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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Design: The Kitchn

We Tried 6 Methods for Peeling Garlic and Found the Fastest and Easiest Method on the Planet

published Oct 23, 2020
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Garlic makes everything taste better — especially when you add a little more than a recipe suggests, right? This month on Kitchn, we’re sharing a ton of Italian recipes and, naturally, going through a lot of garlic as a result. We’ve seen many tricks for getting cloves of garlic out of their papery skins, because this task is tedious and sometimes annoying (looking at you, little wisps of paper that stick to everything). So we put six popular methods for peeling garlic to the test. Each promised to be easy and painless, while giving us a whole head of peeled garlic in mere minutes — but only one came out as the winner.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Design: The Kitchn

How We Tested These Garlic Peeling Methods

Heads of garlic can vary quite a bit in size and density, but we did our best to grab garlic bulbs close in diameter and weight. All of the heads were purchased from the same store on the same day — giving them a gentle squeeze to ensure there weren’t any soft or rotten cloves. It is important to note here that each of these methods is designed for “dry” garlic, which is what most grocers carry and is less sticky than fresh-from-the-garden garlic. At home, we tested all six methods back to back, timing the entire process — from trimming the tops — until all the cloves were peeled. Our ratings consider time, but also how little bruising or damage the peeled cloves had post-peeling.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Garlic Peeling Method: Loosen in Hot Water

  • Timing: 10 minutes
  • Rating: 3/10

We first learned this hack from Great British Baking Show alum Nadiya Hussain on her show Nadiya’s Time to Eat. You bring a bit of water to a boil, remove the cloves from their head, and then cover the cloves with the boiling water in a bowl. After a minute in the boiling water, the cloves should slip right out of their papery skin.

Unfortunately, this trick didn’t work as well as promised. While a few cloves popped easily from their skins while they were warm from the water, most required the same tedious removal using fingernails as you’d typically use by hand. Add to that the wet exterior of the cloves and wet fingers and you’ve got flying garlic cloves slipping out of your reach rather than their papery coating.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Garlic Peeling Method: Pull Out with a Paring Knife 

  • Timing: 15 minutes
  • Rating: 3/10

We first spotted this wild technique on Twitter, but Thrillist made an easy-to-watch video revealing a few secrets . Upon first inspection, it seems like all you need to do is insert a paring knife into each clove, twist the pierced clove to release it from the bulb, and boom: tons of perfectly peeled garlic in mere moments. But as Thrillist discovered, you actually need to prep the head of garlic in advance. To loosen the individual cloves, you’ll have to cut around the root end of the bulb, which can be challenging, even with the sharpest paring knives.

This peeling hack is a bit dangerous — especially if you have a dull paring knife or a small head of garlic. It is easy to see how this could be a faster technique with practice, but for the novice it takes over 10 minutes to get the cloves off the bulb and not every clove comes out cleanly, which means doubling back to remove papery skin by hand.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Garlic Peeling Method: Shake Between Two Bowls

  • Timing: 8 minutes
  • Rating: 7/10

This method was popularized by Saveur nearly a decade ago (dare we call it the first viral cooking hack?) and the idea is simple. First, you break the head of garlic into individual cloves and set the cloves inside a small metal bowl. Top this bowl with another similarly sized metal bowl. You’ll make a large shaker by grasping two metal bowls together and use the force of shaking the bowls to pop the garlic out of its skin.

While this method is pretty speedy, and does minimal damage to the cloves, it isn’t our favorite. Its hard to check your progress and there are always a few cloves that don’t release their skins. This method seems to work best when you have more than one head of garlic to peel because the fuller the bowls, the faster the cloves smash around each other and pop open. You’ll need two metal bowls that are identical in size in order to try this technique, which might make it inaccessible to some.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Garlic Peeling Method: Smash with the Back of a Knife

  • Timing: 8 to 10 minutes
  • Rating: 7/10

We would call this method the control of our experiment, because it’s a classic technique for both home cooks and chefs alike. You use the flat blade of a knife to press down on the garlic cloves to crack their skins and then remove the peel by hand. It is a quick and easy method that doesn’t require dirtying any additional equipment.

Depending on how forceful you are with the knife, you can easily peel a whole head of garlic in under 10 minutes. Unfortunately, this method often also mashes, smashes, or cracks the cloves — great for mincing but not quite as beautiful in your Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Garlic Peeling Method: Shake in a Cocktail Shaker or Jar

  • Timing: 5 minutes
  • Rating: 9/10

Inspired by the two-bowl method above, the cocktail shaker method uses force to pop the garlic cloves out of their skin. Remove the cloves from your bulb, pile them into your cocktail shaker, lid it up, and shake! In just a few minutes you have a bunch of peeled garlic with minimal bruising. Alternatively you can use a jar with a tight-fitting lid or even a camping Thermos.

This method works surprisingly well and was more efficient for a single head than the two-bowl method. You do have to shake pretty vigorously, and some of the smaller cloves will need additional peeling. A small downside: Doing this method will leave a little lingering garlic flavor and aroma in your cocktail shaker. May we suggest making martinis directly after trying this method out?

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Garlic Peeling Method: Loosen in Microwave

  • Timing: 7 minutes
  • Rating: 10/10

A quick burst of heat in the microwave is reportedly perfect for loosening individual cloves from their skin. You start by sloughing off the exterior layers of the bulb’s papery skin and trimming the top of the bulb and then microwave it for just 20 seconds. After cooling a bit, the cloves slip easily from their skin.

The garlic steams just a tiny bit in the microwave, helping the cloves to slip readily from their paper and helps you peel a whole head of garlic in less than five minutes. Some cloves on the outer edge do get a little less opaque — not ideal for photographing garlic, but definitely not a deal-breaker for the time this time saves!

Our Takeaways

While there is room in our kitchens for pre-peeled garlic, minced garlic, frozen garlic, and more shortcuts, fresh garlic can’t be beat in terms of flavor and price. Finding a technique that you love for making this often-tedious task easier will make you love the flavor of garlic even more. We highly suggest giving the bowl or cocktail maker methods a try (if you’ve got the equipment), and the classic back-of-the-knife technique is one that everyone should learn how to do. But when you need a lot of garlic in a hurry, zapping the heads in the microwave will be the fastest and easiest method!

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