Like models on the runway, it seems that asparagus get thinner and thinner with each spring season. A lamentable trend, really.
Surprised? Consider this: While wispy, pencil-thin asparagus might look nice on a plate, there’s more flavor to be had in the fat, meaty spears. Both sizes come from the same plant—a young plant produces fat spears, but as the plant ages, the shoots become thinner and thinner. (Plants that are too close together also tend to produce thinner stalks.)
Thin asparagus do cook in a flash, but they also become overcooked quite suddenly. With fatter stalks, you buy yourself a bit more leeway in the cooking time.
There’s a textural difference, too. Thicker asparagus have a higher flesh-to-skin ratio and a more succulent bite compared with thin stalks.
Some recipes will direct you to peel the asparagus stalks, which isn’t necessary (or easy) to do on thin stalks. On fat stalks, it’s purely a matter of personal preference.