Tips & Techniques

A Trick for Zesting Citrus

April 10, 2014

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: A Food52 heirloom trick, for you and yours, to make all your citrus recipes better.

A Trick for Zesting Citrus

Shop the Story

We learn our best tips from those we cook with. And such is the case with this citrus zesting trick -- the one that will make your pies zippier, your salad dressings brighter, your kitchen cleaner. And the one that will give you something to show off at dinner parties. (What, you don’t do that?) 

I learned this from Kristen, who learned it from Merrill. It’s an heirloom trick, in that way, passed down and kept in the Food52 test kitchen.

A Trick for Zesting Citrus from Food52

But no more. Now it's yours to share: The next time you zest any kind of citrus, zest upwards, with the underside of the microplane or grater facing you. Why is this better than what you’re doing now? Because instead of a flailing rainstorm of zest on your counter, you’re collecting and confining the zest. And more importantly, you’re not losing its precious, citrusy oils to a cutting board, or your hands, or whatever surface you’d otherwise zest onto. Instead, they’re in that pie, or that dressing. They’re where they should be. 

If your recipe doesn’t call for a specific measurement, you’d do well to zest directly into your mixing bowl. If it does, carefully slide the zest off of your grater, directly into your measuring vessel. 

A Trick for Zesting Citrus from Food52

Now pay it forward, and hand this trick on. 

Have any citrus widsom to share? Tell us in the comments! 

Photos by James Ransom 

Grab your copy

It's here: Our game-changing guide to everyone's favorite room in the house. Your Do-Anything Kitchen gathers the smartest ideas and savviest tricks—from our community, test kitchen, and cooks we love—to help transform your space into its best self.

Grab your copy

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Katheryn's Kitchen
    Katheryn's Kitchen
  • kpurvis
  • Mark Marino
    Mark Marino
  • tupperbear
  • Alma Sisk
    Alma Sisk
Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


Katheryn's K. July 2, 2015
I just zest directly into my bowl or whatever pan I am using. I think most can eyeball a teaspoon or tablespoon of zest, it's not the end of the world if there is the measurement is a little off.
kpurvis April 28, 2015
If you don't need to measure the zest, zest directly over the bowl (or pan, or skillet) so you catch the essential oils.
Mark M. January 31, 2015
As a former chef of over a decade, I never thought of this. Great tip!
tupperbear January 31, 2015
I'll admit it - I was a zesting dummy. But no more - Thanks to Food52!
Alma S. January 30, 2015
Been doing this for years!
LoreneFL January 30, 2015
I've always held the microplane like this. It is just so much easier to move the plane over the fruit rather than the fruit over the plane. I do nutmeg in the other orientation.
Angie January 28, 2015
Genius! I will never zest the same again.
Mary April 13, 2014
I zest dozens of lemons at a time. I place the zest in ice cube trays and fill with water. To thaw, I just toss the needed amount of cubes in a sieve and in a flash, I have fresh zest!
AntoniaJames April 11, 2014
I was sort of curious about this, so I did some quick research. The method described here is how the company that produces the Microplane (tm) zester instructs how it is to be used. Click on the FAQ. ;o)
placidplaid April 11, 2014
Big duh.
cucina D. April 11, 2014
I do this too! I was gifted with zest dr years ago and I immediately turned it upside down not knowing anything different :) it works great for me every time, thanks for the great article!
Sunnycovechef April 10, 2014
I have always done it this way
Jackie P. April 10, 2014
While I appreciate the tip; I don't like doing it that way. It seems much my hands to do it that way. I just slap that puppy over the bowl and grate away - all oils and zest are going into the bowl regardless. Plus, I never measures my zest anyway.
whiskito April 10, 2014
Have you tried switching hands as well? I am 95% sure that when I want to grate willy-nilly (eg dusting pasta with cheese at the table), I hold the grater stationary with my left hand and move the cheese over it with my right (I am a rightie). On the other hand (pun intended), to collect the gratings (as with zest), I hold the lemon stationary in the palm of my left hand while moving the grater with my (more dexterous) right hand. But to each their own!
phyllis April 10, 2014
I had the same experience as AntoniaJames. Now that I know it's a 'trick', I'll pass it on. Thank you.
Sue B. April 10, 2014
I just shared this great tip on my blog last week! Love it~
Sara M. April 10, 2014
Me too! You can see how much of the fruit you've zested by simply flipping the microplane! :)
AntoniaJames April 10, 2014
This is so funny, because I didn't realize there was any other way to do it. I bought my first Microplane (tm) zester before I'd ever seen anyone else use one. The engineer in me figured out immediately that the method you describe is best for another reason: you have so much more control over the angle and sweep of the tool when you use it in your dominant hand, almost like a paintbrush, with a gentle pulling motion. You can get so much more zest off, and more evenly (which is important for citrus, as you don't want the bitter pith), when you do it this way. I actually thought to myself, when I first started using the tool, how clever the manufacturer was to design it in such a way that the zest was all so neatly contained, making it easy to scrape off. At moments like these, I feel like I'm in the wrong business . . . . ;o)