Garlic: It’s the staple of sauces, soups, and compound butters. A hunk of crusty sourdough slathered with roasted garlic is the stuff of dreams. But what cook enjoys the onerous task of peeling and mincing the odorous, sticky cloves?
Enter the garlic press. Sure it’s not a multifunction kitchen savior like your immersion blender or kitchen shears, but it saves your fingers from reeking and creates a uniform mince hard to achieve with a chef’s knife. It also saves dirtying a cutting board, but is it worth the dedicated space in your gadget drawer? Let's find out.
What is a garlic press?
Similar in form and function to a nutcracker, a garlic press turns fresh cloves of garlic into minced pieces for your next pot of Italian Wedding Soup. The cloves are crushed by forcing them through a lattice of small holes using just the pressure of your grip or rocking of your hand, depending on the model. In just moments, you can crush a whole bulb of garlic without even pulling out your knife.
How do you use a garlic press?
This depends on the style you purchase. Most are designed to be operated by squeezing the handles together, causing the plunger to extrude the cloves through the grid and onto your prep surface. Sometimes you need to scrape any remaining remnants of minced garlic from the screen.
Other garlic presses operate on a rocking motion. Using alternating rocking, the device pushes the garlic through the grid, depositing crushed garlic onto your prep surface.
How do you use chopped garlic?
Prized for imparting bold flavor to dishes, pressed garlic has many uses, including garlic butter, a delicious and flavorful spread for crusty bread, shrimp scampi (take a trip to Italy with this popular entree that combines fresh seafood with savory minced garlic), garlic aioli for dipping french fries or dolloping on potatoes, and fresh pesto for your next pasta night.
When it comes to meat, pork and chicken really shine when applied with a paste or rub including pressed garlic; to see for yourself, check out these Chinese spareribs and orange chicken. And don’t forget about the vegetables: roasted Brussels sprouts, stir-fried spinach, and roasted asparagus with mushrooms are just a few great garlicky side dishes. Of course, garlic mashed potatoes are the original and, arguably, most iconic way to use freshly pressed cloves.
Can't I just use a knife?
You could just use a knife to mince garlic, but it is a very fine cut and requires more control over your knife than chopping. Plus, you’ll have to take time to hone your knife, get out a cutting board, and repeatedly remove any bits and pieces of garlic that cling to your knife while you chop.
Chopped garlic tends to be bigger in surface area and impart a more “raw” flavor. It works well in soups, stir frys, and roasting or low-temperature cooking methods in which the larger chunks have time to layer and release more of the internal sulfur.
Minced garlic has been broken down to release its oil and almost has a paste-like consistency. Garlic presses are fantastic tools to achieve that consistent, fine mince needed for curries, sauces, and more aromatic dishes, like dressings and dips.
What is chopped garlic best for?
Since it’s bigger than minced garlic, chopped works best in dishes that cook for longer. This allows the pungency of raw garlic to dissipate. The intense flavor of chopped garlic is fantastic in slow-cooked dishes, like marinara sauce or honey garlic meatballs.
How do you choose a garlic press?
First, you have to decide which style you prefer: a traditional, handled squeeze-style press or the kind you rock back and forth on a flat surface. Neither performs particularly better than the other—we tested them both and highly approved of each—so this just comes down to preference. Next, you should take note of the chamber size (do you want to press one or multiple cloves at a time?) as well as the size of the holes: Small, round holes make more of a paste, while larger, square holes create a mince.
OXO Good Grips Soft-Handled Garlic Press
What it's best for: Non-slip grip, those OK with using moderate pressure, squeeze-style performance, fine mince
If you’re looking for a traditional model, this is our top choice for a handle-style garlic press. We found the ergonomically designed, non-slip handle to be comfortable to hold, and it only required moderate pressure to press multiple cloves into a fine mince. It’s even versatile enough for use on other ingredients, including ginger.
The red cleaner grid removes skin without having to get your hands garlicky, though we found that this was not as effective as promised. There was a fair amount of garlic left behind when using both peeled and unpeeled cloves, but tapping the press and manual scraping of the garlic removed all residue. This tool is dishwasher-safe and can easily be washed by hand.
Joseph Joseph Stainless Steel Garlic Rocker
What it's best for: Using very little force or hand strength, less mess, easier cleanup, minimal storage space, varying levels of mince/paste
If you decide to take the rocker route, this is your best option. The sleek, modern design of this stainless steel tool makes it an attractive addition to any gadget drawer, and it comes with clear, illustrated instructions on the package to walk you through how to use it, though you may not need them—this tool is about as simple as it gets. And with no basket, you're not limited to the size or shape of what you press, which turns out to be a lot more than garlic: pitted Kalamata olives, capers, peeled shallot and ginger, canned chipotle chilies, anchovies, and even cooked egg yolks for deviled eggs.
With garlic, we found the final yield was higher than with a traditional squeeze-style press—the larger holes produced minced garlic more akin to knife-cut cloves, though you could run it through another time for a finer consistency. We also really liked the economical size for storage purposes (this barely takes up any space) and lack of moving parts, which makes it easier for folks with grip issues or arthritic hands. Better yet, there are no joints to rust or wear out and no hard-to-clean corners. Just run a spoon across the top or knock it against a cutting board to remove remaining bits, then run it under hot water or put it through the dishwasher.
Is buying a garlic press worth it?
There’s no doubt fresh garlic surpasses the minced version you can buy in a jar at the grocery store—that’s for certain. But is purchasing one of these uni-taskers worth it? If you aren’t confident with your knife skills, a garlic press is a no-brainer: It produces uniformly sized minced garlic and yields a larger quantity in a short amount of time for those who aren’t super skilled with knives. Mincing with a knife would require a razor-sharp blade and very small, precise cuts, so a dedicated mincer just makes sense. Plus, it’s a really cheap investment and doesn’t really take up that much kitchen space.
The only potential woe is cleaning peel and residue lodged in your garlic press—but that’s certainly not a dealbreaker, and the positives far outweigh spending a little extra time at the kitchen sink. Cleaning your garlic press as soon as possible is easiest—giving it a few dunks in a bowl of soapy water or running it under the faucet water usually does the trick. So, if you want convenience, consistent size, and to save time, a garlic press is the way to go.