Our original winner, the Messermeister Pro-Touch Combination Zester, has been discontinued. We'll be updating this story shortly. In the meantime, we recommend the Norpro 113 Grip-EZ Zester and Stripper.

The Tests

  • Zest and channel lemons

  • Zest and channel oranges

  • Zest and channel limes

  • Test with users of different ages, genders, hand sizes, and dominant hands

  • Leave overnight without washing, examine for damage

  • Run through dishwasher 10 times

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 $6.74 to $18.00 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.

We had several volunteers try each tool in order to get a range of opinions, which meant there was plenty of citrus to send home with our testers.

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.

We found that blade placement on a zester/channel knife affects leverage and control. Those knives with blades set back at least 0.75 inches from the top of the handle were able to more easily bite into the citrus’s pulp.

Our winning citrus zester/channel knife, the Messermeister Pro-Touch Combination Zester, $8.99, 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.

Winning Traits

  • Good at zesting oranges, lemons, and limes

  • Sharp channel knife set at least 0.75 inch from top of handle

  • Capable of producing long, wide, medium-thick ribbons of zest

  • Comfortable, grippy handle