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How To Zest A Lemon (With A Tool You Already Have)

How To Zest A Lemon (With A Tool You Already Have)

With that said, this article will cover how to zest a lemon with a grater and how to zest a lemon with a paring knife. We have storage tips and substitution ideas as well!

How to zest a lemon is something that all of us home cooks must learn.

If you are working on a recipe that calls for lemon, adding lemon zest can really make the recipe pop.

What Is Lemon Zest?
Lemon zest is the outside yellow skin of a lemon. When a recipe references lemon zest they are referencing small slices or grated strands of the yellow lemon rind. This zest provides a strong lemon flavor and aroma to food and drinks.

  1. Choose a firm lemon. It is much easier to zest a firm lemon. The softer the lemon, the more challenging it is to zest.
  2. Scrub well and dry your lemon.
  3. Hold a lemon in your dominant hand and a grater in your non-dominant hand.
  4. Rub the lemon along the smallest set of holes on your grater.
  5. Rotate the lemon just as the white pith appears, but avoid grating the white pith since it’s bitter.

How To Zest A Lemon With A Knife

If you don’t have a zester or a grater, you can zest a lemon using just a small knife. 

  1. Carefully slice the zest off of the lemon in strips using a paring knife.
  2. Rotate the lemon until all of the yellow zest has been removed.
  3. If any white pith is left on the inside of the zest, carefully trim it off.
  4. Using your knife, cut the strips of zest into fine julienned strips.
  5. Lightly chop the strips to make the pieces as small as safely possible.

After you are done zesting your lemon, go ahead and juice it. That juice is wonderful added to a tall glass of fizzy water.

Can I Substitute Lemon Juice For Lemon Zest?

You can substitute lemon juice for lemon zest but it isn’t recommended because the flavor is not as intense and it can add moisture to a recipe where it isn’t needed.

If you have no other options, substitute at a 2 to 1 ratio. For one teaspoon of lemon zest substitute two teaspoons of lemon juice.

Lemon Zest Substitute

Lime zest is the best 1:1 substitute for lemon zest. You can also substitute orange or grapefruit zest for lemon zest.

If you need lemon zest but find yourself with no citrus in the house, you can try another acidic product, but this depends heavily on the type of recipe you are making.

Depending on the recipe, a teaspoon of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, a touch of ginger paste (or zest), or even buttermilk may be the acid or flavor you need.

Can You Freeze Lemon Zest?

Yes, you can freeze lemon zest. It will last 3-4 months in the freezer but after that the dry cold air causes zest to lose its flavor. Each time that you go to use a lemon go ahead and take a moment to zest it first. You can put that lemon zest in a baggie and stick it in the freezer.

How Much Zest Can You Get From One Lemon?

You can generally get about 1 tablespoon of zest from a medium-size lemon.

As a note, a lemon generally produces about 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Now that you know how to zest a lemon, go forth and create some tasty food. Lemon zest can be used to spice up all types of dishes. I love to put it on top of a simple side salad, just to add a bit of zing.

The bottom line

You don’t always need expensive kitchen equipment to get the job done. While a microplane or lemon zester may be faster, it’s still possible to use a small paring knife or a common cheese grater to zest a lemon.

More About Lemon

How To Zest A Lemon

How To Zest A Lemon

Yield: 1 tablespoon
Prep Time: 1 minute
Cook Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 3 minutes

Learn how to easily zest a lemon with a common cheese grater or a paring knife.


  • 1 firm lemon, washed and dried
  • A small sharp kitchen knife or a cheese grater


  1. Wash and dry your lemon.
  2. Hold a lemon in your dominant hand and a grater in your non-dominant hand.
  3. Rub the lemon along the smallest set of holes on your grater.
  4. Rotate the lemon as the white pith appears.
  5. You only want to zest where there is still yellow.

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