Kitchen Hacks

The Game-Changing, Ultra-Efficient Way to Zest Citrus

June 30, 2017

I used to take my sweet time zesting lemons. I'd skate the Microplane around the surface, leisurely and randomly, either letting the zest collect in the shoot or watching it rain gently into the bowl of batter. I had all the time in the world.

But then I started spending part of each week in a professional pastry kitchen, where I zest upwards of 20 lemons in a row during every shift. One day, as I was humming along, a more experienced pastry cook asked if I'd like to learn the efficient way to get the job done. Yes!, I shouted, knowing that watching me zest my lemons must have been, to her, as frustrating as walking behind someone moving at a glacial pace through Times Square.

To make a lemon (or lime) completely bald in as few strokes as possible, the key is to shift the angle of the fruit as you drag it—forcefully—from the bottom to the top of the Microplane:

Repeat 20 times. Photo by James Ransom

Here's the idea:

  1. Start off with the pointy tip of the lemon face down, so that you're looking straight into its stem end.
  2. As you move the lemon down the Microplane (I rested the Microplane against a plate for the photos above, but if your Microplane has a handle, you could always hold it over the bowl), rotate the lemon so that its entire curve comes into contact with the blades. You'll make a flicking motion with your wrist, almost like you're rolling a bowling ball.
  3. That means that the lemon will make an arc motion, and by the time you've reached the other end of the Microplane, its stem end is facing the tool and you're looking at the pointy tip.
  4. If you've done a good job, you should have created a large streak of baldness from tip to tip.
  5. Now continue this motion until you've gone all the way around the lemon and shorn it entirely.
  6. Once you get good, it will only take you 8 to 10 motions to zest the entire lemon. Congratulations, you have become a lemon-zesting machine.
We created this pile of zest in approximately 5 minutes. Photo by James Ransom

The motion was, for me, awkward at first. You need to get a great grip on the lemon and apply a surprising amount of force against the Microplane. You'll also want to drag the fruit in as fluid a motion as possible—stopping and starting makes the process more difficult (and more risky). Because your fingers are coming in close proximity to the Microplane, I'd recommend wearing kitchen gloves when you're first learning.

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If I only have to zest a couple lemons for a cake or a salad dressing, I'll still take my time. But if I'm baking or cooking on a large scale—or I want to prove my kitchen chops—you can be sure I'll challenge anyone in the area to a high-speed Zest-Off. (And, pssst, I'll win!)

Have you ever seen such bald lemons? Photo by James Ransom

Is this the way you've always zested lemons? Or do you have an even more efficient technique to share? Lay it on us in the comments below.

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  • marsiamarsia
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    Pascale Beale
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


marsiamarsia August 24, 2017
I'm going out and buying a drill tomorrow. Lauren Vied Allen: your dad is brilliant.
Christine M. July 9, 2017
Thank you so much! I love a new kitchen trick, :-)
HalfPint June 30, 2017
I do this but flip the microplane so that the sharp part is facing downward. Then I run the microplane across the citrus. The zest accumulates on top and then I slide into a bowl or on the cutting board. I find this a lot less messy than the way shown. And I can zest a bunch of citrus very quickly too ;)
Danuta G. June 30, 2017
ah...thought I'd learn a new method...but that's how my mum taught me to zest lemons (mothers know best!). I can strip a lemon or lime in 10 strokes!
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Sarah J. July 1, 2017
Mothers do know best!
Pascale B. June 30, 2017 - here's a video on zesting lemons for you.