Cooking with garlic gives you superpowers. It adds a burst of flavor to any dish it touches, allowing you to do less in the kitchen. Garlic can the featured ingredient — like in garlic bread — or a subtle background flavor — like in beef stew. The key is understanding how to prepare it.
Learn more about how to prep, cook, store, and substitute garlic in this article.
What Is Garlic?
Garlic is an aromatic bulb from the allium family. There are two main types of garlic, hardneck garlic and softneck garlic. Although you can eat different parts of the plant, such as the scape and immature leaves (green garlic), you will generally use the cloves in the garlic bulb.
Garlic is a pantry essential because many recipes call for it and you can cook with as little as garlic, salt, and oil and still produce a tasty result.
What Garlic Looks Like
There are many types of garlic with different appearances, including purple streaks and clove sizes. Check out the article on cooking with types of garlic to learn more.
How to Prep Garlic
To use garlic, you need to separate the cloves and remove the paper-thin skin that encloses each clove.
How to Peel Garlic
There are many techniques on how to quickly peel garlic cloves, some with devoted fan bases. These techniques include shaking cloves in a mason jar or two metal bowls, stabbing and twisting the cloves with a knife, and zapping in the microwave.
I prefer cutting the ends of the cloves and crushing them with the flat side of my knife against the cutting board. This may sound less exciting than the viral garlic-peeling methods but it has always been reliable and therefore saved me time.
Typically, recipes call for several garlic cloves or even an entire head of garlic. While it may seem tedious to peel so much garlic, the key to saving time and energy is understanding how strong the garlic should be and to use the correct technique to release garlic flavors in your dish.
RELATED: Learn whether you can taste the difference between garlic that is minced, frozen, and pre-peeled.
How to Chop Garlic
Garlic’s pungent flavor is released when its cells are crushed, which produces allicin. You can control how strong garlic tastes based on how much you crush or chop garlic.
From the least to the most pungent:
- Whole: Whole cloves are great for roasting and pickling
- Crushed (Pounded): Great for broths, soups, and sautéing when you want flavor without burning the garlic
- Roughly chopped: Great for stir fries, stews like ratatouille, and braising
- Sliced: Useful for garlic pizza, stews like jambalaya, sautéing, and soups because it’s faster than dicing but you still get plenty of flavor
- Diced: Similar to sliced but stronger garlic flavor, use it when minced garlic would overpower your dish
- Minced: Ideal for garlic herb dip, garlic dressing
- Pressed: Ideal for garlic butter, salad dressings, and mayonnaise
- Grated: Even stronger than pressed, some pasta sauces may call for grated garlic
- Rubbed: You can rub a clove on toasted bread or a baking dish
- Blended: Making a very garlicky sauce like pesto. Some sauces may call for blending after cooking the garlic to produce the smoothest sauce.
How to Eat Garlic Raw
Crispy, pungent, and burning. You can eat garlic raw but it will be very spicy. You may feel like it is burning your mouth. Does eating raw garlic sound like a good idea?
Many people in Northern China (and probably other regions all over the world) enjoy eating whole garlic cloves raw. I’ve seen people munch on a peeled clove as if they bit into an apple.
Whenever I eat garlic raw, it is typically peeled and minced in a salad dressing with olive oil, noodle sauce with chili, or in dumpling sauce with malt vinegar.
You can also pickle raw garlic cloves or slice it and make a garlic relish, like the garlic relish served at The Stinking Rose.
How to Cook Garlic
When garlic is cooked alone, it is typically roasted. But since garlic’s main function in cooking is to flavor other ingredients, there are many techniques to cook garlic alongside your main ingredients.
For example, it is common to fry chopped garlic in oil or butter to bring out the garlic flavor for stir fries, braising, or before slow cooking.
You may heat up and cook garlic in root vegetables before mashing them, such as in garlic mashed potatoes.
The most important aspect of cooking garlic is to remember that heat destroys the sulfuric-compounds and spiciness that many people dislike about garlic. So, it is important to cook it thoroughly to bring out garlic’s sweetness and remove its potent smell.
TIP: Garlic burns very easily. If you are frying minced garlic in oil, do not chop it too finely or leave it for too long in the hot oil (30 seconds should be enough to lightly brown it) or else you will end up with burnt garlic, which leaves a terrible flavor in your dish.
Garlic Works Well With…
- Olive oil (over pasta or steamed vegetables)
- Butter (garlic butter for garlic bread)
- Meats that are roasted, stewed, or pan fried (chicken breast and legs, steak, beef stew, lamb stew, ground meat like beef, pork, or bison)
- Green vegetables that are steamed or stir-fried (kale, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy)
- Root vegetables (garlic mashed potatoes)
- Fresh herbs like basil (pesto)
- Soup and broths
- Noodles (pasta, noodle salad)
- Mayonnaise (aioli and spicy mayo)
- Basically everything
Recipes With Garlic
How to Substitute Garlic
Because garlic is in the allium family, it is related to onions, leeks, shallots, scallions, and chives. While these allium cousins would not be a perfect substitute for garlic’s unique flavor, you can substitute onions, the whites of scallions, the whites of leeks, and chives in recipes that call for garlic.
If you don’t have any garlic for a stir fry, you can substitute green onion and ginger in place of garlic.
Where to Buy Garlic
You can find fresh garlic at any grocery store in the produce section, usually next to the other alliums like onions and the root vegetables. The garlic powder is usually in the spice aisle. Jars of minced garlic are usually next to the fresh garlic or in the canned vegetable aisle. Fresh garlic paste and pre-peeled garlic are typically in the refrigerated produce section next to the bagged salad mixes.
You can buy specialty garlic, such as hardneck varieties, at your local farmers’ market or specialty food markets.
Is Garlic Seasonal?
Garlic is seasonal. The bulbs typically mature during summer. However, garlic is available all year round thanks to imports from China, which is the largest grower and exporter of garlic.
How to Store Garlic
Garlic should be stored in a dark, dry, and cool place in a breathable bag. Under the sink or in your pantry in a netted bag are ideal storage conditions.
Do not store raw, unpeeled garlic in your fridge, especially not in the crisper. I know the crisper sounds like it will preserve the garlic better, but it quickly results in moldy garlic you have to throw out prematurely.
HOWEVER, you can prep garlic on the weekends to speed up cooking during the week. Chop the garlic into a variety of sizes and store it in a glass container. They will last a week chopped.
Fun Things To Do With Garlic
Try a garlic taste test where you make variations of garlic bread using fresh garlic, peeled garlic, minced garlic, frozen garlic, and garlic powder to see whether you can tell the difference.
Gilroy hosts its annual garlic festival in California with cooking contests, food trucks featuring garlic dishes, and garlic ice cream.
FAQ About Garlic
I Love Garlic but I Hate Getting the Smell on My Fingers. What Can I Do?
I like to use the garlic press to avoid touching raw garlic as much as possible (I know there are garlic press haters out there, but it works for me). I haven’t tried the tips like rub toothpaste on your fingers or touch stainless steel yet to determine if they remove the garlic smell. Have you tried those techniques? Did they work?
Does the Size of the Garlic Clove Matter in a Recipe?
Garlic cloves vary in size. Naturally, larger cloves sit outside the bulb. I don’t think it matters what the clove size is. Put in as much as you like. The technique of how you chop the cloves matters more than how large the cloves are.
As John Swenson, the amateur botanist who collected garlic across the Caucasus mountain range, once said, ”We have seven or eight cookbooks on onions and garlic, so we just pick a recipe we think we would like and automatically quadruple the amount of garlic.”