10 Chef-Approved Garlic Tips Every Cook Should Know

published Sep 30, 2022
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three heads of garlic next to garlic skin
Credit: Emma Christensen

There are tons of recipes that call for garlic out there, so knowing how to buy the best garlic and prep it properly can go a long way towards making your life in the kitchen more pleasant. Here are 10 pro garlic tips to guide you through doing garlic the right way, from market to plate.

Chef-Approved Garlic Tips

1. Don’t buy “whiffy” garlic.

Heads of garlic that smell strongly of garlic have likely been roughly handled and are beginning to break down. Allicin, the compound that is responsible for garlic’s heady aroma, is only created once the cloves have been damaged, so if a head of garlic smells like, well, garlic, then it’s got some damage already. Go for firm, intact heads of garlic with minimal odor and no obvious damage or shrunken cloves (a sign of age).

2. Garlic that has begun to push up green sprouts is old.

Sprouted garlic is perfectly safe to eat, but it will be sharper and less sweet than plumper, newer heads of garlic. The solution?

Buy only what you will use in a month and store it in a cool, dark place, which is probably not next to your stove.

3. Use friction to peel lots of garlic cloves at once.

To peel a head or more of garlic cloves at once, smack the head of garlic until the cloves loosen and discard the papery outer skins and root end. Put the individual cloves in a small metal mixing bowl, cover it with another mixing bowl of the same size, and hold the bowls together while you give them 30 or so firm shakes. Or, even faster, try this bartender trick for peeling garlic.

Both methods use friction to knock off the tight peels around the cloves. If you’re only peeling a few cloves, it’s easier to just smack them with the flat of a knife or bottom of a jar on a cutting board.

4. Use chopped garlic for long-simmered sauces.

To chop garlic for long-cooking braises and sauces, rock a sharp chef’s knife over peeled garlic; steady the knife by placing the palm on your non-knife-holding hand on top of the knife. The garlic should be about the size of a peppercorn and will slowly release flavor as it softens during long cooking. When a recipe calls for “finely chopped garlic,” chop it just a little bit further.

5. Use minced garlic for salad dressings, raw sauces, and dips.

Minced garlic delivers an immediate flavor punch but will burn quickly when cooked, so save it for raw dressings, salsa, and aioli.

To mince, you’ll begin by chopping, but then go further until the the garlic is in tiny pieces about the size of fine couscous.

6. Use sliced garlic for sautés, stir-fries, and quick sauces.

To slice garlic for sautéed vegetables or quick-cooking pan sauces, thinly slice it crosswise. It will give these dishes an overall garlicky flavor, along with little bites of sweet, mellowed garlic. Discard the hard end of the garlic where it was attached to the root end of the head. The flavor of the raw garlic will sharpen and intensify with time, so cook it quickly once you’ve chopped it.

7. Make garlic paste for quick, intense flavor.

Garlic paste is basically minced garlic that’s been mashed with the side of a knife until it’s a wet, sticky paste. A little kosher salt added to it will help break it down faster.

It’s great for Caesar salad dressing, garlic butter to slather on bread, and simple dips like tzatziki where garlic is the star.

8. Prep garlic in a mini processor and freeze it.

If you cook a lot of meals where you need lots of chopped or minced garlic, you can prep ahead by making chopped garlic in a mini food processor. Add a teaspoon or so of water if the garlic isn’t moving around the blades. Freeze the prepped garlic flat in a zip-top freezer bag or airtight container and store it for up to 2 months. (You can also freeze garlic in an ice cube tray.) Break off what you need when it’s time to cook. It makes curry night a lot easier!  

9. Rub whole cloves of garlic on the outside of crusty bread.

Peel a large clove of garlic and rub the whole clove all over the outside of a crusty loaf of bread to subtly flavor it. Slice the bread and serve it or brush the slices with olive oil and grill them for bruschetta or bake them for crostini. For garlicky croutons, cube the bread, fry them in butter and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

10. Bake and then steam whole garlic heads for perfect roasted garlic.

Roasted garlic is sticky and a pain to peel. To remedy this, a little steam/soak helps. Roast garlic as usual — I like to lop off the top quarter of a garlic head, put it root side-down in a small baking dish, drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil, cover with foil, and bake at 350°F for 1 hour until it squishes easily when squeezed. Uncover, add 3 tablespoons of water to the baking dish, recover, and let stand for 15 minutes. The cloves will soften in the steamy heat, which makes them easier to squeeze out of the papery skins. Bonus: The liquid is now roast garlic-flavored and can be used in everything from pasta sauce to scrambled eggs.