Speed up dinner prep with this handy tool.

By Kimberly Holland
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Microplane Graters
Photo: Microplane

I loathe chopping or mincing garlic. I can never cut the pieces into a uniform size. The garlic shards stick to my knife, my hands, my cutting board. I know plenty of people who buy jarred, oil-packed minced garlic for these reasons. Though I've not yet done that — I've been tempted — I found another way that saves me the headache and hand shaking it takes to get minced garlic for my favorite chicken dinners or pasta sauces. It just happens to be faster, and this method produces better, more intense garlicky flavor, too.

Instead of mincing garlic with a knife, I rub cloves (removed of their papery skin, of course) across the sharp surface of a Microplane grater.

Microplane Soft-Handle Zester Grater
Credit: Sur La Table

Buy it: $15; surlatable.com

If you don't know the story of Microplane, it's quite fun: The rasp was invented in the 1990s by brothers Richard and Jeff Grace. Together, they owned and operated Grace Manufacturing in Arkansas. Originally, these tools were designed for woodworking. But the big break came when a home cook, frustrated with her dull grater, picked up her husband's Microplane rasp from the hardware store. She rubbed it across the surface of an orange, and the zest curled off perfectly. At that point, the tool crossed over from the work bench to the kitchen island.

Since then, chefs and home cooks alike have been using Microplane graters for zesting citrus, curling chocolate, and grating cheese. And though they don't necessarily advertise it — each grater comes with "suggestions" by way of images and foods that would be suited for that grater's size — mincing garlic is one of the best ways to use this handy kitchen tool.

The standard Microplane grater ($15; surlatable.com) will actually turn garlic cloves into a pulp-like product. This is fine if you're cooking in a hot pan, whisking garlic into dressing, or stirring up a flavored aioli. The flavor will be bright, more pronounced, and stronger because garlic becomes increasingly pungent as the pieces get smaller. Rub the clove against the grater, and then scoop the pulp off the back right into a waiting pan or bowl.

Want garlic pieces that are a bit bigger? Sometimes you like to see and feel the tender pieces in a spoonful of soup or flecked into ground beef. There's a Microplane grater for that, too. The Coarse Cheese Grater ($10; surlatable.com) has larger holes that will render make bigger pieces of garlic.

Just be careful with your fingertips. Microplane etches a very sharp edge on these tools. I usually leave about a one-eighth nub of garlic and toss it instead of mincing down to the end. You can always get another garlic clove. But one cut on your fingertips could ruin your dish.

Once you try these tools, you're sure to find lots of ways to use it. You can stick with the classic uses — ginger, hard cheeses, and chocolate — and try new things like grating hard-boiled eggs for salad, grating butter for cookies and pie crusts, and grating toast for quick bread crumbs.