Technique: How to peel and prep a clove of garlic

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Oh garlic, this little post given to you hardly seems adequate in light of how much you give to us. What dish does one not desire to inhale that includes the word ‘garlicky’ in its title? Is there a better scent than that of garlic cooking in butter or olive oil and releasing its scent for all the world to swoon over? It’s possible my marriage ended over garlic. When I invited him to join me in partaking of the heady scent of a bit of garlic sizzling in olive oil as I made supper one evening, he shrugged and wondered why the big deal.

As much as we love garlic, we need just a single clove to prepare our rack of lamb. So that single clove ought to be in top condition for our ever-so-beautiful (and ever-so-pricey) meat. Which means starting with a fresh head of garlic, breaking off a clove, and making it lamb-worthy.

It used to be that I disliked prepping garlic so much that I took to mincing it with the skin still on it in my steel crusher (or worse, purchasing pre-peeled, lackluster cloves). No doubt I have thrown away far more garlic than I’ve actually used, when you consider how much garlic gets tossed with the mincing tool.

Ever since I learned a simpler way, prepping garlic has taken on a pleasure for me that is akin to pitting an olive. You get to wield your big chef’s knife too.

To swiftly and easily peel a clove of garlic, remove it from the head. On a chopping board, lay the flat side of your chef’s knife over the clove. With your dominant hand on the handle of the knife and your other hand pressing down on the flat side of the blade against the garlic, push down with all of the pressure you can muster from your upper body. The peel is now easily pulled off.

Don’t stop here with prepping that clove. Slice it lengthwise down the center to discover a little green germ. The fresher the garlic, the less chance of the sprout, but most grocery store garlic is going to present a germ. Pretty as it is, the green germ makes for bitter, bad flavor ju-ju, particularly when the garlic is used raw. Pull it out entirely, and proceed with the kind of garlicky swooning that requires no further explanation.

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  1. While visiting home (in Wisconsin) a former restaurant owner was making hummus for a party. He is usually heavy on the garlic so we told him to make two batches, one with less garlic. He started by throwing into a food processor ALL the fresh garlic we had peeled and then dumped in “pre-peeled, lackluster cloves” from a LARGE bulk package purchased at a discount store. This more than half filled the food processor tank. He blended the garlic first, then added the chic peas and other ingredients. That first batch was, of course, “with” a lot of garlic. The second batch had less and was the one most people used. I tried that first batch and didn’t know that garlic, in sufficient quantity, can actually have a burning sensation, like mild peppers. Next day when I visited a relative, that had been at the party, I jokingly said, as I walked into her office, “hey it smells like garlic in here”. She didn’t realize I was joking, at first.

  2. Forget premarital counseling, all mates must pass The Garlic Test. If a potential beau or belle does not partake in the sweet ecstasy of suateed garlic they should get the same treatment as the germ.

    1. The Garlic Test would no doubt prevent many a marital break-down!!!!! Thanks for making my day, Greg!!

  3. Do you have any helpful hints on storing garlic before and after slicing or mincing? I read somewhere, sometime, it is not safe to store peeled garlic in oil in the refrigerator. Is that true? Thanks for your more than helpful and yet entertaining site.

    1. Great question Selene! Yes, garlic stored in oil presents a risk of botulism so it’s best not to. There is no substitute for the flavor of freshly sliced or minced garlic–that is the way to go. If you must prepare in advance, you can freeze the garlic wrapped in plastic and stored in a freezer bag. Whole cloves become a little soft/mushy this way but it is a safe route.