6 Garlic Mistakes We'll Never (Ever!) Make Again

Are you doing one of these without realizing?

September 14, 2020
Photo by Jenny Huang

Garlic is a must-have kitchen staple that can easily transform any bland dish into a flavor powerhouse. Even though we cook with garlic all the time—adding it to everything from Garlic Cheddar Biscuits to Tomato Garlic Chutney—it’s not always as straightforward an ingredient as you might expect. So the next time you reach for those pungent cloves, keep a few tips in mind to avoid some common pitfalls:

Mistake 1: Buying Old or Stale Cloves at the Market

First things first: To make the perfect garlicky dish, you’ll want to start with the perfect head of garlic. Ideally, you’ll find the freshest garlic during its peak season, which runs from midsummer to early fall. When at the market, look for bulbs that appear firm, are bright and white (although a light purple hue is also acceptable), and have a tightly bound tip. When you give the bulb a gentle squeeze, it should feel solid and dry, and not shriveled on the sides. Though still edible, sprouted garlic may indicate that the bulb was not properly stored or may already be past its prime, so avoid any heads with little green shoots poking through.

Mistake 2: Storing Garlic Incorrectly

To get the most out of your garlic, store it in a dry, dark place with plenty of room-temperature air circulation. The air will help prevent the garlic from sprouting or spoiling too soon. You can also keep garlic in a paper or mesh bag to help maintain the dry, cool environment. If stored correctly, garlic can last for several months. However, once you start removing cloves, it will spoil more quickly. Though tempting, avoid refrigerating or freezing garlic at all costs, as it can ruin both the texture and flavor.

Mistake 3: Peeling Garlic the Wrong Way

If you have loads of garlic to peel, say for a chicken recipe with 40 cloves, you may want to rely on a savvy peeling hack to cut down your prep time. Place a garlic bulb in between two stainless steel bowls, rim to rim, to create an egg-like dome and shake the bowls rapidly for about 30 seconds. Once you’ve tossed the garlic sufficiently, they should naturally release from their shell.

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“When chopping, or mincing, I like to rub my knife blade lightly with olive oil. This prevents the stickiness encountered there. ”
— Jim

Though this trick can be loud and may take longer than 30 seconds depending on the size of your bulb, it’s an effective method for quickly peeling a larger batch of garlic all at once. You can also use a glass mason jar for this method instead. Or if you’re more of a traditionalist, smashing the garlic with the flat side of your trusted knife will always do the trick.

Mistake 4: Prepping Garlic Incorrectly

When prepping garlic, you want to be mindful of the cooking method it will undergo. When garlic is crushed or chopped, it releases a compound called allicin, which results in the distinct garlic taste and smell we obsess over. The more you chop or cut garlic, the more allicin gets released, and the more pungent the flavor. So if you’re looking for a mellower hint of garlic (say, to season a sauce), roughly chop your cloves into large pieces, which will just lightly infuse the dish.

On the other hand, if your goal is to add a strong, garlicky bite to your recipe, grate your garlic with a Microplane, which will maximize the amount of allicin. Additionally, whichever form of garlic you choose for your dish, make sure the pieces are consistent in shape and size. This will help ensure that the garlic cooks uniformly, with no bits left under- or overcooked. And on that note...

Mistake 5: Overcooking Your Garlic

Despite what you may have heard, it isn’t necessary to sauté your garlic first in a pool of overly hot oil to release its flavoring potential; in fact, this risks burning it, which there’s no coming back from. Instead, save your garlic for later on in the cooking process, like when you’re building your sauce, almost ready to add a liquid, or once the more time-consuming proteins or vegetables have already cooked. This will let the garlic render and release all its magic without burning to a bitter crisp.

Mistake 6: Thinking All Types of Garlic Products Are Created Equal

Though you may be tempted to opt for pre-peeled, pre-minced, or even tubed garlic paste, it’s best to stick to a plain and simple, fresh head of garlic for the most authentic flavor. Once garlic has been chopped or removed from its original bulb, the aroma and taste starts to change, weakening over time. It’s believed that the allicin begins to mellow out just a few hours after being exposed, and it’s difficult to preserve once altered or packaged.

Additionally, pre-minced garlic found in a jar is oftentimes mixed with preservatives like vinegar, citric acid, or even phosphoric acid, which can drastically manipulate the original taste. If you’re looking for the hot, pungent flavor of raw garlic, you’ll most definitely want to stick to the real deal and save garlic products like powder and paste for other uses that call for a softer or more neutral garlic presence.

These tips may spare you from some kitchen mishaps, but unfortunately we can’t save you from the imminent bad breath! Make sure to share your garlic-loving secrets in the comments below.

What are your best garlic tips? Let us know in the comments.
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Maki Yazawa

Written by: Maki Yazawa

Food Writer & Recipe Developer


Yumzy September 22, 2020
Very nice tips to preserve and use garlic. Thank You.
Bikegirl227 September 19, 2020
Make garlic confit sous vide! It's the sweet cousin of the astringent allium. Pungent garlic cloves, stripped of their skins, placed in a reusable stash bag and bathed in some good extra virgin olive oil with a sprig of thyme or rosemary at 190 F for about 4 hours will turn into a sweet spreadable flavor bomb! I made some garlic confit recently and added it to grilled eggplant flesh for homemade baba ganoush. Store it in a small mason jar and refrigerate it. These sweet cloves get many invitations. Think salad dressings, dips, soups, spread on slices of ciabatta or tucked into stuffing.
Indra G. September 19, 2020
One more thing I just remembered. It is a garlic peeling too I learned from TikTok. If you want to peel a whole lot of garlic, just pour hot water over the cloves. Wait a minute. Drain the water, and as soon as the garlic is cool enough to handle, you will find the skins slip off easily.
Leslee P. September 19, 2020
A garlic “product” that deserves attention is the peeled fresh garlic available in some markets. When we can shop in our favorite places again, look for this in bags or plastic containers in the produce section. The way I deal with the several cups you end up buying is to divide the fresh, juicy cloves into 3 parts: 1- the amount you can reasonably use in 4 or 5 days (kept in fridge), 2- spread some on a cookie sheet and freeze as you would berries, and when frozen keep in zip lock bags, 3- cover the rest in a saucepan with olive oil and simmer until the cloves are golden. The frozen cloves are fine for many uses and the roasted garlic “confit” and it’s oil keep a long time in a jar in the fridge.
Marion B. September 19, 2020
Peeling tip: I always cut the clove in half lengthwise to see if there's a green shoot that needs to be removed. I used to peel it first, but I've found that if I cut off the root end and cut the unpeeled clove in half, the peel slips easily off each half. (Start at the top of the clove, not the root end, to slip off the peel.) For lots of cloves you can't beat the mason jar technique.
Jim September 19, 2020
Ok, so call me a weirdo if you like: 1) I love cooking with the sprouted green when I want subtle garlic flavor in place of robust. 2) I love smelling garlic on my fingers all night long after handling it. Loads of excellent advice and tips here. I’m now eager to plant my own bulbs. I just LOVE garlic!
Lynn September 19, 2020
When making a cold soup and you want a whisper of garlic. Take 1 or 2 peeled garlic cloves and pierce each with a toothpick (for easy removal). Throw In Your finished soup before chilling. Remove before serving. Voila, a whisper not a shout of garlic's magic.

Marlena September 19, 2020
I harvested my first home grown garlic this summer and it is gorgeous and delicious! Planting both hardneck and softneck garlics this fall. Never buying garlic from the grocer again.
mary September 19, 2020
It’s addicting! And added perk is that you have something in the yard in the dead of winter. I’ve been known to go out and count in the middle of January.
Hannah September 19, 2020
My favorite tool in the kitchen is the garlic press - it basically minces the clove for me when I’m trying to sauté something fast and flavorful in under 5 minutes. And gosh, ever since I started growing garlic, I never realized there were so many different varieties on the market. I definitely like the Deerfield Purple variety the best - it’s got a little bit of a kick to it.
Indra G. September 19, 2020
The easiest way to get rid of the garlic odor on your hands is to rub your fingers with any stainless steel thing under cold water..I grab a spoon or fork. Smelly fingers gone!
Kim S. September 18, 2020
Expanding on the sautéed garlic point: if a recipe calls for browning onions and garlic, do the onions first until it's nearly the color the recipe calls for, then add the garlic.

Second tip: if I'm using a knife to mince garlic, I sprinkle it with just a bit of kosher salt. The mince stays off the blade, and the salt also helps to pulverize when I smash the mince against the cutting board.
Marion B. September 19, 2020
Second tip is a great suggestion. I sprinkle garlic with kosher salt when I mash it with a mortar and pestle, but I've never thought of doing it when I mince it. Now, no more episodes of wiping sticky garlic off my knife--thank you!
Kim S. September 18, 2020
Expanding on the sautéed garlic point: if a recipe calls for browning onions and garlic, do the onions first until it's nearly the color the recipe calls for, then add the garlic.
Gatorgirl September 18, 2020
What a great idea about putting a little oil on the knife so the garlic doesn’t stick to it!
It’s those little things in life that makes one happy, isn’t it?!
kmkane123 September 18, 2020
I’ll never store my garlic in the fridge again!!
Chewing on fresh parsley helps with garlic breath. That’s why you often find it as a garnish on restaurant dishes.
Terry B. September 18, 2020
Our farmers market is 1 day a week, unfortunately, I have other obligations the morning of. I've tried buying direct from a few vendors, no,
they're not willing for whatever reason. Stores have old, sprouting garlic. I've bought peeled since I knew it a thing. I'd love to start growing my own. My question is, we have a lot of squirrels. They won't bother the bulbs, will they?
Kim S. September 18, 2020
Garlic is considered a squirrel-deterrent plant in the garden. Plant it near the squirrel's favorite snacks and cross your fingers. You'll know after 1 growing season if it works or not.
Lawre September 19, 2020
I have loads of squirrels and chipmunks. No critter has messed with my garlic or onions in 25 years. The tall, strap-like leaves even look good in flower borders. They might even help repel deer.
mary September 18, 2020
Grow your own - it’s a wonderful thing.
Dolores D. September 18, 2020
You missed an essential garlic tip that Wolfgang Puck always uses. Poach a clove for 1 minute before you add to a raw ingredient, like humans or a salad dressing. It takes the harshness out of the taste but not the flavor.
Sheila G. September 21, 2020
Humans must be hummus 😳
Yirgach September 18, 2020
Wonderful article!
As an avid garlic grower here in Vermont I can appreciate all the timely suggestions.
I've found that the best way to make a good garlic oil is to run the fresh cloves (cut off the ends) through a press, mix it vigourously with EVOO in a cup, then sloooowly roast in a 205F oven for about an hour or so. About 1 large head to a cup of oil. If the cloves are not that fresh and juicy, then remove any green centers before pressing. This will keep covered on the shelf for a week or in the fridge for quite a while.
Ace September 18, 2020
Roast garlic is heavenly, nip off the tip of the head, drizzle a few drops of olive oil, roast in an ovenproof dish - 325 for 30 minutes - if the squeeze the head the buttery garlic rushes ti greet you .... use as butter, on toast, on chicken, use like peanut butter - guaranteed to keep your household vampire free ...
Kirsten L. September 18, 2020
These tips are helpful -- especially the one about rubbing a little olive oil on the knife to keep the chopped bits from sticking. My question is: What is the best way to "break into" the entire head of garlic? I worry that cutting the entire top off the bulb will begin the aging process for every clove inside the bulb. Tips?
Yirgach September 18, 2020
No need to cut the top off. That is only useful for roasting the entire head. Just break out the clove from the head. You might have to remove a few layers of loose "paper" until the clove's out lines are apparent, then dig in and separate the individual clove out. If there is a dried neck in the center of the head, then rock this back and forth until the cloves separate.
Lawre September 19, 2020
I just grab the whole head of garlic and twist a clove out. Some garlic may need bit of help with a finger nail between the cloves. Don’t squeeze too hard, you don’t want to smash the clove. After the first clove is removed the remaining ones are easy to snap out.