Citrus Zesters/Channel Knives
How we tested
When we want fine wisps of citrus zest, we reach for a rasp grater. But sometimes we want wider, longer strips to use as aromatics or to garnish desserts or cocktails. While you could just use a vegetable peeler to remove large swaths of peel and then cut each swath into strips, there are tools that promise to make this process neater and more efficient. These tools typically have two components: a citrus zester, which makes several thin threads of peel at a time, and a channel knife, which cuts a single thicker ribbon of peel.
We wanted to know which zester/channel knife combination tool would best allow us to cut long, attractive, pith-free strips of zest from all sorts of citrus. So we bought seven models priced from about $5.00 to about $20.00 and used them to zest and channel oranges, lemons, and limes.
Most of the tools did a decent job of zesting all the citrus, leaving no pith on the tiny strands. The trouble started when we tried to use the channel-knife end of the tool. For one thing, most of the knives are not ambidextrous but are instead oriented in such a way that users are forced to pull the blade from right to left, an unnatural motion for lefties. But even righties struggled to cut long, continuous ribbons with the channel knives. Some of the knives just weren’t sharp enough, skidding across the citrus skin and breaking off shorter strands of uneven thickness. Others had knives that were located too close to the handle, preventing the blade tip from getting sufficient leverage to really bite into the citrus skin in the first place. Knives at a distance of at least 0.75 inch from the top of the handle made it easier to angle into lemons and oranges, but almost none were able to latch onto the limes well.
Even when the blades were sharp and well-positioned, there were other issues with the channel knives. Some tools cut too deeply into the fruit, making straight-edged ribbons that were thick enough to twist into cocktail or cake garnishes but that had a lot of bitter pith. Others didn’t cut deeply enough, avoiding the pith but making limp, narrow, thin, and/or ragged-edged ribbons that lacked the structure to be used as twists. We found we liked tools that made substantial but not overly pithy ribbons that were at least 0.25 inch wide and between 0.05 and 0.08 inch thick.
Handle length and material were important. We preferred handles that were at least 4.25 inches long—anything smaller cramped the hands of all but the most petite testers. And we preferred handles made of rubbery or textured material, which allowed us to maintain our grip even when our hands were covered in expressed citrus oil.
Our winning citrus zester/channel knife, the Messermeister Pro-Touch Combination Zester, is not lefty-friendly, but it has a comfortable, grippy handle and excels at zesting citrus of all kinds. And with a sharp channel knife set at a good distance from the handle, it consistently produced long, clean-looking ribbons from all but the limes, leaving relatively little pith on the peel. Capable of channeling an entire lemon or orange with a single continuous cut, it was the favorite of nearly all who tried it.
We tested seven combination citrus zester/channel knives priced from about $5.00 to about $20.00, using them to zest and channel oranges, lemons, and limes. We also had users of different ages, genders, hand sizes, and dominant hands try them. We tested their durability by using them for an entire day without washing them, leaving them out overnight to see if the residual citrus oils and juices contributed to rusting, and then examining them for any signs of damage; we also put them through the dishwasher 10 times. Models were evaluated for their performance in zesting and channeling and for their handle design. All models were purchased online and appear in order of preference.
Zesting: We gave more points to models that cut long, pith-free threads of peel from oranges, lemons, and limes.
Channeling: We gave more points to models that cut long, relatively thick but pith-free ribbons of peel from oranges, lemons, and limes. We also gave more points to models with channel knives that could be used by both righties and lefties.
Handle Design: More points were awarded to models with comfortable, easy-to-grip handles that were at least 4.25 inches long.