Essential Tools

I Never Thought I Needed This Under-$10 Kitchen Tool—Until I Got One

August 10, 2018

For all my maximalist tendencies—exaggerations, an abundance of trinkets, bright red shoes—I’m rather reserved in the kitchen. I tend to run a pretty tight ship. I clean as I go and prefer to keep all my utensils to a minimum. I have one large knife for chopping, a serrated knife for rougher stuff, and a then a tiny one for paring. I use just one cutting board and between my Dutch oven and a nonstick skillet, I’m covered.

When it comes to superfluous kitchen appliances, I shirk away faster than a wet hand touching an electric outlet. I don’t want to see that. But recently, my parents sent me a Microplane zester in a care package. (Because, yes, I have the type of parents who fill packages with tins of olive oil and spare kitchen tools.)

I turned it over in my hands, feeling the long coarse surface. Honestly, it looked cool, but did I need it? Was it worth a spot in my kitchen? I shrugged my shoulders. It was here and I wasn’t going to throw it out. I figured I might as well put it to use.

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I started with its most conventional use: shaving off the waxy outer layer of punchy citrus. The arrival of the Microplane in my life coincided with my foray into amateur baking, which coincided with my need for copious amounts of lemon zest—what a coup! Plus, once I discovered this old Food52 trick (using the back of the grater as a teeny storage compartment), all bets were off. I was zesting for my life! I found myself reaching for my Microplane more often….

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Top Comment:
“I'm not a huge fan of the rasp graters with the curled edge. It's too hard to get the inside corners clean. I really love my Professional series graters, though. I've broken some of the kind with plastic handles but I've had these stainless ones for more than 15 years: ”
— Noreen F.

Then I started using it for cheese. That’s when everything went to the next level. The Microplane takes a serious and solid hunk of parmesan and renders it light, fluffy, airy. Perfect for tossing by the palmful over heaps of sauce-soaked spaghetti. I felt like Edward Scissorhands producing from a block of ice flurries of snowflakes. Every piece of hard craggy cheese that now enters my kitchen becomes almost immediately acquainted with my Microplane. They’re fast friends.

A little grated cheese never hurt

Since then, I’ve been seeking out other ways max out my zester. So I reached out to my trusty colleagues. Obviously, they had nothing but good ideas (they’re very smart!). Some suggested grating chocolate over desserts. Others recommended the Microplane for turning both cloves of garlic and knobs of ginger into pastes (bye bye, garlic press!).

Of course, baking maven Alice Medrich had nothing but good things to say about a dusting of freshly grated cinnamon on a dessert and how a Microplane is the best tool for such a task. And then Luz Ramirez, our marketing manager, dropped this nifty trick on us just this week: After you zest the lemon, slice it in half and squeeze it over the microplane—sort of like a sieve!—to catch those seeds. Check it out in action here (fast forward to 2:40).

The Microplane, it seems, is more of a jack-of-all-trades tool than I could've anticipated. Mine clocks in just under $10 and comes without a handle, but if you favor a sturdier grip, there are always more formidable options, like this one for a few bucks more. For now, however, mine does the job—and then some. I think I'll just have to keep it around.

Are you a Microplane fan? Tell us what you grate in the comments below.

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


MariaVirginia S. August 13, 2018
Correction: it should be "of course" instead of "of coarse". Would be very interested to hear of/learn other practical applications.
MariaVirginia S. August 13, 2018
I totally love my microplane, a veritable multi-function tool. Plus, it's so easy to clean and doesn't take up much storage space. I use it for zesting citrus rind, grating ginger, garlic, cinnamon and nutmeg, and of coarse, Parmesan and chocolate. This handy tool sits in a crock along with the whisk, silicone spatulas, kitchen shears and an assortment of olive wood cooking spoons - all within easy reach.
Mary A. August 10, 2018
Being a former tool salesperson, I was excited to find my first microplane for kitchen use. Sadly, I didn't think of this. Love it for everything, especially whole nutmeg. I have several different types but recently discarded all that were not the Microplane brand. They were somewhat lower quality. No time for that.
Mel August 10, 2018
I use my grater for al the things you mention plus onions and carrots when I make coleslaw or for onions in latkes. I love smaller pieces in my coleslaw which never comes in contact with mayonnaise. :-)
But, my top uses are for garlic, cheese, and citrus.
Love my microplane which is like the one you have.
Noreen F. August 10, 2018
I'm not a huge fan of the rasp graters with the curled edge. It's too hard to get the inside corners clean. I really love my Professional series graters, though. I've broken some of the kind with plastic handles but I've had these stainless ones for more than 15 years:
HalfPint August 10, 2018
I've been a fan of the microplane since I saw it on the Martha Stewart show (years before the prison thing). I like mincing garlic & ginger (thought the ginger is a bit harder to grate) with it. And I love using it to grate nutmeg and palm sugar which comes in small disks sometimes.
Smaug August 10, 2018
I'm in between- I use it for zest a lot of the time, but for other things- like cookies- I like the zest in larger pieces and use a zester, followed by chopping with a knife, which is actually faster than the microplane. These devices need to be made of thin metal, so the convex shape is necessary for stiffness, but it doesn't match up well with citrus and a lot of other things. I actually bought a rather expensive microplane version of a box grater, but I almost never use it for anything but Parmesan rinds- I find the results fluffier than I prefer, and it gets a bit dangerous when you get down to small pieces. I've tried it for garlic and didn't like it- I haven't tried cinnamon, that might be good- I've always had a dedicated nutmeg grater. Microplanes are not limited to the kitchen; they've become quite popular in woodworking applications- if you're into shaping guitar necks, some microplane rasps are aa huge asset.
Nancy August 13, 2018
Smaug - you do know the microplane as kitchen grater started life when owner's wife of a Canadian company (Ottawa, if I remember correctly) swiped a wood rasp to use in food prep?
Smaug August 13, 2018
Hadn't heard that, but not a great surprise- not much difference between the traditional box grater and things like Sureform planes and other old style rasps- similar function, similar construction.
Nancy August 13, 2018
Yup. Here's the story...1994 NYT, yes in Ottawa, correction, husband brought home the rasp (Lee Valley Tools still in operation). Enjoy ;)
Smaug August 13, 2018
Cool, thanks-- I have run across Lee Valley tools on occasion. That's interesting about the photo etching process, I'll have to look into that- I always assumed they were made with some sort of more conventional CDC process.