The Best Manual Citrus Juicers and Reamers

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Electric citrus juicers are great, especially if you like making big batches of lemonade or fresh-squeezed orange juice, but they're impractical for recipes that call for just a couple of lemons or limes. That's when a simple manual citrus juicer comes in handy. It's the sort of unassuming kitchen tool that you'll find yourself reaching for again and again, for salad dressings, for cocktails, for baking, or for adding that critical hit of acid to whatever you might be cooking for dinner.

But there are good manual juicers, and there are bad manual juicers. Good ones will quickly extract more juice than you can by hand, and automatically strain out the pulp and seeds. Bad ones can take just as long, or longer, to juice a piece of fruit as your bare hands, and are just as messy. But, with so many models on the market, how do you tell the good from the bad? I put a whole bunch of top-rated citrus juicers to the test. Many hours, several hundred fruits, several gallons of juice, and two tired wrists later, here's what I came up with.

The Winners

These are our three favorite juicers at a glance. Read on for more details.

The Categories

First, some basics: Manual citrus juicers fall into several distinct categories. Simplest is the handheld reamer, which you hold in one fist and dig straight into the citrus half. There's also the hinged squeezer, a press that squeezes one citrus half at a time, the same way a nutcracker cracks nuts. Then there is the tabletop juicer, which has a reamer attached to a container, and the larger, lever-operated tabletop press (you may have seen these behind the bar), plus a few oddball outliers.

For starters, I had to narrow the playing field, which is packed with options ranging from classic to novel to boutique. In my years of equipment testing, I've never come across a novelty tool that works better than the original (classics are classics for a reason), so I skipped them, and I skipped anything over $25—a reasonable price ceiling for a home cook. That ruled out tabletop presses, which not only are expensive (most range from $50 to well over $100) but also take up a lot of space. If you're going to dedicate that much cash and countertop to a juicer, you might as well buy a good electric one.

From there, I narrowed it down to nine juicers, based on my own experience and on reviews and discussions from sources like Cook's Illustrated, Amazon, Chowhound, and Williams-Sonoma. I settled on three squeezers, two reamers, and three tabletop juicers, plus, for good measure, a spout that screws directly into the fruit. It borders on novelty item, but is also common enough that I thought I'd at least see how it compared.

The Testing

To test these products out, I juiced 10 lemons, 10 limes, and 10 oranges on each (with one exception, for which this proved impossible—we'll get to that). I also squeezed 10 of each citrus (cut into halves) with my bare hands, to provide a baseline for comparison. That's 300 pieces of fruit total, and about a day and a half spent juicing.

Criterion 1: Yield

Arguably the most important quality of a juicer is its yield: How much juice can it get out of a single fruit, and how much does it leave behind? To measure this, I weighed each batch of fruit before squeezing, then weighed its extracted juice—strained through a fine-mesh sieve, because juice bulked up with more pulp is not the same as more juice—to determine what percentage of the fruit had been turned into juice. Hand-squeezing yielded 34% of the limes, but only 26% of lemons and 23% of oranges (plus who knows how much all over the counter). Most, but not all, juicers performed better, and were surprisingly consistent across types of fruit, though limes, with their thin skin, tended to give up a bit more juice by weight than lemons or oranges. Obviously, juice yield will vary with the specific fruit you are using and the season.

Criterion 2: Ease of Use

Effort expended is also important. Making orange juice should not be a laborious, time-consuming task. Squeezing a few lemons should not give you carpal tunnel. So, beyond just paying attention to how hard it was to use each tool, I timed how long it took to juice each individual fruit, both with and without the juicers. Most of the juicers helped me juice the fruit in about half the time it took me to squeeze manually.

Criterion 3: Flavor

I also conducted a blind taste test of every juice with a panel of five taste-testers. Squeezers tend to squeeze out more of the oils from the skin, while a reamer could potentially dig some bitterness out of the white pith, so I had each taster rank the bitterness, the floral or fragrant quality, and the overall taste of each juice on a scale of 1 to 10, with room for additional comments. To cancel out any effects of palate fatigue, I gave the juices to each taster in a different order.

Other Criteria

Other things to consider included how much mess the juicer made. How much juice ended up on the counter (or squirted farther afield)? How much ended up on my hands? How hard was it to aim for the narrow opening of a glass? How easy was the juicer to clean? And then, of course, there's price. Was a $23 hinged squeezer really worth $14 more than the cheapest squeezer? What about the $22 plastic-and-steel reamer versus the $6 wooden reamer?

The Winners

The Best for OJ Drinkers: The OXO Double-Sided Citrus Juicer

OXO's Double-Sided Citrus Juicer was a great performer overall, and, at $16, it's right in the middle of the juicer price range.

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First of all, it has a great design: A wide, silicone-padded lip makes it easy to hold on to, while a ring of silicone on the bottom gives it a sturdy, non-slip grip on the counter. The double-sided reamer isn't a gimmick; the larger end really did work better for large orange halves (mine were about three and a half inches in diameter) than smaller juicers or either of the handheld reamers, which forced me to work the orange halves back and forth as well as in circles in order to get all the juice. The difference was a matter of at least 10 seconds in each case: It took an average of 35 seconds to juice a whole orange on the OXO, while it took upwards of 45 seconds to juice one on other models.

The ridges on the OXO reamer are also nice and sharp, releasing juice easily, which no doubt helped with the speed. They didn't necessarily increase yield, but the OXO did produce at least as much juice as any other reamer, which was about as much juice as any tool overall. The OXO also required less pressure to use than the other countertop juicers I tested.

One feature that really stood out: Instead of having a solid reamer surrounded by a perforated moat for the juice to drip through (the standard design), the OXO juicer has an open, cage-like shape, so that even the surface underneath it works as a sieve. Any juicer will clog up with pulp at some point, but the OXO could handle two, three, or occasionally four pieces of fruit before having to be cleared—at least double what other reamers could handle. In terms of cleaning up that pulp, it was also quite easy to pop the reamer attachment right out of the OXO and dump the pulp out. The downside was that, because the reamer is separate from the inward-sloping lid, some pulp tended to fall off the edges of the reamer and into the juice. Nothing that a quick pour through a strainer can't fix.

The cup on the OXO holds about 300 milliliters of liquid, or about one and a third cups, and has measurements marked in both ounces and milliliters on the sides, up to eight ounces or 250 milliliters. With the fruit I was using, it worked out to hold the juice from about eight limes, five lemons, or two oranges. That's not as big as some other models, but it's big enough to do the trick for most occasions. It's also great that the OXO has measurements on it, although it would be nice if one of those measurements were cups, given that that's the American standard.

If you have your heart set on cup measurements, you might want to try the RSVP Juicer, which fits over a standard two-cup liquid measuring cup (like a Pyrex), with a silicone-lined edge to keep it from slipping around. It also fits perfectly over a round plastic pint or quart container, but, unfortunately, not much else, so it's not as usefully minimal as you might think. You can't, for example, use it to juice directly into a glass or cocktail shaker, which is something I'd want from any juicer that comes without a cup of its own.

There are some downsides to the OXO: The rather large holes in its sieve let some pulp and the occasional seed through. It has three separate pieces to clean instead of one. And the sharp ridges of the reamer do seem to extract more bitterness from the pith, especially when you're working with lemons. A number of taste-testers ranked the OXO lemon juice among the bitterest (somewhere between an 8 and a 10, 10 being the bitterest), and I also thought it was one of the bitterer of the bunch. This was less of a problem with the orange juice, and I found that the reamer seemed to crush the pulp more thoroughly than others, so that the juice, even after straining, had a more full-bodied flavor.

All in all, the OXO is a great choice for those who intend to use their juicer regularly for orange juice.

The Best for Lemons and Limes: The Chef'n FreshForce Citrus Juicer

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If flavor and speed are what you're after, a squeezer is a great choice, and the Chef'n FreshForce Citrus Juicer was easily the best of the three I tried. Squeezers are great because they can juice a citrus half in one swift movement—no grinding back and forth, no juice on your hands—plus they extract more citrus oil from the peels, for more fragrant juice.

It took under 30 seconds to squeeze each lemon or lime with the Chef'n squeezer. (Oranges were a different story, but I'll get to that.) Plus, with just a small cluster of drainage holes at the center of the cup, the squeezer has great aim, and it can easily direct juice right into the mouth of even a narrow glass. It also produces minimal pulp and seeds.

There are a few pitfalls to the standard squeezer that the Chef'n manages to improve upon. For one thing, squeezers aren't always as easy or comfortable to use as they seem. They work by essentially turning the citrus half inside out while also pressing it flat. (This can throw off the first-time user, since the fruit is meant to go in cut side down, but looks like it would fit perfectly in the cup the other way around.) With a tough lime or a thick-skinned lemon, that can take a lot of force. But the toothed hinge mechanism of the Chef'n squeezer gives you more leverage than the simple hinges on standard squeezers. As a result, the Chef'n feels noticeably smoother and easier to squeeze. The rough, sturdy nylon handles are also comfortable and slip-free.

I quickly got frustrated with the slippery interior of some squeezers. Lemons, especially, kept slipping sideways as soon as I put any pressure on them, making them harder to squeeze and yielding less juice. The interior of the cup on the Chef'n squeezer is not only rough but also lined with concentric ridges, making it much more difficult for fruit to slip out of place. Those ridges also help keep stray squirts of juice from shooting out of the top of the cup, a common problem with other squeezers.

All squeezers will press more oils from the skin of the fruit than a reamer will, and the Chef'n is no exception. Testers gave its juice high marks for fragrance and flavor overall, especially for limes and lemons. The added oil gave the juice a bright, clean, true lime or lemon taste, but was less appealing in the orange juice, which came out tasting kind of soapy. So, if a shot of lemon or lime flavor is usually all you're after, the Chef'n squeezer is probably a great choice, but it's probably not so great if you mostly want to make orange juice.

As a side note, if you do really want to squeeze oranges with a hinged squeezer, be sure to buy the large, orange-sized variety instead of one of the medium, lemon-sized ones I tested. In order to fit an orange into those at all, I had to cut it into eighths, and the process of squeezing each individually was even slower than squeezing by hand—I averaged between a minute and 30 seconds and a full two minutes per fruit with each of the three squeezers I tested. A larger-size squeezer should work well enough for smaller fruits, so it's the better all-purpose choice, but just keep in mind that the large Chef'n squeezer costs over $30. The OXO Double-Sided Juicer costs half that, and will give you better-tasting orange juice.

Because it doesn't dig out all the pulp, the squeezer can look like it's not getting as much juice as a reamer would. But, from what I measured, the yields were mostly the same as those from the reamer-style juicers, at least post-straining. The Chef'n squeezer yielded 38% of both the limes and the oranges by weight, and 32% of the lemons.

The Best Handheld Reamer: The OXO Good Grips Wooden Reamer

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Next to the top choices listed above, handheld reamers are much simpler tools. That has some advantages. A handheld reamer takes up the least space of any juicer, and is easy to stow in a drawer or utensil jar. It also has no moving parts to break and no extra pieces to clean. And a reamer can be quite efficient: The wooden OXO reamer I tested yielded at least a third of the weight of each fruit in juice.

But a reamer is also just about as messy as squeezing fruit by hand. Juice inevitably runs down your wrist, and the fruit quickly gets slippery and hard to grip. Plus, all the seeds and pulp go right into the juice unless you use it over a sieve (or filter everything through a sieve after), so the reamer isn't as minimalist as it seems. It really just requires you to have other kitchen tools.

I like a simple wooden reamer for occasional use because it's affordable (the one I tested costs $6) and the wood provides a good non-slip grip. But the wood will wear out with regular use, and once the ridges of the reamer get dull, it's not good for much. So, if you do want a handheld reamer but anticipate using it more than just once in a while, pay a little more for a metal or hard plastic version, which will last much longer. Look for one that has a grip of some sort on the handle, with a teardrop-shaped body and good, deep ridges to squeeze out all that juice.

As for that screw-in spout I tested, I don't recommend it. It worked pretty well for juicing limes, but the act of palpating the fruit to release the juice inside also pulled out a lot of bitterness from the pith. Halfway through squeezing a lemon, the spout would come loose, so that as much juice poured out around the base of the spout as came through it. And when I got to oranges, the skin was so thick and the fruit so big that my squeezing just split the whole fruit in half before much juice came out.