How I Freeze Broccoli

I LOVE BROCCOLI SO MUCH that I make two sowings of it each year, one in early May and another in mid-July. The spring crop, which always seems to be the better of the two, is the one I store for winter use. Here are the directions for freezing this fiber-rich, nutrient-dense Brassica oleracea:

If you are growing broccoli, my advice is to keep an eye on the edible heads. When these look ready for cutting, by all means cut them. Otherwise, if you wait too long, yellow flowers (which bees love) will start to emerge.  Heads which show the slightest hint of yellow are too old for good eating, let alone freezing.

To freeze broccoli, start by filling a big, purple pot 3/4s full of water. Bring the water to a rapid boil.

You’ll need a big bowl of ice water, too. And a colander. And a roll of paper towels.

I’m asking a lot of you, I know.

1. Use a sharp knife to separate the thick broccoli stem from the florets.  Don’t throw the stem away — it can be frozen, too.

2. Use your knife to cut the florets into small, attractive pieces, as pictured above. To determine the perfect size, I like to imagine how the florets would look on a dinner plate. Or on a pizza.

Honk if you like broccoli on pizza.

3. If, and only if,  you think insects might be lurking in your florets, then soak those florets in salted water (4 teaspoons salt per gallon of water)  for about 30 minutes. The salt will draw out any creepy-crawlies. After soaking, rinse the florets in cold water.

I can happily report that my spring-planted broccoli harbored no insects whatsoever.  Broccoli planted in mid-summer is usually more prone to pests.

4. Drop the florets into the boiling water,  cover the pot, and let cook for exactly 3 minutes. Timing begins the moment the broccoli hits the water. This brief heating, or “blanching,” is necessary to kill the enzymes which would otherwise ruin the taste and texture of the broccoli during freezing. (As an alternative to boiling the florets, you can steam them for 5 minutes.)

If you look carefully at the above photo, you’ll notice one of my broccoli stems is too long. I’ve given myself 40 demerits for that oversight.

5. Use a slotted spatula to transfer the hot florets to the ice water. Let them chill for at least 3 minutes.

I have no idea why the above photograph looks so strange. Maybe there is a ghost in this old house.

6. Transfer the chilled florets to a colander.

I’m really thinking about that ghost now. Have you ever encountered one?

7. After they’ve drained for a minute or so in a colander,  I lay the florets out on paper towels. I blot their tops with paper towels, too. Ice crystals are less likely to form on dry broccoli than wet. But if you have a vacuum-sealer, ice-crystals may not be an issue at all.

I know the Bible says “thou shalt not covet a vacuum-sealer.” But I do, in fact, covet one.

The ghost made me type that last sentence.

Before we proceed to bagging the florets, let’s first deal with the big fat broccoli stems.

8. Stand each stem upside down, and then slice off its thick green skin, as above.

The pale inside of each stem is tender and delicious. Chop, blanch, chill and drain these morsels just as you did the florets. I bag the stems separately from the florets, and use them in soups and stews.

9. Label as many freezer bags as you think you’ll need. The nine heads of broccoli I processed this morning used 14 quart-size bags. That’s because I packed my broccoli as double servings. I’m a two-people household.

Unless you count Lily the Beagle. And cats Tiger and Camille.

The ghost doesn’t eat broccoli.

10. Pack each freezer bag loosely, seal partially, and then insert a drinking straw in one corner of the bag. Suck out all the air you can, and then seal the last little opening. As you can see, the vacuum-seal-by-straw-method makes a respectable vacuum-seal.

Broccoli — if blanched, chilled, drained, bagged and then frozen — will keep perfectly well for up to one year.

Want to see all of my preserving-the-harvest tips? You’ll find them here.

Meanwhile, let me know if you grew broccoli this summer. How’d your crop do?

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Angelic Zucchini Fritters
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
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  1. Kevin, only you could make something so mundane as freezing broccoli sound like fun. Thanks for the entertaining tutorital! I didn’t grow broccoli this year…maybe next.

  2. Suzanne says:

    I don’t like to use paper towels as much as this method might take so I use my salad spinner to dry the veggies that i am freezing. It really forces the water out of the center of the floret and is more eco friendly. Also, as I have a big dehydrator I do dry my herbs for winter but will try the cigar method on some lovage and sage to see how it goes.And the thyme trick is great! I will use it to get the leaves off for drying too.

  3. Sheila – Glad you enjoyed this post, and thought to tell me so!

    Suzanne – Great to meet another lovage-grower. Too few have even heard of the herb!

  4. Kevin, how do you then cook your frozen brocc (or green beans)?

    Commercial frozen broccoli is pretty horrible, so I’ve never tried to freeze my own, and didn’t even grow it this year. I’ve tried freezing green beans using the same method you describe, but although they had been great eating when fresh, they weren’t good at all after freezing.

    Do you find some varieties of beans survive freezing better than others?

    Since I live 20 miles from the nearest supermarket, I grow and freeze large quantities of peas and lima beans for winter and they’re superb, but I’d love to add beans.

  5. LOVE your site! Just curious as to what type of broccli you grow? I grew Pacman this year, but I didn’t get nice big heads like yours. I have four kids who LOVE broccoli, but this year’s crop did not keep up with demand. So I’m just wondering what others grow! Thanks!

  6. Sue Wein says:

    Hi Kevin,

    This was my first year growing broccoli. Made a couple of mistakes (one head went to yellow flowers) but am pleased with what we harvested. The plants were so healthy looking that I left them in the garden after slicing off the main heads. Now I have little baby broccolis growing along the stems that I can pick off and add to dishes.

    I recently froze some zucchini using your “straw-sealing” recommendation…so who needs a fancy vacuum sealer anyway? Just another idea from you that makes me think “How come I didn’t think of that?”

    Thanks so much for all you do and share with us! Sue Wein

  7. Hi Kevin! I love your blog. Thanks so much for the many, many great ideas. I, too, am wondering what type of broccoli you are growing. My broccoli heads come no where near in size to yours. Thanks for all your help!!

  8. stamperitis says:

    I had broccoli and yet the heads stayed small because…. The bugs started eye balling them and laying eggs so I cut and used them all rather small. They were delicious. I don’t have enough room to plant enough for freezing too but your’s looked gorgeous. and with our short growing season, we start getting frosts in last part of August usually I’m not sure if I could start a new crop? Can they take a little frost???

    I must say I have only been subscribing for a month or so but I’ve never seen Lily the Beagle or the two cats to my recollection. Love seeing our four legged friends. Mine loves to munch on the pea shoots. Could be why I got about 7 pea pods this year. 😉

  9. Kevin, you can save yourself some work if you have a pot with a colander that fits inside it (like a steamer or pressure cooker) and then when the broccoli has blanched just lift out the strainer and drop it into the cold water. No fishing around with a slotted spoon while the escapees overcook.

  10. I do the same thing with the staw and ziplocks….. good tips!..

  11. Noelle Imparato says:

    Love your “vacuum-seal-by-straw-method”. Thanks.

  12. I have really enjoyed your gardening tips and recipes. I may not plant broccoli this year, but will freeze what shows up in the market at seasonal prices now that I know how to do it. Thanks!

  13. Julianne says:

    Bi Kevin-do you plant your broccoli from seed, and if so, what kind, and how many plants do you do? I’m a two human household too :-). (with furry kids as well)

  14. Glad or the Ziploc people make bags and a manual suction pump that works remarkably well. It’s even kind of fun to use and much, much less expensive than the fancy kitchen appliance that takes the very expensive bags that are used with it. I love gadgets, but that one is just a bit over the top for me.

    Mostly, I just use the vacuum bags for irregular cuts of meat with the bone in so I’m not freezing air with my meat. Many other things, I just roll the air out and squeeze shut the zipper. Also, I really like the straw idea! — Very ingenious. Thanks Kevin!

  15. Donna B. says:

    … that broccoli in the top photo is gorgeous. Oh my gosh…!

    I use this method too! I can say other than the cheap plastic bags I had bought, this technique works like clockwork!!! Except I made the mistake of doing the stems with the florets… /sigh. I think the stems were moving around too much and broke the seal to the bag. I had to chisel out the broccoli from all of the ice crystals that formed inside…

    But hey, steamed briefly and slathered with cheddar cheese and hot pepper flakes, it still was pretty tasty! ♥

  16. Jane – There are two methods I’ve used for cooking frozen broccoli (or beans). 1) Steam in a tiny amount of water. 2) Place it in a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and heat in the microwave for 2-3 minutes (depending on quantity). I do not add water to the bowl if there are any ice crystals present. I find the texture of the broccoli, when heated with these two methods, way, is excellent. And I’m very fussy about food.

    June – The broccoli pictured above is ‘Nutri-Bud.’ While this heirloom variety is not a speedy grower, it does produce massive heads in mid- to late July. Faster and also impressive is ‘Green Goliath.’

  17. Judy Shepherd says:

    I just planted broccoli for the first time and am reading up on what to do. You make me laugh out loud!

  18. Hi Kevin and other garden lovers,

    I plant broccoli every year if possible. Mine has been doing great and I also find the broccoli that is planted in April/May months is bigger and tastier. I also leave the plant in the ground after first cutting (unless I need the space to grow something else) and let it reproduce for the fresh broccoli to add to salads and snack on.

    My question for you Kevin or anyone else that reproduces seeds is: How do you get seeds to plant broccoli? Does your plant reproduce seeds and what is the process?

    You did an excellent job with your tutorial with the pictures and explanation for freezing broccoli and adding humor as you went along. Made an enjoyable read. Thanks Kevin.

  19. Jody Moser says:

    This was very enjoyable! You’re very funny!!

  20. michael kranik says:

    i vacum seal all my fresh garden broccoli but first i place them on a cookie sheet in the deep freezer before i seal them it keeps them from being squashed by the sealer

  21. Hi Kevin, I recently found your site and I am having a supreme blast exploring. Everything is so beautiful and I want to try every suggestion you make. I have tried to grow broccoli and the bugs got more than I did, I was rather discouraged after that. No one in the comments said anything about your ghost. I did see a ghost once when I was a little kid. It woke me up at night and sat at the edge of my bed and stared at me for a while. Then it got up and left the room. Of course none of the adults in my life believed me but I know what I saw. Still gives me the chills just thinking about it. Yikes!!!! Thankfully it was a one time occurrence.

  22. I giggled a lot while reading this! I really enjoy your humor. I have tears in my eyes from laughing. Thanks:)

  23. I like to grow Green Comet variety of broccoli. If you cut the center head with very little stock, you will get half size side heads through the season! I also add lemon juice to my blanching water to retain a beautiful green.

  24. I have just found your blog and so happy that I did. Like the other’s before me, I laughed out loud and even read to my mother who laughed too. I think I will be coming back to check out more post right after I freeze my broccoli… which, sadly I did not grow.

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