Kitchen Hacks

Is This the Absolute Best Way to Peel a Head of Garlic?

We tested this internet hack through and through.

January 18, 2019
Photo by Jenny Huang

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.

Know where I'm going with this?

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.

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Top Comment:
“I ended up preferring the Martha Stewart method (prison garb not mandatory) of smashing the head and then soaking the cloves in warm water for 10-15 minutes. The skins really do slide right off. I'm still a smash with knife blade and peel for dishes that require only a few cloves.”
— Carline
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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!

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

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.

8 Comments

Paula February 16, 2019
For a few cloves, I use my knife. When I need to do a head or three (I volunteer cook for large groups), I like to break the cloves apart, quickly trim the root end off and then toss in a pot of boiling water for about 30-60 seconds and the skins float right off. It's so fast that it doesn't make a big difference in it tasting "cooked".
 
Joni January 24, 2019
Garlic soup of course. 3 bulbs now that’s a pain but soo worth it. Good for chasing away a cold.
 
Carline January 24, 2019
The forty clove chicken was what drove me to look for other methods as well. I ended up preferring the Martha Stewart method (prison garb not mandatory) of smashing the head and then soaking the cloves in warm water for 10-15 minutes. The skins really do slide right off. I'm still a smash with knife blade and peel for dishes that require only a few cloves.
 
Heather January 19, 2019
I’ve done this before and watched videos. However, the more successful way to shake the coves in the bowls is to stack the bowls and have the garlic in between them whilst shaking.
 
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Ella Q. January 21, 2019
Thanks Heather! We'll have to give this one a go.
 
HalfPint January 18, 2019
Or, like me, you can get a small container of peeled garlic from the local Asian/Korean market (even Trader Joe's carries peeled garlic) :)

I'm not crazy about smashing garlic with a knife and peeling it because the smaller cloves have the papery skin that sticks annoyingly to my fingers. Plus I like thinly slivered garlic most of the time.
 
Eric K. January 18, 2019
Also, I wasn't a fan of how this "hack" bruises the cloves. Unless I'm using the entire head right away, I still prefer the knife-smashing method personally.
 
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Ella Q. January 18, 2019
Thanks for all the testing, Eric! :)