How to Cook Beets (or use them raw)

Beets sliced

Beets are one of those veggies that inspire passion one way or the other—you either love them or loathe them. I’ve heard people say they think beets taste “like dirt.” Yeah, maybe if you don’t peel them before eating! I’m firmly in the “love them” category, and if you are, too, here are some tips and recipes for you. 

Beets are delicious cooked (it brings out their natural sweetness), but they’re also splendid in their raw state, peeled, grated, and added to salads. I like them both ways, and use them both cooked and raw frequently. It depends on the recipe as well as my inclination at any given moment. There are three main ways to prepare beets (other than not cooking them at all): microwaving, cooking, and roasting. If your beets come with the greens, save them and use as you would chard, which they greatly resemble.

Varieties: Aside from the common red beets, try golden beets if you can find them—they’re not as common as their magenta counterparts, but they’re even sweeter (and a bit less messy). Even less common than golden are chioggia beets, an Italian heirloom variety with red-and-white stripes—as sweet as it is gorgeous, and formanova, which, with its long, cylindrical shape is great for getting uniform-sized slices. You might look for unusual beet varieties at farm markets, or if you’re a gardener, cultivate them yourself.

Bunch of beets

To microwave: This is the easiest and quickest cooking method, providing that you don’t object to microwaving. Rinse the beets and cut away all but an inch of the stalks. Place in a deep microwave-safe with an inch or so of water at the bottom. Microwave for 2 to 4 minutes per beet (2 minutes for small beets, 4 for medium-large) is a guideline, depending on your particular microwave unit. Best to start with less time and check for doneness). Don’t use too much water, otherwise it will boil up and get all over your microwave. If the beets aren’t done when you check them, turn them over and go for another minute per beet. They’re done when you can just pierce them—try not to overcook!

To cook: It’s best to use small or medium beets if you want to cook them conventionally, otherwise it takes forever. Rinse the beets and cut away all but an inch of the stalks. Combine in a large deep saucepan with water to cover; bring to a boil, then simmer until just tender. How long this will take varies greatly upon the size of the beets; start checking after about 20 minutes, but don’t poke too many test holes into them, or they’ll bleed like crazy! When done, drain.

To finish: Whether you’ve microwaved or cooked beets, once just tender, plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.Once the beets are cool enough to handle, peel them over the trash or compost container, then and dice or slice as desired. To prevent discoloration of your cutting board, you can cover it with a piece of wax paper.

Roasting beets: Roasted beets are delicious, but here’s where you need to make a bit of a mess, since you need to peel and slice them while raw. To minimize the mess, peel over the trash or compost container, and slice them on a cutting board covered with wax paper. Place the sliced raw beets (allow 1 medium beet per serving) in a foil-lined baking dish and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Bake at 400 or 425 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minute or so, until tender to your liking. Stir once or twice during that time. Beets are nice roasted with other root vegetables, including carrots and sweet potatoes. See this recipe for a roasted root vegetable medley.

Fresh sliced beets

Simple ways to use beets:

  1. When beets are are at their most flavorful, usually in late summer, they need no embellishment. Just serve them plain, sliced and served on a plate, or in salad.
  2. Dress warm sliced beets in just a little lemon juice and agave nectar.
  3. As mentioned above, raw beets are wonderful grated and tossed into salads or combined with other grated roots, as in Beet and Red Cabbage Slaw.


Beet and red cabbage slaw recipe

24 comments on “How to Cook Beets (or use them raw)

  1. Olivia Dunn

    I simply can’t get enough of your website. I’ve told a couple of friends about it and we all agree this is one of the best sites out there. Keep it up!

  2. Lillian

    You should ROAST BEETROOTS IN THEIR SKIN, to preserve all their natural goodness and flavour. Wash them well, roast them, let them cool and then peel, slice/grate and season. They go particularly well with some cider vinegar and (freshly grated) horseradish. Enjoy!

  3. Nava Post author

    Lillian, you’re right that lots of nutrients are in the skin. The problem is that dirt is so embedded in the skin, quite often. If a good scrubbing can take care of that, so much the better …

  4. BetterEveryDay

    Roast the beets whole in a bit of tin foil (about 45 minutes for this recipe let cool five minutes, peel and cut into slices or cubes and toss with the dressing… the mess of peeling the beets first insures a cook and and kitchen awash in red beet juice, and dried out beets.

  5. Millie

    Thanks so much for all the goodies. We juice, pickle and roast beets so they are usually on hand. Will try these recipes, have to wait, though, doing a couple of projects (which are backed up).

  6. Dana

    One great way to use beetroot is to shred the cooked beet, add 1 table spoon of horseraddish and a small amount of brown sugar. Serve it cold. Sour cream can also be added if desired.

  7. Nava Post author

    That sounds really good, Dana. The flavors of beet and horseradish are quite compatible. Of course, many VK readers will want to use vegan sour cream or skip it altogether!

  8. PK

    How do I use them as a topping on a burger? I have one raw beet and have never cooked one before.

  9. Nava Post author

    PK, use one if the cooking methods described in this post; once the beet is cool enough to handle, peel and slice thinly.

  10. Shannon Toner

    I am new to raw beets. I want to use them in smoothies. I unknowingly peeled them and sliced them raw. How do I store them? Can I keep them in the fridge? I keep reading freezing them raw is not right. Please help….I also read that if I cook them already peeled they loose their color….

  11. Nava Post author

    Shannon, I’m not sure why it would be wrong to freeze chunks of beets raw if you’re intending them to go into smoothies. I would say that the easiest thing to do would be to buy beets that are as small as possible, and just peel and cut the section you want to use in a smoothie on any given day. You need a good cutting knife for the beet and a good paring knife for the skin. And I agree, cooking them peeled is not a good idea. It might not be a popular thing to say but I like to microwave them. So easy. And microwaving them even just a little makes them easier to peel and use mostly raw.

  12. Drew

    I just cooked beets for the first time, boiling them whole according to the recipe on this site. Not only were they super-delicious, but the skin peeled off quite easily. I can imagine that peeling raw beets is not only labor-intensive, but super-messy, too! My only comment on the recipe is that it took much longer than expected. After 20 minutes, the smallest beet (about 2 inches in diameter) was still hard about 1/4″ below the skin. After 30 minutes, I wanted to eat, so I pulled out the smallest beet and cut it up. A bit al dente, but still really good. After about 40 minutes, I took out the medium beet (maybe 2.5″ in diameter), and it was also just a little firm in the middle (I had to push down on the knife blade to get through the center). After 50 minutes, the large beet (about 3″ in diameter) was cooked perfectly (I think). The knife went through easily, but the beet remained firm. Unfortunately, I ran out of appetite by the time that one was done and ready for consumption, but I can’t wait to try it! Thanks for the recipe, it was extremely helpful.

  13. Jean

    this will be my first try with beets…I’m thinking they can be baked in the oven just like I would do a baked potato…scrub clean, take off most of the top greenery, poke a couple holes in it, wrap in foil and turn the oven to 425 for about 45 min for a large beet…what do you think?

  14. Lyndia

    I cooked fresh beets, sweet potato and edamame with course sea salt and EVOO wrapped in foil on the grill. Amazing! The beets were peeled first and then cut into bite size pieces. The color and taste combination worked great.

  15. Val

    Hi I found your site because I had just pulled the first beet roots from my allotment and wanted to check if I could microwave them. It worked perfectly about 13 minutes for two med sized ones. I stopped cooking after 8 and let then rest a bit and checked them, then another five minutes and they were cooked to perfection. I had to eat one then and there, horseradish and black pepper is my favourite!

  16. Nava Post author

    Thanks, Val. Despite some people’s qualms about microwaving, it’s really the easiest and I think best method for cooking beets. Cooking them in water makes them “bleed so much, even if they’re uncut, and I can’t help but think that leeches out a lot of the nutrients. Beets with horseradish and pepper – yum!

  17. Nava Post author

    Suzie, thanks for your kind comment; we no longer do an e-mail newsletter, but you can subscribe to the site with the rss feed (last symbol on the bottom row, on the right); that way you’ll be notified each time a new post goes up (which is often!)

  18. Dan

    In microwaving them as per a couple of above – after done do you need to ‘peel’ them? If so, how do you go about doing it?

  19. Nava Post author

    Dan, if you microwave the beets, do so with them whole, unpeeled. Once they’re done and cool enough to handle, the skin peels off much more easily. A paring knife works well.

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