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No home bar is quite complete without a zesting tool—especially if you’re passionate about your garnishes, which goes for just about any serious bartender or cocktail enthusiast. But if we break down what the term “zester” actually refers to in bartending jargon, it turns out that the scope is a bit wider than just grating tools. In fact, citrus peels are often referred to as “zest,” so when we talk about tools for zesting, it’s only right that we acknowledge the best peelers on the market (and how to safely use them).
We’ve consulted two bar experts to tell you everything you need to know about graters and peelers. Here, the best zesters for incorporating garnishes into your drinks.
Best Overall: Microplane Premium Classic Series Zester and Cheese Grater
If you’ve ever been to a good cocktail bar, you’ve likely seen a Microplane in action—this brand of micro-zesting kitchen tools is a unanimous favorite among bartenders for its sharpness, smart design and ease of use.
“They're super sharp, which, as any chef will tell you, is actually safer than dull,” says Patrick Smith, Head Bartender at New York City’s iconic Union Square Cafe. "They make very fine zests, and they're very durable.” Connecticut-based bartender and consultant Anthony DeSerio agrees, adding, "It's got a nice long surface with multiple square-shaped blades and really strong little teeth. ... It'll tear up anything you rake across it," including harder garnishes like chocolate, nutmeg and hard cheeses.
If you’re looking to add superfine shavings of citrus, ginger or whole spices such as cinnamon sticks, get yourself a Microplane on the double: The Classic Series comes in a variety of lengths and grating shapes.
Best Budget: Barfly Y Swiss Peeler
If you’re looking for the perfect classic peeler, don’t overthink it—according to Smith, sometimes the cheapest, simplest option is best. “[For] big lemon or orange twists for a Martini or Negroni, I am reaching for a humble Y-peeler every time." Smith favors very inexpensive, plastic-handled peelers because, if one breaks, it doesn't cost much to replace. “Over the weekend, we cut 12 bottles of Limoncello's worth of lemon peels in about 15 minutes [at the bar] with a Y-peeler that probably cost $2.50," he says.
One thing that’s important to consider with Y-peelers, though, is safety, Smith notes. “Most bartenders have cut themselves with Y-peelers at some point early in their careers." He offers three tips: First, hold whatever you're cutting so that your hand isn't in the path of the peeler. Second, take your time—"it isn't worth a nasty cut to save a fraction of a second," he says. Third, make sure your blade is clean and sharp. But, he adds, "if it's corroded, no big deal; spend the money and get a new one!"
Best Splurge: The Grate Plate Handmade Ceramic Grater Set
The Grate Plate's Ceramic Grater is as much a display piece as it is a hyper-functional kitchen tool. Available in a wide variety of calming colors, this grater plate is incredibly safe to use (especially in comparison to a Microplane, which is highly effective, yet can be dangerous if not used carefully or properly). The handmade ceramic grater set, which also includes a silicone garlic peeler and wooden gathering brush, is crafted by hand in Portland, Oregon.
With a Grate Plate, you can easily zest or grate ingredients like citrus, garlic, nutmeg and more. Plus, thanks to the curved edges of the plate, you can make tons of different dipping oils and sauces directly in it. When you’re finished using the tool, simply place it in the dishwasher for easy cleaning.
Related: The Best Citrus Peelers
Best Set: BergHOFF International Leo 2-Piece Cutter and Grater Set
Minimalists rejoice: This BergHOFF silicone and bamboo grating and cutting set comes with a perfectly sized board for quickly and easily chopping herbs and other soft garnishes. The cutter uses a rocking motion, thanks to the blade’s rounded design. Plus, it comes with a few differently sized holes for stripping herbs.
The zester has a nice wide surface and is excellent for pretty much anything you can think of, including ginger and other tougher foods.
Best for Thin Strips and Twists: Sur La Table Stainless Steel Citrus Zester
We love this professional-grade Sur La Table zester for several reasons. For starters, it’s sleek and compact. It also yields two important zest styles: long, skinny twists and rows of five super-skinny ribbons. It is constructed of stainless steel and can easily be cleaned in the dishwasher.
Reviewers of the Sur La Table stainless steel zester rave about how easy it is to use. They also praise the tool's quality and weight—and that it comes at such an approachable price point.
Related: The Best Bar Sets
Best Multipurpose: OXO Good Grips Etched Box Grater with Removable Zester
OXO is perhaps the king of multipurpose kitchen tools, and this dual-function grater is no exception. Complete with a container to collect the fruits of your labor as you go, this grater-zester combo can slice, grate and zest all in one.
To use the zesting component, simply remove it from the grater and go wild. All parts can be washed in the top rack of a dishwasher. The lidded container also features a non-slip base for safety and convenience.
Best Design: Alessi Apostrophe Orange Peeler
Anyone with a flair for design and function is bound to love this adorable (and extremely efficient) teardrop-shaped citrus peeler. Use this stainless steel tool to effortlessly carve intricate designs into citrus fruits before slicing them, rendering thoughtful and unique-looking wedges or wheels for just about any drink that calls for a citrus garnish.
The Alessi Apostrophe peeler is designed and made in Italy, and it makes the perfect gift for those who appreciate contemporary design in their kitchen or bar spaces.
Related: The Best Garnishing Tools
Our top pick is a tool you've probably seen at many a cocktail bar—and for good reason. The Microplane Premium Classic Series Zester and Cheese Grater is sharp enough to make fine citrus zest, and durable enough to handle grating tougher foods like nutmeg (view at Amazon). For a multipurpose tool, you can't go wrong with the dual-function OXO Good Grips Etched Box Grater with Removable Zester (view at Bed Bath and Beyond).
Why Trust Liquor.com?
As a longtime wine, spirits and cocktail writer, Céline Bossart has peeled, carved, zested and sliced many a citrus fruit over the course of her career. Her favorite way to use a Microplane is to excessively dust nutmeg over almost every cocktail she makes.
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