Whether it’s a petite lemon curl resting atop your Martini glass or a dizzying orange spiral floating in your Negroni, a visually arresting citrus garnish is the cherry on top of a delicious drink. But if you’ve ever gone home after finishing your cocktail and tried making a flawless citrus twist of your own, you know it’s tougher than your local bartender makes it look.

The skin of the citrus can be hard to scrape off in even pieces, leaving you with little to actually twist. Some peelers can also make it challenging to skin deep enough to obtain the desired amount of oil to express over your cocktail, defeating the purpose of the garnish altogether. But fear not: Perfecting the citrus twist is not a lost cause, and there are a number of techniques at-home bartenders can use to get the perfect spiral every time.

Here, we tapped renowned bartender, bar owner, and author Jeffrey Morgenthaler for his expertise.

Get the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.

How to Select the Best Citrus for Garnishes

Peeling the ideal chunk of citrus for garnishes starts with selecting the best fruit. At Morgenthaler’s Portland-based bar Pacific Standard and The Sunset Room, all citrus is sorted depending on its texture. Smooth-textured citrus fruits with thin skins are sorted into the juicing pile — they usually have some give when squeezed and hold a lot of juice inside, but their skin is often too thin to properly peel for twists. Citrus with a pebbly, almost golf-ball-like texture is sorted into the peeling pile. These bumpy-looking fruits will also tend to be a bit harder than their juiceable counterparts, but due to the thick skin, there’s going to be considerably less liquid inside the fruit anyway.

“You can feel it when you touch these fruits with your hands,” Morgenthaler explains. “You’ll feel a pebbly surface, which is a sign that it’s got a thicker skin. With this citrus, you’ll get a better twist that’ll actually hold up and it’ll have more pockets for oil because it’s more substantial. You have more pith to cut into.”

Luckily, the rules for peeling tend to be uniform across citrus types, so whether you’re peeling grapefruits, lemons, limes, or oranges, you’ll want to reach for that hard, pebbly fruit.

The Best Peelers and Tools for Twists

Many bartenders choose to use classic Y peelers, which Morgenthaler explains can help pros peel along rounded edges, like those of citrus fruits. There’s only one issue with these old standbys: They were designed to cut through foods with less dense skin, like potatoes or other root vegetables.

“With the Y peeler, you want to get that peel off the potato, but you don’t want to get too much of the potato with you right? Because you’re just wasting food at that point,” Morgenthaler explains. “They’re designed to only take the bare minimum, and the thickness of a potato skin is about a millimeter.”

This design poses a problem when juicier fruits come into play. It can be challenging to work off a peel thick enough to express with when utilizing the classic tool, which means it’s not unusual for the attempt to end in injury.

“I have personally taken off every single one of the fingertips on my left hand, and all of my bartenders have done the same,” he says. “I had a horrifying trip to the emergency room involving a fingernail that I won’t even get into the gory details of, but know that it can be really, really dangerous.”

After experiencing so many injuries at his bar, Morgenthaler made the switch to an unconventional tool that he discovered while working at a wine bar: a cheese slicer. While leading a cocktail training there, Morgenthaler realized that he had forgotten his Y peeler for garnishes, so he put the bar’s stainless-steel cheese tool to the test.

“It was unhinged, but I had to try it,” he says. “And lo and behold, it was perfect. Unlike your potato peeler, the cheese slicer is designed to get a pretty good slice of cheese off and get the rind off the cheese, too, which is really thick stuff. Plus, it’s got the little spatula on the end, which acts as a natural guard to keep the blade away from your hand.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Jordan Hughes (@highproofpreacher)

Morgenthaler purchased some for the bar, and they’ve been used to peel citrus there ever since. And they’re not just more effective. In the two years since the discovery, Morgenthaler says, there have been zero injuries.

“The twist is just better,” he adds. “And the peelers are like 10 bucks, so it’s not a big outlay for the at-home bartender.”

How to Make a Citrus Twist Look Fancy

The longer and thicker the peel, the better your twist will hold. If using a Y peeler, pull the flesh of the fruit away from you to reduce the risk of injury. If you opt for a cheese peeler, pull the flesh towards the body, but still be sure to use caution. Once the skin is peeled, twist it around twice to get the proper shape, which is almost certain to hold when using a cheese slicer.

“If you really want to get crazy, you can twist them and hold them in an ice bath,” Morgenthaler suggests, but adds that it’s not necessary to pull off a perfect garnish. “With the cheese peeler hack, you get enough of a structure that it will hold its shape for longer, [so] twist for a second and usually, that’s just perfect.”