Garlic Presses

Published July 1, 2007. From Cook's Illustrated.

Can your choice of garlic press affect the flavor of your dishes? You'd be surprised.

Overview:

Update: March 2014

A good garlic press sure comes in handy, but some cooks balk at the nearly $40 price of our top choice. The manufacturer of our winning model has lately redesigned a cheaper model that was a previous winner but had been discontinued. The company also introduced another new, inexpensive model. Given the appeal of their lower price tags, we decided to try out these presses in a head-to-head comparison with our winner. We also included an innovative press that caught our eye since it uses an “eject” button for easier cleaning; it also boasts longer-than-average handles. We squeezed both peeled and unpeeled cloves in all four presses. Neither the redesigned garlic press, nor the new model from the maker of our favorite press measured up. The clunky pressing mechanism and short handles of one model made for hard work, and its crevices trapped garlic. One model was comfortable to press, but it was difficult to clean despite a new attached scraper, which didn’t perform well and merely got in the way. And the quibble… read more

Update: March 2014

A good garlic press sure comes in handy, but some cooks balk at the nearly $40 price of our top choice. The manufacturer of our winning model has lately redesigned a cheaper model that was a previous winner but had been discontinued. The company also introduced another new, inexpensive model. Given the appeal of their lower price tags, we decided to try out these presses in a head-to-head comparison with our winner. We also included an innovative press that caught our eye since it uses an “eject” button for easier cleaning; it also boasts longer-than-average handles. We squeezed both peeled and unpeeled cloves in all four presses. Neither the redesigned garlic press, nor the new model from the maker of our favorite press measured up. The clunky pressing mechanism and short handles of one model made for hard work, and its crevices trapped garlic. One model was comfortable to press, but it was difficult to clean despite a new attached scraper, which didn’t perform well and merely got in the way. And the quibble that we had with the earlier version of this model—garlic oozing out the sides—remained.

The long handles on an innovative model significantly aided in pressing, and its wedge-shaped hopper was a great fit for garlic cloves, but its pressed garlic was more “mashed” than the output from the other presses, and the eject function sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t (and never when we’d pressed unpeeled cloves). Its scraper was also a bust, pushing garlic onto the handles. Although we’d had our hopes up for a new, slightly cheaper press to win out, once again, nothing beats our winner.

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Why not just mince? Over the years, we’ve learned that for the average home cook, a garlic press is faster, easier, and more effective than trying to get a fine, even mince with a chef’s knife. More important, garlic’s flavor and aroma emerge only as its cell walls are ruptured and release an enzyme called alliinase, so a finely processed clove gives you a better distribution of garlic and fuller garlic flavor throughout the dish. Even our test cooks, trained to mince with a knife, generally grab a garlic press when cooking. And here’s the best part: With a good garlic press, you don’t even have to stop and peel the cloves.

Beyond how easy it is to squeeze, does your garlic press really matter in your cooking? Will the right garlic press make your food taste better? We were skeptical, but a quick test revealed a surprising answer. We chose seven representative presses and used them to make seven batches of our Pasta with Garlic and Olive Oil. It was remarkable to note the wide range of garlic flavor, from mild to robust, when the only difference was the press used to prepare the garlic. Larger chunks of garlic tended to drop to the bottom of the bowl, making most of the dish too bland. And when the pieces were uneven, tiny fragments overcooked to bitterness. Tasters overwhelmingly preferred the samples with the finest and most uniform garlic pieces, which produced a well-developed garlic flavor and consistent texture throughout the dish.

We determined that a garlic press’s most important attribute was the ability to produce a fine and uniform garlic consistency. We also wanted a press that was simple and comfortable to operate and did not require the hand strength of Hercules. It should be solidly built, with no contest between the press and the garlic about which is going to break first. It should be able to hold more than one clove and should crush the garlic completely through the sieve, leaving little behind in the hopper. It should handle unpeeled cloves with ease. Finally, it should be simple to clean, by hand or dishwasher, and not require a toothpick to get the last pieces of garlic out.

As a side note, we also noticed that on many of the garlic presses we use in the test kitchen, the nonstick coating had peeled off each one in the test kitchen, particularly around the hopper; a tiny amount of black liquid was sometimes extruded along with the garlic. After some digging, we discovered that when the nonstick coating peels off, copper and iron in the aluminum base metal react with the air and sulfur compounds in the garlic to create oxides and sulfides, which we sometimes see as a black substance on our extruded garlic. It’s similar to the discoloration from an old-fashioned carbon steel knife, and while it’s not toxic, it's not very appealing. We downgraded those models.

Methodology:

We tested 15 garlic presses, pressing peeled and unpeeled cloves as well as multiple cloves. We ran the presses through a home dishwasher 10 times to evaluate durability. We ranked the presses using the following criteria:

CONSISTENCY OF GARLIC

We preferred presses that produced uniform pieces of garlic.

PRESSING PERFORMANCE

We preferred models that were easy to press; handled peeled, unpeeled, and multiple garlic cloves; and left little waste.

DESIGN

We preferred devices that were comfortable, smooth, and intuitive to operate, with durable materials and construction.

CLEANUP

We wanted models that cleaned up easily by hand or dishwasher.

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