Equipment: Citrus Juicers

Each week J. Kenji Lopez-Alt will drop by with a list of tools or a tool you might want to stock your kitchen with—if you haven't already. Kenji also writes The Food Lab column here on SE. You can fan The Food Lab on Facebook for play-by-plays on his future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.—The Mgmt.

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After some serious testing on carnitas the other week, I found myself with a fridge full of juicy, crisp pork and nobody to eat it. The simple solution: Call over some friends, make a few pitchers of really strong margaritas, and call it a fiesta.

Our normal MO is for me to take charge of the kitchen, while my wife takes care of making sure everybody's drinks are topped up, which in this case meant squeezing 40 limes and 20 lemons for the margaritas. A pretty large feat for such a small woman.* It got me to thinking whether it was time to upgrade my citrus juicer.

20100803-citrus-juicer-3.jpgEvery professional kitchen has its own hazing rituals, and as a young chef-in-training, there was a period of time—a good eight months or so—when my first duty every single morning was to ream and zest 24 limes, 24 lemons, and a dozen oranges for fresh juice to use on the line during service. The only tool I was allowed to use to do the job (lest I risk being called a wimp—and believe me, a wimp is the last thing you want to be in the macho world of professional kitchens) was the Natural Wood Lemon Reamer from Scandicrafts, Inc. ($4). It was two weeks before I could complete the task from start to finish without taking a break to nurse my painfully swollen hands, and I went through four of the reamers in the course of eight months, slowly wearing them down until the grooved edges on the business end were as smooth and soft as river stones.

This is not to say that it's a bad product—I find that compared to metal reamers, like the Black Handled Lemon Reamer from OXO ($9.95), the soft wood is a pleasure to hold. I'd strongly recommend it for the occasional juicer. But what about for high volume juice consumers?

There are a number of options on the market.

20100803-citrus-juicer-6.jpgFor a while, I was really loving my Two-in-One Juicer from Amco ($19.95). It works as a second class lever. You place the citrus cut-side down in the cup-shaped, perforated holder then squeeze down on the handles to extract the juice. It's fast, efficient, and much easier on the hands than a conventional reamer.

But there's a problem that I only really noticed a few months into using it: the yield is pretty poor. By taking the juiced citrus halves out of the press and then going at them with a regular reamer, I can consistently get an extra 25 percent more juice out of them—sometimes as much as 50 percent.

20100803-citrus-juicer-5.jpgThat's a pretty steep price to pay for convenience.

The next type of juicer is a huge step up, both in terms of ease of use, and in price. A commercial quality upright juicer, like the Olympus Extra Large Manual Juicer from Amco ($149.95) is designed primarily for bars and restaurant use. It makes use of the same type of lever as the Two-in-One juicer, but on a much larger, sturdier scale. With one of these babies on your countertop, you can get every last drop of juice out of lemons, limes, and oranges in record time. It's also bulky, and costs $150. I'll leave that one on the shelf for the pros.

20100803-citrus-juicer-1.jpgIn the end, the best option for home use is an electric rotating juicer, like the Electric Citrus Juicer from DeLonghi ($19.95), or the slightly more attractive Brushed Stainless Citrus Juicer from Cuisinart ($29.95). Both of them work through the same method: A motor drives the reamer-shaped attachment on top, which rotates while you press your citrus pieces down onto it. The juice drips down through a strainer, and into a collection tank below. It still requires a bit of manual effort and can get a bit messy, but it's worlds easier than a fully manual reamer. If you enjoy margaritas or whiskey smashes as much as I do, I'd consider the small investment.

By the way, for those of you who have KitchenAid stand mixers, the Juice Extractor Attachment ($24.95) is a low-profile, highly effective alternative to the stand-alone juicers that will last you as long as your KitchenAid (i.e., pretty much forever).

Grab my margarita recipe here »

* Not to be confused with "large feet on a small woman."

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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