How to Cook With Thyme

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The best way to get those little leaves off thyme stems and into your recipes!

Fresh thyme on cutting board

Thyme is a very popular herb, and for good reason. The hearty sprigs yield tiny, delicate leaves that can almost melt into a sauce or stew. Thyme’s woodsy flavor is super versatile and is delicious in recipes spanning all four seasons. You can stir fresh thyme into a Simple Beef Stew or incorporate it into the creamy sauce of some Cheesy Au Gratin Potatoes during the colder months. Or, in the summer, use it in uncooked, sprinkled over sliced tomatoes or grilled vegetables. Fresh thyme is great in marinades and dressings such as Citrus, Honey, and Thyme Vinaigrette.

No matter how you use it, thyme is a classic herb for a reason. It also makes a lovely garnish for everything from roasted chicken breasts to a graze board. If you’re looking for the scoop on more fresh herbs, get cooking tips for Parsley, Oregano, Mint, and Rosemary!

Fresh thyme sprigs on white surface.

How to Cook with Thyme: Here’s everything you need to know about how to buy, store, prepare, and cook with fresh thyme. Plus how to chop thyme leaves and 10 fresh thyme recipes.

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What Is Thyme?

Thyme is an herb, popular in a number of countries and cuisines, but we most often think of it in conjunction with European cooking, especially the cuisine of the Mediterranean: Italy and France in particular. (Apparently, ancient Romans considered the herb a symbol of bravery and strength and wore it pinned to their garments before battle — hard to imagine an herb sprig inspiring fear on the battlefield, but kind of fun to envision these burly guys racing into combat with a bit of an herbal aroma floating around them.)

In its dried form, it is the main ingredient in the classic French herb combination Herbes de Provence as well as Za’atar, which is a ubiquitous Middle Eastern spice blend.

What Does Thyme Look Like?

Fresh thyme has small leaves that grow in clusters on very thin stems. The leaves in a bottle or package of dried thyme are even smaller, as the already little leaves shrink when they are dried.

Fresh sprigs of thyme on yellow surface.

What Does Thyme Taste Like?

The taste is very concentrated and herbal in flavor, with sharp, grassy, woodsy, and floral notes. Dried thyme and fresh thyme taste nearly identical, but dried thyme (like all dried herbs) is more potent than fresh (see substituting dried thyme for fresh below). There is also a variety of thyme called lemon thyme, which, as you would expect, has a lemony undertone. 

How to Substitute Dried Thyme for Fresh Thyme

Dried thyme can be substituted for fresh in many recipes, especially any recipes that are cooked. Use 1 teaspoon of dried thyme for 1 tablespoon fresh, for a 1:3 ratio of dried to fresh thyme.

For recipes and dishes that call for fresh thyme that is not cooked, sometimes it’s ok to sub in dried, sometimes not. The best rule of thumb is to think about how the herb is being featured in the food. If it’s blended into a marinade, for instance, dried is probably fine, but if you are sprinkling it over a bruschetta, then pick another fresh herb if you don’t have fresh thyme, or possibly just skip it.

Rib Eye Steaks with Thyme-Garlic Butter on white plate.
Ribeye Steaks with Thyme-Garlic Butter

Substituting Other Herbs for Thyme

Thyme’s flavor is distinctive, but fresh rosemary, sage, basil, oregano, or marjoram can often be substituted for it in various recipes because their flavor usually is compatible with the same kinds of recipes thyme is used in. Rosemary and sage are a bit stronger in flavor, so you may want to use a bit less and taste and adjust as you like.

Where To Find Thyme

Fresh thyme is found in the fresh produce section of supermarkets, and it’s very easy to grow in an herb garden or container in the kitchen for year-round use. Dried thyme is found in the baking aisle with the other dried herbs and spices.

How to Choose Fresh Thyme

Fresh thyme may be sold in bunches (particularly at farmers markets) or in small plastic containers. See below for how to store it once you bring it home. Avoid bunches with browned leaves or leaves that look shriveled, dried, or damp.

How To Prepare and Cook with Thyme

There are so many uses for thyme! Thyme (fresh and dried) pairs well with meats of all kinds, including stews, soups, eggs, pastas, vegetables, and beans. I never make roast chicken without thyme. Fresh thyme is also nice with fish and seafood. Think of thyme when you are making lasagna, sautéing or roasting vegetables, and making any sort of potato dish. It’s also perfect for all kinds of chicken, pork, lamb, or beef recipes. Cooking with thyme adds a slightly floral, woodsy note to any dish.

Drizzling duck fat over fresh thyme and potatoes on baking sheet.
Roasted Duck Fat Potatoes

If a recipe calls for a fresh “sprig” of thyme, the leaves and stem should be kept intact. When added to recipes in this way, the leaves usually fall off during cooking, and the stem can be removed prior to serving.

If a recipe calls for a teaspoon or another measurement of “fresh thyme,” the leaves need to be pulled off of the stem. However, once you start cooking with thyme, you’ll be able to judge whether you can get away with adding sprigs and removing the stems later.

How to Remove Thyme Leaves from the Stem

To remove the leaves from the stem, slide your fingers down the stem while holding the top, which will pull off the leaves as you go. (See below for more detailed instructions.) Fresh thyme leaves are so small that they often do not need to be chopped.

Peeling fresh thyme leaves off stem.

How to Chop Fresh Thyme

To chop or mince fresh thyme leaves, all you need is a cutting board and a knife. See below for detailed instructions. It’s okay if some smaller, thinner pieces of stem are included with the leaves, but avoid any thicker, woody stems.

Alternatively, you can use an herb stripper to remove the leaves from the stems. Insert the bottom of the thyme sprig stem into a hold in the herbs stripper that’s slightly wider than the stem. Pull the herb sprig through the stripper gently but firmly. The leaves should come off as you pull the stem through.

How to Cook with Fresh Thyme

Unlike some other more delicate fresh herbs, fresh thyme can be added early on in the recipe. The flavor will continue to develop as the dish cooks, rather than dissipating as with some other herbs.

How to Store Thyme

Fresh thyme will last for at least 1 week if you wrap it in a slightly damp paper towel and then place the bundle in a sealable plastic bag or container. Place it in the crisper drawer for even better storage conditions (it’s not as cold there compared to the back of the fridge).

Dried thyme, like all dried herbs, should be stored in a sealed container in a cool dry place.


10 Thyme Recipes

Here are some recipes that use fresh or dried thyme.

Chopped Salad with Chicken, Tomatoes and Lemon Thyme Dressing / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen / Katie Workman / themom100.com
5 from 1 vote

Chopped Salad with Chicken, Tomatoes, and Lemon Thyme Dressing

That perfect chopped salad with a lovely herby lemony dressing.
View Recipe

Rib Eye Steaks with Thyme-Garlic Butter / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman / themom100.com
5 from 1 vote

Ribeye Steaks with Thyme-Garlic Butter

A simple herb compound butter is the perfect finishing touch to these flavorful pan-seared ribeye steaks.
View Recipe

Roast Beef with Thyme and Rosemary / Carrie Crow / Katie Workman / themom100.com
4.88 from 8 votes

Eye of Round Roast

This incredibly simple and economical roast eye of round beef recipe with thyme and rosemary has a terrific flavorful crust and tender, pink, juicy meat inside.
View Recipe

Red Salad with Radicchio, Citrus, Honey and Thyme Vinaigrette on a plate.
5 from 28 votes

Red Salad with Citrus, Honey, and Thyme Vinaigrette

When you need a flavorful salad that adds a pop of color to a meal, this red salad is just the ticket. Perfect for hioliday dinners!
View Recipe
Baked bone-in chicken breast on white plate.
5 from 3 votes

Baked Bone-In Chicken Breasts

Sprigs of fresh thyme and oregano add lovely herbal notes to these juicy baked chicken breasts.
View Recipe

Easy Classic Potato Salad
5 from 2 votes

Easy Classic Potato Salad

Thyme is a classic partner to potatoes, and perfect in this All-American potato salad.
View Recipe

Black Lentil and Butternut Squash with Provencal Vinaigrette / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman / themom100.com
5 from 1 vote

Black Lentil and Butternut Squash with Provencal Vinaigrette

Thyme is the perfect herb to flavor this beautiofu, vegetarian Mediteranean dish.
View Recipe

Mediterranean Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops
4.98 from 39 votes

Mediterranean-Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops

These slowly cooked Mediterranian-style lamb chops are fall apart tender and nestled into a lovely vegetable-studded red wine and tomato sauce.
View Recipe

Beef Stroganoff in a bowl over egg noodles.
5 from 9 votes

Beef Stroganoff

Tender, wavy egg noodles are studded with lots of sautéed beef and mushrooms and coated with a creamy sauce in this cool weather family favorite recipe.
View Recipe

Duck fat roasted potatoes with garlic and thyme on baking sheet.
5 from 1 vote

Roasted Duck Fat Potatoes

Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and so flavorful — these are next-level roasted potatoes!
View Recipe

More Recipes With Fresh Herbs

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How to Chop Thyme

The best way to get those little leaves off thyme stems and into your recipes!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 4 people
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Equipment

Ingredients 

  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme

Instructions 

  • Run your fingers down the stems, against the growth of the leaves to remove as many leaves as possible. Pluck any remaining leaves from the stems. It's ok if some smaller, thinner pieces of stem are included with the leaves, but avoid any thicker, woody stems.
  • Place the leaves on a cutting board. Use a sharp chef's knife to chop the leaves, rocking the knife back and forth, until the leaves are chopped as coarsely or as finely as you wish for your recipe.

Notes

It’s ok if some smaller, thinner pieces of stem are included with the leaves, but avoid any thicker, woody stems.
To remove the leaves from the stems, you can use an herb stripper. Insert the bottom of the thyme sprig stem into a hold in the herb stripper slightly wider than the stem. Pull the herb sprig through the stripper gently but firmly. The leaves should come off as you pull the stem through.
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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