If You’re Like Most Cooks, You’re Using Your Zester Wrong

So you think you’re zesting citrus fruit correctly? We’re guessing that you’re not. Here’s how to zest faster and better.

: 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.

The right way to zest fruit

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.com

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.



  1. I learned how to zest citrus from Iron Chef Michael Simon on the TV show “The Chew.” It’s a little tricky at first, but it becomes easy pretty fast here`s how. Hold it zester-teeth down, then holding the citrus near the handle, roll it towards the other end as you move fruit down the zester and rotate as you go. This naturally allows one to see if any is left behind and creates nice long strands, there’s probably a video of him doing this technique out there.

  2. I am not doubting that your method might work, however, I have tried to zest a lemon this way and found it NOT to be as beneficial. One reason is bc if the fruit is being zested from the bottom, you cannot see if you are zesting too much and might get the pith (white area that’s a no-no). I can manipulate the lemon easier, and the zest falls on my parchment sheet if zesting from the top and not the bottom. Thanks for sharing your tip, but I will stick with what works for me.

  3. The request for a video intrigued me, so I went searching for an instructional video. It was easy to find why so many cooks zest the wrong way. It took some searching to find a video that uses the technique you suggest. It is a delightful demonstration why you are correct. I will never do it the wrong way again. Thanks, David.

  4. Hi David!

    I bought my first Microplane in a hardware store. I used one for woodworking and figured it would be perfect for chocolate shreds on my cakes – much faster than a regular grater, so the chocolate barely melted in my hand. Once in my kitchen, the plane was handy for garlic and ginger as well. Parmesan was a snap! Zesting citrus was the next step, but not until I bought a tiny, wooden-handled, bowed plane did I use it the “right” way.

    By the way, you (we?) are not judgy. You just like to share your knowledge and help people to use their time and energy wisely. Well, that’s what I tell myself.

    Happy Sunday!

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