How to Zest and Juice a Lemon

Many recipes benefit from the zing of lemon flavor

Using Lemons in Cooking

Lemon Ginger Pound Cake With Blueberry, Ginger, Lavender and Lemon Syrup
Robert Linton

Many recipes call for the juice or zest of a lemon, or both. Lemon adds zing, flavor, and freshness to many dishes and baked goods, and knowing how to properly juice and zest a lemon is an elemental cooking skill. Don't be intimidated; it's easy once you know how to do it.

Choosing a Lemon

Lemons in a Hessian Sack
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When you need to zest a lemon, choose the nicest looking lemon you have with unblemished skin. Lemons with thick, pebbly skins are easier to zest than those with thin skins. Rinse the lemon well with water and dry it with a paper towel.

You'll get about two to three teaspoons of zest from one lemon and 1/4 to 1/3 cup of juice. 

Softening the Lemon

Softening a Lemon
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The lemon needs to be softened to make juicing easier. This is done before zesting because the juice will come out through the skin if the lemon is zested first. One way to soften a lemon is to roll it. You can also microwave the lemon for 15 seconds to make it softer. This is especially important if you plan on hand-juicing the lemon.

Juicing the Lemon

How to Juice a Lemon or Lime
Shannon Graham

There are many ways to juice a lemon, from fancy big machines to hand-held lemon squeezers. Or you could just squeeze it by hand without using anything. What matters is that there aren't any seeds mixed in with the juice.

You can also use what's called a Citra Citrus Sipper. You can find one online or sometimes in the kitchen section of the grocery store.

No matter which method you use to juice the lemon if a certain amount is necessary for a recipe, juice it into a measuring cup. If it's not enough for your recipe, just juice another lemon. 

Zesting the Lemon

Lemon Zest
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You can use a small zester for zesting, but using a Microplane is completely effortless and takes all the stress out of zesting a lemon. A Microplane makes fine zest, and a channel zester gives you strips of zest. You will get more flavor from finer pieces of zest than larger strips. If you don't have a zester, just use a paring knife to peel the lemon. Then cut the lemon peel into very small pieces. Be careful not to get the pith, or white portion of the lemon, with your peel as you zest. The white portion is very bitter and will have a negative effect on whatever you're cooking.

Making Sure You've Done It Right

Lemon Zest
annick vanderschelden photography / Getty Images

Take a look at your zest to make sure it's the right size and you've done this correctly. This is the way the zest and the zested lemon should look.