beets in any of the following recipes.
Cooking Method #3: Roasting (whole)
Roasting whole beets is my go-to cooking method. I don’t even bother with boiling or steaming because this method yields such amazing, sweet, and flavorful beets. It may take a bit longer, but it’s worth it. Especially, if you cook a big batch of beets.
Adding a splash of water to the pan causes the beets to steam while they roast. Perfect beets every time.
Time: 60-80 minutes
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place unpeeled whole beets in a baking dish. Season with salt. Pour 1/4 cup water into dish. Cover tightly with foil and place in preheated oven.
Roast 60-80 minutes until you can easily slide a fork into the beets.
Remove from oven and let cool covered. Peel.
Read the full post: Oven Roasted Beets: How to Cook a Batch
When to use: If you have the time and want the best tasting beets. This method is also perfect for meal prepping a big batch.
Whole Roasted Beets Recipes
Cooking Method #4: Roasting (cut into pieces)
Cooking beets whole isn’t the only option. You can cut peeled beets and roast (or grill) them like you would any other root vegetable. This will yield sweet, but less tender beets in a shorter amount of time.
Time: 25-35 minutes
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Peel beets and cut into 1/2” or so wedges. Place on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt.
Roast 25-35 minutes until the beets are tender.
When to use: If you want nicely caramelized beets in a short amount of time with less cleanup. Note that the beets won’t be as tender and juicy as whole roasted.
Cut Roasted Beets Recipes
Cooking Method #5: Grilling
Too hot in your house to turn on the oven? I know how it feels. I use this grilled beets method all throughout the hot days of summer to avoid heating up my house with my oven. I find the results to be very similar to roasted whole beets, but a bit more smoky.
Time: 70-80 minutes
Place unpeeled whole beets on a hot grill.
Grill, turning every 10 minutes or so until skin is blackened all over and you can slide a fork into flesh, 40-45 minutes.
Remove beets from grill and place in a bowl. Cover for about 30 minutes to let the beets steam. Then use a paper towel to rub the skins off each beet.
Read the full post: Grilled Beet Salad with Lemon and Herbs
When to use: If you want similar results to whole roasted beets, but you want to use your grill instead.
Grilled Beets Recipes
Also, note that grilled beets and whole roasted beets can be used interchangeably.
Cooking Method #6: Preparing Raw
Of course you can eat beets raw! Technically, you don’t “cook” raw beets, but I’m counting this as a cooking method.
Early season beets are easier to eat raw because they are less earthy and mineral tasting. But, you can eat mature beets raw as well as long as you prepare and dress them correctly.
Time: 5-10 minutes
Peel beets. Thinly slice, shave, or cut them.
Combine with an acid such as citrus or vinegar and salt to soften. Dress with oil and more salt and acid if needed.
When to use: If you have a beautiful bunch of early summer beets or want a refreshing side dish or condiment.
Raw Beets Recipes
Cooking Method #7: Pickling
Again, pickling isn’t technically “cooking”. But this is a preparation that needs to be covered. Beets make an earthy and zesty pickle. They will get better as they age in the pickle brine.
Time: 30 minutes active, 1+ days inactive
Combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a large jar or pot. Stir to dissolve sugar and water.
Peel beets. Thinly slice and add to a jar.
Pour brine over beets and place in refrigerator. Start tasting after the first day. They will last in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
When to use: When you want to add a bit of tang to salads and sandwiches. Or top with a dressing and serve as an app.
Pickled Beets Recipes
How to Cook Beet Greens
Don’t overlook the beet greens! If you buy a bunch of beets and toss the greens, then you’re throwing away money.
Beet greens are packed with healthy nutrients. Plus, they are a great leafy vegetable to cook with. They are similar to Swiss chard and are in the same family.
I like to just saute beet greens in a hot pan with olive oil until nicely wilted. Then I’ll cut them up and toss them into a grain bowl beet salad like in this roasted beets and avocado salad recipe.
I talk all about beet greens and how to cook them in this article on How to Cook Beet Greens: 10 Healthy Recipe Ideas.
How to Store Cooked Beets
Store cooked beets in the refrigerator, covered in a resealable container. Generally, cooked beets will keep well for 4-5 days.
I almost always cook a few pounds of beets whenever I make them. Because even if I don’t need that many for whatever recipe I’m making, cooked beets are great to have on-hand throughout the week. Toss on salads, grain bowls, sandwiches, or simply eat as a snack.
These OXO glass containers are really nice for storing leftovers. You can store, cover, reheat (if needed), and serve all in one container. And you won’t have to worry about the lid coming off or leaking.
For a cheaper option, I also love these deli containers. They’re cheap, versatile, and all sizes use the same lid.
How to Use Beets
One of my favorite things about beets?
You’ve seen that they can be cooked a bunch of different ways. Well, you can also use them a ton of different ways.
Here are some ideas on how to use beets.
Make a Beet Salad – Cut beets into wedges or slices and top with a healthy dressing and make a beet salad. Add other vegetables, herbs, cheese, nuts, and/or leafy greens.
Top Your Salad – Add a few beet wedges to a healthy green salad to make it more filling. Alternatively, add shaved beets to your salad.
Add to Grain and Bean Salads – Add some earthiness to your next bean or grain salad liked this chickpea one. Note that it will make your salad pink if you use red beets.
As a Sandwich Condiment – Replace tomato slices with a slices of roasted beets on your sandwiches. Just tell everyone it’s a purple tomato.
Raw Slaw – Make a raw beet slaw like this one with carrots. Even better if you use young early season beets.
Dip or Hummus – Toss some roasted or grilled beets in a food processor with some other goodies and you’ll have a beautifully pink dip like this one in no time.
Dressing – You know that dip I just mentioned? Well, hold back some of the solid ingredients, add a little more water and acid, toss in a blender and now you have a dressing.
What Next? Let’s Eat Some Beets.
One last tip…
Always make extra beets. They won’t go to waste and the extra effort is minimal. A weekly batch of 3 or 4 pounds is a good amount depending on your household size.
Next, learn how to put all of your new beet skills to use. Download your free cookbook of our favorite simple beet recipes below!