How to Peel a Garlic Clove

You don’t have to claw at garlic with your fingers or smash it dramatically with the side of the knife to peel a perfect clove.
By Jessica Dang
How to Peel a Garlic Clove
Growing up, I’d see my dad whack cloves of garlic with the side of his big heavy cleaver, smashing them open with a thud. He’d then proudly strip away the peel with ease before chopping them up. It was unnecessarily dramatic, but, having been conditioned to seeing it done that way, that was how I subconsciously started “peeling” my garlic too.

Once, while cooking at a friend’s apartment, I started slamming the side of my knife into the garlic cloves with the heel of my hand. Bam! The table shook. Bam! The chopping board slid a little.

“Jess, what are you doing?” he asked, laughing, holding out his hand. I handed the knife to him.

He pressed down the side of the knife on top of the garlic cloves with considerable pressure. With the quietest sound, they flattened out and the peels eked off. No loud bams; same result. I told him the story about my dad’s method, explaining that I had unwittingly picked up the same technique. (When I need the cloves whole, however, I just slice off the wide end and use my fingernails to peel it off cleanly before slicing or whatnot.) It’s just that the loud bam brings back so many memories.

It reminded me of a Jewish story about a bride who prepared her grandmother’s brisket recipe for her husband and sliced off the end of the meat before sticking it into the oven, just as she had seen her bubby prepare it. Her husband asked: “Why do you slice off the end? That’s the best part!” In response, the bride exclaimed, “But it’s my grandmother’s secret!” During a visit with her grandmother, the bride asked why the ends of the meat were always cut off, to which the grandmother replied: “Why, Darling! That’s the only way it will fit into my pan!”

I’m not sure why my dad whacks the garlic cloves with such a purpose, but, in any case, I still give my garlic cloves a booming whack from time to time as an ode to our time in the kitchen together.

2 Comments
  1. Stumbled into your posts looking for new takes on shad roe, a spring time classic here in VA. Anyways I thought I’d share an even more dramatic way to peel garlic. Take a whole head of garlic and break it into a few pieces. Set them in a bowl; preferably thin metal or plastic for maximum sonic effect. Cover the first bowl with a second of similar size, hold the two together tightly and start shaking. Shake hard, really hard, and expect everyone within earshot to look at you like you have an live animal rather than a vegetable in your hands. Calmly explain the reason for the noise and prepare for their (and your own) astonishment when you unveil a bunch of unblemished garlic cloves nestled in their own papery sloughings.

  2. I learned from my “Italian” Mother-In-Law the easiest way to peel a clove of garlic is to thinly slice off each end, then peel using your “cleaned” fingernails. I’ve also seen her hitting the side of a clove of garlic (while wearing an oven mitt or covering the knife blade with a clean pot holder or cloth for safety reasons) with the side of a butcher’s knife (when she is in a hurry). Both methods work well!

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