How to Make Lemon Garnish for Cocktails

From iced tea to cocktails, here are the different ways you can cut, slice, and peel lemons for a fancy garnish. Plus tips for buying and storing lemons.

What would a cocktail be without lemon for garnish? It’s an important visual, and quite frankly, fun part to mixing and drinking adult beverages. From citrus wheels to wedges to skewered fruit, the garnish is the flair.

“We need to talk about your flair…15 is the minimum.”

I am paraphrasing but god I love that movie. But anyway, garnish really is the flair for cocktails, so knowing how to slice and dice some of the basics can add a lot of pizzazz to your next happy hour. And good garnish begins with googl lemons.

California produces 80 percent of all the fresh citrus marketed in the United States. (about 50% overall, much of the rest of the country grows citrus for juice). CA grows over 92% of the lemons available in the U.S.

How to Buy Lemons

You want the best fruit you can buy. Here is what to look for when choosing lemons:

Choose firm lemons.

  • They should give a little when squeezed. (this means less pith, more juice)
  • Choose lemons that are heavy for their size.
  • The skin should be bright yellow. No green!
  • The skin should be taught, not wrinkled.

How to Cut Lemons for Garnish

When it comes to citrus garnish, you have a few options at your disposal. Some of it comes down to aesthetics. Some of it comes down to ease of prep. Then of course there is just lighting shit on fire and that is always fun.

Lemon Wedges (2 Ways)

There are essentially two different styles of citrus wedges. A cleaner, more prepped look or a more natural look. The only difference is the visual. But this is probably the most common garnish next to slices.

Cocktail Lemon Wedges

  1. Trim the ends of the lemon.
  2. Cut the lemon in half lengthwise.
  3. Lay each half cut-side down.
  4. Cut the halves in half lengthwise.
  5. Do the same for each new half.
  6. You should end up with 8 wedges.
  7. Trim off the pithy rib at the lemon center.
  8. Sweep and pick away any seeds.
  9. Gently squeeze and add to the drink.

Natural Lemon Wedges

  1. Cut the lemon in half lengthwise.
  2. Lay each half cut-side down.
  3. Cut the halves in half lengthwise.
  4. Do the same for each new half.
  5. You should end up with 8 wedges.
  6. Trim off the pithy rib at the lemon center.
  7. Sweep and pick away any seeds.
  8. Gently squeeze and add to the drink.

Lemon Slices (AKA Lemon Wheels)

A slice of citrus, also known as the lemon wheel, is perhaps the easiest garnish to prep. Also one of the most visual garnishes. You can drop them in your drink or slide them on to the glass rim.

I distinguish them accordingly. A slice, as outlined below, is for adding to drinks, recipes, or plating. The wheel, seen below, is specifically for the rim of a glass.

  1. Trim off the ends.
  2. Cut the lemon widthwise into ¼-inch slices.

Wedge Slices

Another option is what I call the wedge slice. Full circular slices, half slices (what I call the wedge slice), and wheels are often all referred to interchangeably.

  1. Cut lemon slices in half.
  2. Drop into drink.
  3. Optionally, make a small cut in the fruit at the center.
  4. Slide wedge slice onto rim of glass.

Lemon Wheels

You can easily turn a lemon slice into a lemon wheel. In fact, these terms are often used interchangeably. For me, slices are just a simple cut. Wheels are for propping up on the glass.

  1. Cut lemon slices from center to the edge.
  2. Gently separate slices where cut was made.
  3. Slide wheel onto rim of glass.

Lemon Twists

This is the elegant and fancy garnish for a variety of drinks. It is very Blake Carrington. The lemon peel a great option for adding essential oils from the rind to the drink.

  1. Take a peeler or paring knife against the lemon.
  2. Carve off a long wide piece that is more peel than pith.
  3. Squeeze it over the drink to add in those essential oils.
  4. Drop it into the drink.

Flaming Lemon Peels

If the lemon peel is very Blake Carrington then the flaming lemon peel is the Madonna of lemon garnishes. It is there to put on a show!

  1. Take a peeler or paring knife against the lemon.
  2. Carve off a long wide piece that is more peel than pith.
  3. Strike a match.
  4. Squeeze the peel over the drink aiming the oils at the match.
  5. Watch the oils crackle and spark!
  6. Drop peel into the drink.

Lemon Curls or Spirals

Best made with a channel knife (citrus zester) but can also be done with a knife and a bit of technique.

  1. Place the zester holes against the lemon.
  2. Push slightly into the fruit.
  3. Pull the zester down following the lemon’s curve.
  4. Yields long, thin, curly strips of zest.
  5. You can coil it for a tighter slinky effect.
  6. Add to drink or rim of glass

How to Store Lemon Garnish

Garnish is either fruit and peel or just peel and both have different limits on storage. For the garnishes that contain actual fruit, you can store them for up to 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge. For those that are only peel, stored the same way, will keep for about a day.

How to Store Peeled Lemons

Whole lemons can be kept in the fridge for months and months. Not so much for peeled lemons. Store them in an airtight container and use within 3 days.

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