How to zest a lemon three different ways - and the tools you need to do it

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  • Lemon zest adds zing to many different dishes, including desserts, salads, seafood, poultry, pasta, and even cocktails.
  • Its flavor is stronger than lemon juice, and along with the citrusy sweet and tart taste, zest adds a little bit of color to your recipe.
  • With the right tool, it's very easy to zest a lemon - or any other citrus fruit - so if you've been skipping this kitchen technique thinking it was only for the pros, it's time to add some zest to your cooking.
  • Here's how to zest a lemon and the tools you need to do it, including a zester, a grater, and a vegetable peeler.
Sprinkles of lemon zest are a must on top of any lemony dessert, including lemon bars, lemon pie, or a lemon-glazed pastry. Zest also adds punch to soups, salads, meat dishes, and even pasta. You don't need a lot - just a little bit of zest goes a long way. As a general rule, you'll get one tablespoon of zest from a medium-sized lemon.
While you can purchase dried, bottled zest, it doesn't have quite the same fragrance and flavor as freshly grated fruit rind. And that's okay, because it's so easy to zest a fresh lemon, you really don't need to bother with a bottle. All you need is a basic kitchen tool - a zester, a grater, or a vegetable peeler.

Regardless of which tool you use, the most important rule in zesting citrus is to only grate the outer, colored rind. Never zest down into the white, spongy pith that lies right below the rind. The pith is bitter and will spoil the flavor of your recipe.

Once you have your lemon zest, you can use it right away, or store it in the freezer for up to six months. To prevent the zest freezing into a hard clump, first lay it out on a dish or tray in a single layer, and then pop it into the freezer for several hours or overnight. Then, transfer it into a plastic freezer bag and keep it frozen until you need it. There's generally no need to thaw the zest before you use it. It will thaw out very quickly once added to your cooking.

Here are the three basic ways to zest a lemon, along with the tools you need to do so. Whichever tool you choose, remember to first wash the citrus thoroughly under warm, running water, and then wipe it dry with a clean dish towel to remove any dirt, wax, or potentially harmful bacteria. Also, if you plan on juicing the lemon as well as zesting it, zesting comes first.

Here are the tools you can use to zest a lemon:

Read on in the slides below to learn how to zest a lemon three different ways.

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How to zest a lemon with a zester

How to zest a lemon with a zester

Lemon zesters have a palm-length handle and a slightly angled metal head with small holes that lift away thin, curly ribbons of citrus rind without penetrating into the pith. This is the perfect zest for decorating the tops of baked goods, as well as garnishing cocktails, soups, and salads. This is also the tool to use if you want to candy your lemon zest by cooking it in sugar water.

A lemon zester is definitely a one-trick pony — this handheld kitchen tool is good only for zesting citrus. But zesters are inexpensive — the OXO Good Grips Lemon Zester costs less than $10 — and the tool won't take up much room in your kitchen drawer.

Using the zester is easy: Just run the sharp end of the tool along the rind of your citrus, taking care not to use too much pressure. You'll quickly get a feel for how hard you need to press to produce perfect ribbons of lemon, orange, tangerine, grapefruit, or lime zest. Circle the citrus fruit while you work, and don't go over the same area more than once, or you risk hitting the pith.

Once you're finished, pop the zester into the dishwasher, or clean it by hand.

Buy the OXO Good Grips Lemon Zester on Amazon for $8.99

How to zest a lemon with a vegetable peeler

How to zest a lemon with a vegetable peeler

Every kitchen needs a good vegetable peeler, and it's hard to beat the comfortable-to-hold OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler. This basic tool is the perfect way to peel potatoes, carrots, apples, and sweet potatoes.

When it comes to using a vegetable peeler on citrus, you'll end up with large slices that are excellent for use as garnishes on drinks and desserts, candying, or infusing lemon flavor into vinegar, oil, or sugar syrups. Of course, you can always chop the zest into finer bits if you want to use it in a baked dessert, meat dish, or to sprinkle on a salad.

To use your vegetable peeler as a zester, start at one pointed end of the lemon and carefully peel down to the other end. It's much easier to hit the pith with a vegetable peeler than with a lemon zester, so work slowly and don't apply excessive pressure. Work your way around the lemon, and don't peel over the same spot twice. Once finished zesting, juice the remainder of the lemon, or slice it for use as a garnish or to flavor water.

Buy the OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler on Amazon for $8.99 Check out our guide to the best vegetable peelers

How to zest a lemon with a grater

How to zest a lemon with a grater

No, not the grater you use for onions or potatoes, but a zester grater — often called a microplane, which is actually a brand name — has a handle at one end, and a long, skinny metal body covered with small, sharp raised edges that produce very fine pieces of zest.

Another handy and inexpensive tool that belongs in every kitchen, you can use a zester grater not only to zest your lemons and other citrus, but also to finely grate cheese, ginger, garlic, coconut, and chocolate. We recommend the Microplane Premium Zester Grater if you don't have one yet.

When using a zester grater, you don't drag the tool across the citrus. Instead, you hold the grater steady in your dominant hand and rub the lemon over the sharp edges of the grater, dragging the fruit in a downwards motion over the grater's blade. Like other zesters, you'll want to position a plate or bowl to catch the zest. As with the other tools, take care not to zest too enthusiastically, or you'll end up with bitter pith mixed into your zest.

Zester graters are very sharp, so watch your fingers as you work.

Buy the Microplane Premium Zester Grater on Amazon for $10.31 and up, depending on color (originally $14.95)