How to Peel Garlic

How to peel garlic
How fast can you turn one of these garlic bulbs into a bowl of peeled cloves? (Photo: nafterphoto/Shutterstock)

If you've ever tried to peel a clove of garlic by hand, or using a paring knife, you'll probably agree that while not the world's most difficult task, it can be a bit tedious. It can also leave your fingers smelling like garlic.

Which in itself is certainly not the end of the world. Not everyone minds the smell of garlic. After all, you're eating it. And if you cook with garlic frequently, it's largely unavoidable. 

Still, it's a strong aroma, and not one you necessarily want your fingers to be smelling of. It can also be difficult to wash off. 

All of this being true, it's perhaps no wonder that the search for the quickest, easiest method for peeling garlic is something of a holy grail among home cooks. Is there quick, easy way to peel garlic, whether it's one clove, several cloves or a whole head, without your fingers smelling of garlic?

The answer is yes, and we'll get to it in just a sec. But first, let's talk about selecting and storing fresh garlic.

Selecting and Storing Garlic

When shopping, choose garlic heads that are firm to the touch, with no nicks or soft cloves. If you notice dark, powdery patches under the skin, pass it up because this is an indication of a common mold which will eventually spoil the flesh.

Store unpeeled heads of garlic in an open container in a cool, dry, dark place, away from other foods. Properly stored garlic can keep up to three months, although as the garlic ages, you will notice green sprouts in the center of each clove. These sprouts are the beginnings of new garlic shoots, and they can be bitter. So once you've peeled your garlic, it's a good idea to slice them lengthwise and pick out the green shoot in the center before using the clove. 

On the other hand, if you plant those cloves and let them sprout to a height of about six inches, you can use the resulting garlic chives much like you'd use fresh chives, although they will have a more pronounced garlic flavor and aroma.

Although there are exceptions, if you're cooking at home, you're most likely only using a few cloves of garlic at a time. So when it comes to peeling garlic, your task is fairly manageable.

Garlic Peeling Method #1: A Few Cloves

It's simply a matter of pulling the cloves off the head, positioning them on a cutting board and laying the flat side of your chef's across the cloves. Then give the top side of your knife a firm whack with the heel of your hand. Don't use enough force to crush the cloves, but just enough to bruise them, which will loosen then skin, allowing you to peel it off with your fingers.

On the other hand, if you are planning to mince the garlic anyway, it doesn't matter whether you crush the cloves or not, so go ahead and bang away. 

Garlic Peeling Method #2: Lots of Cloves

But what if you're peeling a ton of garlic? Like 20 cloves. As in, a whole head of garlic. It can be tedious peel that much garlic using the technique just described. For you, there's a better way. All you need is a pair of large metal bowls.

You know the ones--plain, aluminum mixing bowls. Just break the cloves apart, add the cloves to one of the bowls, then invert the second bowl and place it over the first one, so that the rims of each bowl are touching. Now, holding the bowls together, shake them vigorously for 20 seconds, and voila! The garlic cloves and their skins will have separated, as if by magic.

Gadgets for Peeling Garlic

There are quite a few gadgets on the market for peeling garlic, and while some of them do work, it's a matter of personal choice whether it's worth the money to buy a gadget which performs a task you can easily do without the gadget. Especially when one of the gadgets is essentially a version of the two bowls method. Picture a sort of cocktail shaker for garlic cloves and you've got the idea.

One of the worst gadgets is a kind of garlic press, which works by squeezing unpeeled cloves of garlic through a mesh of fine holes, and then ejects the peels. The problem here is that crushing garlic in this way releases an exorbitant amount its juice, which contains the sulfur-based compound that gives garlic its heat. Which means garlic that has been pressed this way will be extra hot. Also, all that garlic juice oozing around is just messy.

A gadget that works OK is a sort of silicone tube, into which the whole cloves are inserted and then rolled firmly on a countertop or cutting board. This does remove the skins, and it's inexpensive enough. But it's just one more thing you need to clean, and it's not like you can fit a dish brush into the tube.

You can achieve the same effect using one of those rubber jar grippers. Simply roll the garlic up in the rubber gripper and roll it firmly, just as if it were one of the tubes just described. You can also use a silicone egg poacher this way, with the added effect (whether desirable or not is up to you) that your eggs may taste of garlic.

Using Pre-peeled Garlic Cloves

Some cooks, and this includes restaurant cooks as well, decide that it's all too much for them and opt for using pre-peeled garlic cloves, which are available in bags or jars at the grocery store. This is a perfectly reasonable compromise. Just be sure to keep the containers or bags in the fridge so they stay fresh.