A person zesting a lemon on a microplane to demonstrate how, if you’re like most cooks, you’re using your zester wrong. : Suteren Studio

Far be it from me to criticize you. (Lord knows, I’ve been in therapy since the dawn of 8-track tapes learning to be less judgemental.) But after watching every episode of The Great British Bake Off, and seeing baker after baker manhandling his or her Microplane zester, I’ve grown exasperated yelling at them. “Why?” I shout at the screen, anxious they’re losing precious time.

The wrong way to zest fruit

Just about every baker on the show has held their zester with the teeth facing up (as in the image above). That means they had to zest–one, two, three times—then pick up the fruit to examine what they’d just done and then they turned the fruit over, repositioned it, and zested again. What is wrong with these people?! I shout at my iPad.

Most zesters, from the old-timey ones with wooden handles to the sleek new rasp-type ones, are either bowed (the former) or sport a channel (the latter).

To zest fruit the right way [there’s that judge-y word again], turn the zester so the bow or channel is facing up. Now, with your other hand, grab your lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit—preferably organic, mind you, to avoid all those contaminants that just don’t belong in a body—and zest away. The bow or channel will collect the grated zest in lofty mounds, and you can easily see what you’re doing and can turn the fruit with nary a pause. The best thing is you can zest the whole fruit in one go. (A blessing during lemon curd season.)

My favorite citrus zester

A blue handled Microplane premium classic series zester grater.

Microplane Classic Zester Grater, $32 on Amazon.comBuy button.

When the Microplane came out in 1990, I laughed. It reminded me of my dad’s old carpentry rasps. A few years later, I bought one. What the hell? I thought. At the very least I could use it to file off the calloused skin on the bottom of my heels. BTW, don’t ever do that–um, so says a friend of mine. [Editor’s Note: Microplane does make a foot file. Just use a light touch.)

What else can you use a zester for?

I was blown away at how much better it worked than my old box grater. I could whiz through a whole bag of Costco lemons in a snap. In time, I realized it was also perfect for hard cheese, spices, garlic, fresh ginger. horseradish, chocolate, truffles, etc. I love it so much, we have two–one for citrus and one for everything else.

How to keep a zester sharp

All good zesters come with a protective cover. Keeping your zester sheathed when not in use is the best way to keep it sharp. Thin zesters, such as the Microplane, are easily dented, so make sure to wash it by hand as a cycle through the dishwasher exposes it to possible dings from nearby items. And, just like your teeth, these sometimes need brushing. I use a regular stiff-bristled toothbrush that I keep tucked away in my baking drawer to make sure my zester has a dazzling smile.

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. David you are so right. I have read it several months ago and completely forgot about it. Please forgive me.

  2. David, hello from Portugal. I just saw this video on Instagram. I like your recipes and your charming personality. My jaw dropped when I heard you pronounce Leite as you did. I would very much like to understand why. Leite is not hard to pronounce the correct way… I think. Thank you.

    1. Isabel, thanks for writing. If you look on my homepage, you’ll see I say this: “Welcome to the world according to me, David Leite (my last name, quite coincidentally, rhymes with “eat” in English, “ate” in Portuguese).” When my father came to the States in 1958, Leite was pronounced “leet.” My dad made the decision, like all the other Leites out there at the time, to pronounce it “leet.” It’s the same way my first name is pronounced “day-vid” rather than “duh-veed” here. In Portugal, or in a group of Portugal people, I pronounce my name ‘duh-veed late.”

  3. David, THANK YOU! This is utter brilliance. I had the most massive, behemoth lemon tree in California and I regret the many years and zillions of massive lemons I zested ALL WRONG! Now I will go forth reformed and enlightened thanks to you. <3

    1. Janet, of course!! I think it was when I was making a gazillion gallons of lemon curd that I hit on the idea of moving the zester not the fruit. All those poor GBBO kids. All that wasted time.