Kitchen tools

How to zest a lemon with 5 different kitchen utensils

  • A Microplane, citrus zester, vegetable peeler, box grater, and knife can all be used to zest a lemon.
  • While a Microplane gives the finest zest, a vegetable peeler or knife provides coarser slivers.
  • The key to zesting a lemon is to avoid the pith – the white, bitter part of the skin underneath.

Lemon zest – shavings of the outermost bright yellow part of the rind – are extremely versatile, and a little pinch goes a long way in adding a splash of lemon flavor to a dish.

Because the zest contains the essential oils of the peel, it delivers bright flavors that are even more intense than the juice, without the lip-wrinkled acidity. Lemon zest can instantly elevate baked goods, yogurts, salad dressings, pastas, pan sauces, aioli and more with a crisp, zesty taste.

“The acid in lemon zest helps balance the flavor of foods, makes food sharper taste and stimulates the production of saliva in the mouth,” says Jason Hawk, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. “It can also balance sweet and savory flavors.

There are several tools you can use to zest a lemon – or any other citrus fruit. fruit. Below are detailed instructions on how to use each of them.

Quick advice: A medium-sized lemon will yield about 1 tablespoon of zest, according to Hawk.


Keep the Microplane facing up to collect the zest.

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Thanks to its ultra-thin blades, this specific type of hand grater allows you to shave the skin of the lemon into much finer pieces than a traditional box grater. That’s why the Microplane is Hawk’s go-to tool for zesting a lemon.

To use it, he recommends repeatedly stroking the Microplane on the outside of the lemon, while continuously swirling the fruit as you go. Since a Microplane has very sharp edges, be careful not to get your fingers too close to this tool.

Quick advice: No matter what tool you use, keep in mind that you don’t want to grate the lemon too deeply because the white pith just under the skin tastes bitter.

citrus zester

How to zest a lemon with 5 different kitchen utensils
A citrus zester produces long, thin strips of zest.

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True to its name, this tool was specifically designed for zesting citrus fruits. A citrus zester results in slightly longer ribbons of peel than the Microplane, making it the ideal choice for decorating baked goods.

Using the zester is simple: slide the pointed end of the tool along the lemon zest with very light pressure while slowly turning the fruit.

Box grater

How to zest a lemon with 5 different kitchen utensils
Use the finest holes on a box grater, but be sure not to include the pith.

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This common kitchen tool isn’t just for grating cheese – it can also be used to zest citrus fruits. However, Hawk notes that you’ll need to use the side with the smaller holes, otherwise the grater will generally cut too deep into the lemon and grab the pith.

To zest with this tool, place the grater on a cutting board or other flat, sturdy surface. Hold the handle of the grater firmly in one hand and the lemon in the other, then run the lemon over the surface of the grater several times. Gently swish the lemon after removing the zest from the surface. If some of the zest gets stuck inside the small holes, you can gently shake the grater or tap it against the cutting board to loosen it.

vegetable peeler

How to zest a lemon with 5 different kitchen utensils
A vegetable peeler is a great tool for making lemon twists for cocktails.

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This tool provides larger slivers of zest, which are perfect for cocktail garnishes or for infusing lemon flavor into oils and syrups. You can also slice or julienne the lemon zest more finely with a knife.

With a peeler, Hawk says you’ll have to be very careful not to apply too much pressure because you want to avoid pith. Start by placing one end of the lemon against the sharp edges of the peel and lightly push the tool into the fruit while working your way to the other end in a circular motion. Keep repeating this step until you have only removed the yellow part of the outer skin.


How to zest a lemon with 5 different kitchen utensils
If all else fails, cut the skin with a knife and cut it into small pieces.

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If you don’t have any of the aforementioned tools handy, you can also use a paring knife to zest a lemon, but make sure it’s sharp.

Hold the lemon firmly on a cutting board in one hand and, with the knife in your dominant hand, begin to carefully cut small strips of zest while swirling the fruit. From there, you can swing a chef’s knife or santoku knife back and forth over the peel to cut it into small pieces.

Can you save the lemon zest?

Hawk recommends using your lemon zest within 24 hours – after that, the zest can start to dry out and degrade in flavor.

If you decide to save excess zest, he advises refrigerating it in a zip-top plastic bag or small airtight container.

You can also cover the lemon with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator once it has been zested, but keep in mind that it will dry out more quickly as it no longer has its protective outer skin to trap flavor and moisture. For this reason, Hawk says it’s best to use a zesty lemon within a day or two.

Insider’s Takeaways

Although a Microplane is the preferred method of professional chefs for zesting a lemon, there are a variety of other tools that will work, including a citrus zester, vegetable peeler, box grater, and knife. Each requires its own unique technique and is well suited to different types of recipes. While a Microplane and grater can be used for small pieces of lemon zest, a vegetable peeler and knife will provide larger slices of zest.

Always remember to avoid the marrow when zesting and try to use up your zest and the lemon itself within about a day for the best flavor.

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