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Citrus Zesters/Channel Knives

These dual-use tools are supposed to make pretty garnishes from citrus peels. But were any ready for prime time?


Last Updated Dec. 16, 2021.

Update, December 2021

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.

See Everything We Tested

What You Need To Know

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 citr...

Everything We Tested

Good : 3 stars out of 3.Fair : 2 stars out of 3.Poor : 1 stars out of 3.
*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.
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Reviews you can trust

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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.

Miye Bromberg

Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.