How to Cut Citrus Fruit Garnishes for Cocktails

Decorate drinks with lemons, limes, and oranges

How to Cut Citrus Garnishes for Cocktails

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Adding a citrus garnish enhances the presentation of any cocktail. Orange and lemon twists can adorn martinis, a citrus slice is commonly used for mixed drinks, and a simple lime wedge will enhance highballs like the gin and tonic or even your beer. Learning how to cut fresh fruit garnishes is easy and an essential part of any bartender's skill set, even if you're just making drinks at home.

Garnishes go beyond looks. Lemon, lime, and orange garnishes are often added to drinks for an extra hint of citrus flavor. The essence of an orange twist is expressed over the drink for some cocktails, and you can flame it for special flair. In other instances, a fruit slice or wedge allows the drinker to add a squeeze of citrus whenever they like.

Choosing a Great Garnish

Most cocktail recipes recommend the type and cut of citrus fruit to use for that drink. If it does not, choose one that complements both the visual appeal and taste of the drink. Think about the drink's ingredients, the glass size, and the color of the garnish.

Quite often, it's best to use the citrus fruit that's already in the drink (e.g., a lemon twist for a lemon drop martini or a lime wedge for a margarita). A simple citrus twist is a good choice for martinis because it's not too large for the glass and can be elegantly draped over the rim. On the other hand, an orange juice highball like the screwdriver can easily handle a full slice of orange.

  • 01 of 07

    Selecting and Preparing Citrus Fruit for Garnishes

    Select Beautiful Fruit for Garnishing Drinks

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    Before cutting a garnish, you will need to choose and prepare the fruit. At the market, select the best-looking fruit available. The skin should have a bright color and be mostly free of blemishes. Use fruit with big imperfections for fresh-squeezed juice. When ready to cut garnishes, remove any produce stickers and rinse the fruit under cold water.

    Citrus garnishes keep well and can be cut a few hours in advance. For the best results, place cut garnishes in a covered bowl and keep them refrigerated until needed. Citrus twists and peels will keep well in a glass of ice water.

    Avoid Citrus Juice Sunburns

    It's natural to want to take your freshly made cocktail outside to enjoy it on a warm day. However, stepping out in the sun with splashes of citrus juice on your skin can cause a sunburn called phytophotodermatitis. Whenever you're working with citrus fruit, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands afterward.

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  • 02 of 07

    How to Cut a Citrus Slice

    Freshly Cut Lemon Slices and Orange Half-Moons

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    The slice, or wheel, is the easiest garnish to create. It requires one cut per garnish, and you can get many slices out of a single piece of fruit. The trick is to avoid making your slices too thin or too thick; thin slices will be flimsy and thick slices are too large for most glassware.

    1. Use a paring knife to cut 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick slices.
    2. On each slice, cut a slit from the middle through the peel so that it will easily slide onto the rim of the glass.
    3. Carefully remove seeds from each slice.


    Depending on the orange variety, a full slice of orange can be quite big. It's best to use the full slice on larger or bulkier glassware or choose a smaller orange. If a slice dominates the cocktail and glass, cut it in half.

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  • 03 of 07

    How to Create a Citrus Fruit "Boat"

    Create an Orange Boat for Cocktails

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    Using a slice of citrus fruit, you can easily create a fruit "boat." It is a fantastic way to dress up a variety of cocktails, and the skewer will rest on top of the glass rim. It's quite simple, typically done with orange slices but works with lemons and limes, and adds a cherry to the garnish for a pop of color.

    1. Cut an orange slice, then cut a slit from the middle of the slice through the peel.
    2. Wrap the slice into a small funnel.
    3. Place a cherry in the middle.
    4. Skewer the two fruits together.
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  • 04 of 07

    How to Cut a Citrus Wedge

    Fresh-Cut Lime Wedges

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    Citrus wedges are a great garnish for tall cocktails like the vodka tonic and other mixed drinks served in a highball or margarita glass. It is a popular cut for limes in particular.

    The thicker pulp of the wedge gives a drinker the option to squeeze more juice into the cocktail as they drink. It also adds a consistent flavor from the first sip to the last when the wedge is dropped into the glass.

    1. Cut the fruit in half lengthwise.
    2. Make a slit in the middle of each half without cutting through the entire fruit or into the peel.
    3. Working with one piece at a time, cut the lime in half down the center then make diagonal cuts in each section to create four wedges.
    4. If you like, clean up the wedge by trimming off the inner white bits and scrape off any seeds.
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  • 05 of 07

    How to Cut a Citrus Twist

    Fresh-Cut Lemon Twist

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    The twist is an elegant, more delicate garnish that creates a twist from a thin strip of citrus peel. It is often used with lemons and oranges, but a lime twist can also be a nice finishing touch.

    This garnish is one of the trickiest to perfect, and the best advice is to practice this technique until you get a feel for it. Other than the peel, the fruit will remain whole and can be juiced so you can avoid waste.

    Some people like to use a paring knife, though that takes even more practice to perfect. A canelle (or channel) knife is easier and makes a more uniform, crisper twist. Some citrus zesters include the canelle knife in the middle of the blade, and if you like to create twists, this is a good tool to have around.

    1. Hold a whole fruit in the palm of your hand with a firm grip.
    2. Cut a canelle or pairing knife into the citrus peel, digging just deep enough to grab a bit of the white pith.
    3. Roll the fruit around in your hand with a smooth, even motion, continuing to cut a strip of the peel with the knife as you go. Stop when you have the desired length or until the peel naturally cuts off.
    4. Roll the peel into a spiral, forming as tight of a spiral as you can without breaking the peel, and give it a gentle squeeze. It will loosen up a bit when you let go.

    To keep your twists tighter and more pliable, drop them into a glass of ice water immediately after creating the spiral. Before garnishing the drink, roll it into a tight spiral again. Smaller fruits create tighter twists; small and Meyer lemons and navel oranges are good choices.

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  • 06 of 07

    How to Cut and Flame an Orange Peel

    Fresh-Cut Orange Peel

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    The orange or lemon peel is used as a garnish for the subtle oils in the peel that can accent the flavors of a cocktail.

    1. Using a paring knife, cut a coin of at least one inch wide and about two inches long into the orange peel. Cut into the fruit's pith just a bit.
    2. Rub the peel around the rim of the glass, and drop it into the drink.
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  • 07 of 07

    How to Flame an Orange Peel

    Flaming an Orange Peel

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    You can also make a little show out of an orange peel by expressing the citrus oils over a flame. It's easy and you'll see drops of citrus oil on top of your cocktail. Remember that fire and alcohol can be a volatile combination, so be careful with this technique.

    1. Dim the lights slightly. Hold the orange peel between your thumb and forefinger, with the peel facing away from you.
    2. Light a long match or lighter, holding it about 2 inches from the peel and over the top of the cocktail glass filled with your finished drink.
    3. Squeeze the peel sharply, and watch as the oils spurt out, catch the flame, and create small sparks of fire over your cocktail.
    4. Rub the peel around the rim of the glass, and drop it into the drink.

    A Few Safety Tips

    • Do not play with fire when you had too much to drink.
    • Ensure that flammable materials, including shirt sleeves and long hair, are clear of the flame (or potential flame).
    • Take extra care if your cocktail is topped with a high-proof liquor, especially 151-proof rum, which is often used for its ability to burn.
Article Sources
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  1. Hankinson, Andrew, et al (2014): Lime-Induced Phytophotodermatitis. Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives, 4:4, 25090, doi:10.3402/jchimp.v4.25090.