Much to the chagrin of my boyfriend and colleagues (with whom I sit in very close quarters), garlic is one of my all-time favorite ingredients. I put it in almost everything—and with a heavy hand.
Which means I've spent my fair share of time going through the whole garlic-peeling rigamarole. You know the drill: an unending amount of papery thin skin, so much stickiness, tiny conjoined cloves you couldn't have anticipated, fingers that smell for days.
Yup, the internet says there's a better way to peel garlic. It's been something of an urban legend for years—just search "garlic peeling hack" on YouTube to see what I mean. But I personally only discovered it recently when I was up to my elbows (literally) in recipe development for this Spaghetti Aglio e Olio with Sausage.
The trick, says the internet, is this: Smash a head of garlic down with the heel of your hand (or whatever vessel you're using for this trick), then shake it very vigorously in a sealed jar or between two large mixing bowls. The contact with the sides of the container(s) is supposed to force the peels off of the cloves, so you can simply pluck them from the pile of garlic skin. Some sources say this can happen as quickly as 10 seconds.
Naturally, I had to give it a try. I called in Senior Editor Eric Kim (the star of these videos), gathered up some bowls and jars from our test kitchen, and we got smashing and testing. Here's how the various methods shook out (sorry, couldn't resist):
Two Large Bowls
Result: Eric and I will admit some user-error on this one, in that the initial smash wasn't quite as forceful as it probably needed to be. That said, because the bowls were of an unwieldy size, this method proved least successful for us.
After about 15 seconds of vigorous shaking, only about half of the cloves came out unpeeled.
Two Small Bowls
Result: Using two small bowls to peel garlic was the most effective method we tried. Because of the manageable bowl-size, Eric was able to generate much more leverage when shaking. After 15 seconds, more than two-thirds of the cloves came out unpeeled. (Still, though, not a 100% success rate.)
A Sealed Jar
Result: While the jar was the easiest to shake based on size and shape, we got the fewest cloves of unpeeled garlic in roughly 15 seconds—less than half of the head. Perhaps the concave interiors of the two bowls provide a more effective surface area for this trick?
Garlic Peeling Post Mortem
After giving Eric a few minutes to stretch out his arms and have a glass of water, we compared notes. Does this garlic peeling trick really work?
Sort of—it definitely started to, in each method. We did a few longer-timed trials that yielded more unpeeled cloves per head, and realized that one minute is roughly the minimum time needed for one of us to peel an entire head of garlic in two bowls or a jar.
The pros: It's fairly quick from start to finish, and you don't lose any of the garlic you would by chopping off the tips to slice the skin off of each clove individually.
The cons: It's loud, still somewhat messy (you have to pick through all of the scraps to get the cloves), and your garlic ends up pretty battered by the time you get to it.
Personally, I'll stick to smashing cloves with the flat side of a chef's knife, except for when I'm making recipes that call for a ton of whole garlic that doesn't need to be in great condition (hi 40-clove chicken).
But if I ever need a creative bicep work-out, I'm calling back in the two big bowls.
What's your favorite way to use a whole head of garlic in a recipe? Let us know in the comments!
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).
Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.