Garlic is a mainstay ingredient shared by many cultures and cuisines.
Botanically, it is related to the onion, leek, and chive, and has a unique flavor and aroma that is universally loved. Garlic grows as bulbs, with individual interior segments called cloves.
Working in the restaurant industry, I’ve been part of kitchens that ordered pre-peeled garlic. While convenient, it costs more and can be wasteful if bought in bulk. It hurts my chef’s heart to say this, but there is such a thing as “too much garlic” sometimes.
Over the years, I’ve learned and collected different ways to peel garlic quickly and easily. In this article, I’ll explain the four methods I use when I need to cook with garlic.
But First, Always Remove The Root
Removing the root from the base of a bulb makes all of the following methods easier by compartmentalizing the bulbs into easier-to-manage pieces.
4 Methods For Peeling Garlic Quickly And Easily
Method #1: Hold, Pinch, And Twist With Fingers
Hold a clove of garlic between two hands lengthwise between your thumbs and fingers. Imagine holding a tiny Rubix cube.
Pinch and twist to loosen the peel.
It can be helpful to pinch the pointy end of the clove with your thumbnail and then to lightly scrape it if the peel needs further loosening.
This should leave the clove intact, and leaves a minimal mess.
This is ideal when you don’t need too much garlic.
Pro-tip: Always clean as you go. Garlic can be messy, so save yourself some time at the end!
Method #2: Rub And Roll Between Hands
Hold the garlic between the palms of your hands. Imagine holding a stick between your hands as if you were starting a fire with tinder and kindling.
With the garlic between your palms, start a rubbing motion like you were warming your hands.
The peel will loosen and you should be able to pick the pieces off.
Method #3: Whack With The Base Of Your Chef’s Knife
Place the clove on a hard cutting board or surface.
With the broad side of your chef’s knife, press it against the top of the clove. You’ll want this to be the widest part of the knife that is closest to the handle. This is for safety, and to cover the area of the clove.
Make a fist, and give the base of the broad side of the blade a swift and firm whack with the bottom of your fist.
This will loosen the peel and make it easier to pick away, but it will also crush the clove a bit depending on how much force you use.
I used this technique all the time on the restaurant kitchen line when I had to mince a few cloves of garlic.
This is great for small batches of garlic, or if you just need to have a few cloves of crushed garlic. Crushing a clove releases its flavor and aroma by breaking down its cells.
Pro-tip: You can also press down on the clove with the palm of your hand with similar force if you don’t have an appropriate knife.
Method #4: Shake In A Container Or Between Two Mixing Bowls
This is my favorite technique when a recipe calls for many cloves of garlic.
Place bulbs of garlic in a large, covered container. Putting two mixing bowls of equal size with their tops together works as well.
Shake vigorously up and down, and side to side.
Make sure the container or mixing bowls are large enough for the bulbs of garlic to tumble around. With this technique, you will be leveraging the friction of bulbs rubbing together to remove the peel.
To illustrate a good ratio of bulb-to-container, I wouldn’t fill a three-and-a-half quart Cambro more than just below halfway.
If the garlic bulbs are packed too tightly, it will limit the movement needed for them to rustle and collide with each other.
You should audibly notice the jostling of the garlic bulbs. If it sounds like a big garlic maraca, you’re doing it right.
The first time I saw a line cook put two mixing bowls together to peel several bulbs of garlic, it blew my mind. I’ve been using this technique for bulk garlic ever since.
You Do Not Need To Remove The Peel If You Are Using A Garlic Press
A garlic press is a hand tool that presses cloves into minced garlic. If you have this tool on hand, it is unnecessary to peel it first. The peel will stay inside the press while the clove is minced through the tiny holes. Just make sure to remove the peel from the press after each use!
Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic
Hardneck garlic is close to wild garlic, and is a favorite of Northern gardeners. It doesn’t have the same shelf life as soft neck garlic, and therefore is less likely to be imported and exported. Hardneck’s flavor can be more robust than softneck garlic.
Softneck varieties are sold at grocery stores and are probably what you are more familiar with.
You can use these methods with hardneck garlic, but overall, hardneck garlic is easier to peel due to the peels’ more brittle nature. The cloves are larger as well, and you may require fewer bulbs to reach your dish’s needs.
Sometimes You Don’t Have To Peel The Garlic First
It’s true. Sometimes you don’t have to peel garlic before using it.
For example, my dad makes a dish of toasted peanuts mixed with crunchy pieces of garlic.
The first time I really paid attention to him preparing it, I noticed how he threw unpeeled cloves of garlic right into the hot pan.
His reasoning was that the heating and cooking of the garlic actually separates the peel from the clove. This can make it very easy to remove the peels with a pair of tongs.
My dad left them in, but your mileage may vary.
Raw vs. Cooked Garlic
Garlic is very potent and has a bite, especially when raw.
Minding the needs of your recipe, consider cooking garlic slowly and early. Raw garlic can be very bitter.
Peeled, intact garlic cloves can last up to a week in the refrigerator.
Chopped garlic is ideally used within two days. If you place it in a jar with oil, it can last a day or two longer.
Refrigeration dries chopped or minced garlic out. Use it as soon as you can, or make only the amount you need for a given dish.
Pro-tip: If you have a lot of garlic on hand that you need to use before it goes bad, mince it, divide portions into an ice cube tray, cover, and freeze it. This will hold for several weeks and can make for a very convenient way to pop out a clove’s worth of garlic on demand.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you peel garlic in seconds?
For several cloves of garlic, place bulbs in a large, covered, plastic container, or by putting two equally sized mixing bowls together, and shaking vigorously.
Do I have to peel garlic before crushing?
No. In fact, crushing it makes it easier to peel garlic.
Is it better to crush or chop garlic?
Crushing garlic releases flavor and aroma. Depending on your recipe, dish, or uses, it may be appropriate to keep a clove intact before chopping.