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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Remember - and I thought it would have been mentioned. IF YOU burn garlic in your oil you must throw it our and start again. Do not saute you garlic until burnt and think you can hide the taste with tomatoes and otrher spices. Burnt garlic will always make your food taste like you've burnt the garlic. ”
— Rocky

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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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Maki Yazawa

Written by: Maki Yazawa

Food Writer & Recipe Developer


Douglas B. March 21, 2022
In September of 2020 I planted 3# of garlic. In July I harvested 25# of the best home grown organic garlic. In September of 2021 I planted 4# of garlic to be harvested this summer. I also get garlic scapes which are delicious.
Lisa P. September 14, 2021
Love this article! Can't wait to try the peeling hack with 2 bowls, also commenter Indra G's peeling hack. I laughed out loud about mistake #2 -- we store our garlic in an old ceramic bowl with the onions on the countertop. We go through a few heads a week so there's no danger of it sprouting or needing to be stored for "several months". What is any bona fide garlic lover doing by not using their garlic a.s.a.p?
RHo September 12, 2021
So many comments about grammar...
cosmiccook September 12, 2021
I go through 2 heads of garlic a week--and that's for "light" cooking! We LOVE our garlic in New Orleans. There's a variety grown in and around New Orleans called creole garlic--very mild. I use it upon occasion when I want a subtle flavor.
[email protected] September 11, 2021
Ask the Produce mgr where you shop for the origin of the garlic and if it isn't local or from CA be careful because if imported, most of it is grown under questionable conditions and always check the root end(bottom) because there should be some root stubble at the base(it shouldn't be smooth)
carol September 11, 2021
Thank you for the garlic tips. When I was a young cook, some 40 years ago, my father gave me a Zyliss garlic press. I still use that press every day. I'm baffled why recipes no longer suggest using a press. I agree with forgoing the pre-minced garlic - the taste is so bizarre and unappealing. I love the taste of fresh garlic -just picked - but it's so hard to come by.
kmkane123 September 10, 2021
Chewing on fresh parsley takes away a good amount of FRESH garlic breath (That's why you see it on restaurant dinner plates.)
Mary September 10, 2021
I buy the heaviest bulbs of garlic I can find. That's in addition to the advice above. Heavy means fresh. And my favourite variety of garlic has more than a light purple tinge--some bulbs (heads) have a lot of purple in the peel. They are so tasty and juicy!
Marbesner September 10, 2021
Steam peeled garlic in a pressure cooker. It becomes silky smooth and can be used as a spread, or in soups etc for instant flavor
Dolores D. September 10, 2021
Place raw peeled garlic between wax paper and with a mallet crush it.
[email protected] September 10, 2021
As Kim says, Kosher salt is helpful when mincing Garlic and when finished keep the Garlic in a small mound for 10 or 15 minutes and the flavors concentrate!
I also use a Garlic peeling device that is a Rubber -like tube which does a really great job of peeling, and if you have a microwave(Who doesn't) about 5 or 6 seconds and the peel comes right off but be careful because the Garlic becomes really hot!
jpriddy September 10, 2021
Also, there are many different garlics in addition to hardback and not. Some are genuinely hot and others, such as elephant garlic, are quite mild.
jpriddy September 10, 2021
"hard neck"
j7n May 10, 2021
Slightly old, dry garlic releases from the tough skin easily with a paring knife. Cut the root off first. 40 cloves is an obscene amount. Avoid heating it for long period and thus eliminating the flavor. Removal of cloves carefully, as opposed to crushing, has little impact to the rest of the bulb that is connected by dry tissue.
Sherrill R. April 19, 2021
Take a rubber jar opener andd put the garlic bulb in the middle and roll it back and fourth,this will release the bulb and take the outside off clean
Jeany P. February 26, 2021
Since I don't have two stainless steel bowls, when I have to peel a lot of garlic I use my cocktail shaker! It works great.
Steven T. November 13, 2020
Just remember there are softneck and hardneck storage and taste different from on to another also scapes on hardneck not soft
Ace November 10, 2020
I prefer roasting a head of garlic, cut off the top 1/4 inch, drizzle a few drips of olive oil and roast (325) for 30 minutes - the roasted cloves are soft and sweet - smear on toast!! ... and lasts for many days .....
Dolores D. November 10, 2020
If you poach a clove of garlic for one minute for use in salad dressings or humus, the harshness leave while the flavor lasts.
Fred S. November 9, 2020
buy a grater, not too large.
make sure it is not to sharp, don't want to grate your fingers.
Smack the Garlick to remove the skin, just enough for the juices to flow, don't cut the root off, use that to hold onto the Garlick and grate away.
perfectly grated Garlick and if you want the Garlick flavor don't ever cook the Garlick.
It looses all flavor, every time, trust me.
If you are like me a Garlick tragic, do as I suggest, you cant go wrong!
kmkane123 November 11, 2020
It’s garlic. And what is a garlic tragic?
Fred S. February 27, 2021
go and lean some slang and then post
RHo September 11, 2021
I use a rasp/zester. It’s smaller than a grater and it works really well :)
Patricia September 11, 2021
"Lean some slang?" How about learning some spelling instead?
kmkane123 September 11, 2021
Rude. It that necessary?
Patricia September 11, 2021
Yes, that IT necessary.
kmkane123 September 11, 2021
Who are you? Why join in a inappropriately spelled thread with more vitriol?
cosmiccook September 11, 2021
I googled, got tragic garlic--and what is lean some slang?
Patricia September 11, 2021
Sorry, we former English teachers can't help ourselves. I will stop now but not without noting that I just love your phrase "inappropriately spelled." I guess no one uses "incorrectly" or "wrongly" any more.
kmkane123 September 11, 2021
You must waste a lot of time on social media, correcting or commenting on writing that’s not meant to be published in anything formal.
Patricia September 11, 2021
You're undoubtedly right. (Good thing I'm retired and have that time to waste!) But do recall, kmkane123, that you were the first to correct the spelling of "garlic" and ask for a definition of the mysterious "tragic" used as a noun. I thought you and I were soulmates until you labeled me rude.
kmkane123 September 11, 2021
Sorry, the “rude” reply was meant for the poster of Tragic Garlick., not you! I often times can’t believe when you ask a question on social media you don’t get an answer but instead a snarky reply. Anyway, this post is old, and I’m moving on, but I encourage you to keep teaching English any way you can!!
cosmiccook September 12, 2021
Patricia, correct away! Grammatically correct correspondence seems to have gone the way of dinosaurs! The decline of education I suppose.
Patricia September 12, 2021
Okay - sorry I misunderstood. Thanks for your encouragement!
Patricia September 12, 2021
I LOVE your comma after the noun of direct address! That convention is dying rapidly ("Go Kings!"). Will continue correcting and try to avoid snarkiness.
james November 8, 2020
Great article on prepping garlic. My preferred method (mostly) is to peel the cloves & thinly slice them. I agree that adding the garlic later in most dishes is the way to go.