Microplane, yay or nay? And (warning: pun ahead) grate uses?
January 20, 2013 12:43 AM   Subscribe

Should I buy a Microplane? I'm hesitating because $$ (looking at this one), and a small kitchen means I try to keep gadgets strictly to a minimum. Is it worth it, and what are the things you use your Microplane for?

The situation is: we cook most meals at home from scratch; I'm cutting out salt so trying a lot of other ingredients for adding a bit of extra flavor, and feel like lemon zest (we already use squeezes of lemon on very many things) might be a good addition for many dishes. We use a lot of garlic, which we just usually chop; ditto ginger.

(Also, I spent a very frustrating half-hour the other day zesting a lemon for a particular recipe with my execrable small grater and a toothpick to dig out the 90% of the zest that remained in its teenyweeny holes and channels. ack.)

I would actually like to be convinced that I need one, but it feels a bit extravagant. Is it worth it, and if so, what are some great things you can do with your Microplane? Are they hard to clean? Do toothpicks ever come into play?
posted by taz to Food & Drink (46 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't have any other graters, I think a Microplane is a great buy that will preclude you from having to buy, say, a box grater (unless you need bigger holes, like for soft cheese). We use our microplane all the time - zesting, grating parmesan, grating nutmeg, and grating ginger are the main uses. We wash it in the dishwasher but it's easy to clean with soap and sponge if you don't let the food dry out after use (if you do, just soak it before cleaning). Toothpicks do not come into play. You'd save a few bucks if you get the one without the handle.
posted by malhouse at 12:59 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I use ours for zesting limes and lemons, and for grating cheese, nutmeg, cinnamon, chocolate, and ginger. We throw it into the dishwasher and it always comes out clean.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:00 AM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

Seconding the uses malhourse and BP point out above, and adding: works very well for veggies like carrots and cucumbers (for Japanese style potato salad) as well. It's also a lot safer than a box grater. I hang mine on the inside of a drawer door, so it's never in the way.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:08 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I definitely think it is worth it, especially given that you're looking to amp up flavor sans salt. In addition to grating lemon zest, it's great for adding a bit of hard cheese like Parmesan. One of my favorite things to do with it is to grate fresh nutmeg - it is so flavorful, and certainly has a place in savory dishes (traditional in creamy pasta, for instance, but I also add it to things like mashed sweet potatoes or butternut squash soup). You can also grate a bit of dark chocolate into chili! I've never found it hard to clean, but I just pop it into the dishwasher. It's sturdy, too. I've had mine for nearly a decade already. As far as kitchen gadgets go, I could certainly live without it, but it's much better at certain tasks than its box grater cousin.
posted by katie at 1:10 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I use mine for zest, ginger, garlic, parmesan, chocolate to sprinkle on things. I love the fine grating it produces. I just rinse it and wipe it with a sponge (back towards the handle, so I don't grate the sponge), so not fiddly to keep clean. I hadn't bought one because of the price, and then received it as a gift. I am now not sure at all how I did any of these things adequately before I had it.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:11 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Buy a microplane, you'll be happy every time you use it. Mine came with a plastic sleeve for safe keeping, it washes up quickly and easily. My microplane was a gift from my, then 10 year old, son. Best cooking gift ever.
posted by jennstra at 1:13 AM on January 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Totally worth it. We've got a set of two - one with bigger, wider slats for shaving parmesan, grating onions and carrots, etc. and a little one for everything else that never seems to stay clean since I've always just used it. That being said, the cleanup is easy - I just squish it with a soapy sponge and run hot water through it. I mostly use it for zest and ginger, but I've certainly gotten exotic with it - nutmeg and cinnamon sticks freshly grated are kind of a revelation. We've had them for nearly 8 years now and yes, they are not perfectly as sharp as they were but I got a new box grater recently and it was so terrible in comparison I went straight back to the microplanes. I have never used a toothpick.
posted by Mizu at 1:17 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need it. I don't think of it as a "gadget" or a "uni-tasker", it's just a really good grater. And everyone needs a really good grater, right?

I bought mine solely to grate fresh nutmeg and to zest citrus, but I use it for pretty much everything that requires grating.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 1:19 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use it ALL THE TIME.

I accidentlly melted the handle on my old one and bought a new one.

I hate "gadgets." This is not a gadget, it is a useful tool you will use daily or weekly, if you cook from scratch often.

Buy it.
posted by jbenben at 1:37 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nthing yay. Absolutely yay.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:40 AM on January 20, 2013

I use mine all the time too, but shit, I didn't pay that kinda dosh for it...gotta be a cheaper source somewhere...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:42 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I bought this as an Xmas present and it seems to work pretty well, and only £7.99.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:48 AM on January 20, 2013

I've had this Cuisipro rasp for several years and I use it a lot. I grate garlic, lemon zest, cheese ...

The best thing about it is that the plastic cover that protects the grater clips onto the back to collect the gratings, and it has a little measure on it. The collector is particularly good for lemon zest because it preserves a lot of the lemon oil which you can just wipe off with a finger into your recipe.
posted by essexjan at 1:55 AM on January 20, 2013

I didn't even know what it was until I clicked your link, but we actually have one here. Must have been my girlfriend's from before we moved in together.

I like it. Despite having a bigger grater in the house, the microplane is great to have on the table during dinner to periodically add some fresh cheese to pasta, salad etc. Very unintrusive. Also easy to clean. Without knowing, that seems like a high price though.
posted by mannequito at 2:10 AM on January 20, 2013

As somebody who baked around 12 lemon creme pies during the Holidays, [and if you use my recipe, this means zesting 60 lemons, yes that is sixty, my friend), I can say I would have been lost without my microplane. I love the way they just pick up the zest and leave the pith. The price appears a bit on the steep side. I paid 18 euros and I could get the one without a handle for slightly less. If you're serious about your zesting, the microplane is the way to go.
posted by ouke at 2:24 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have the OXO version of that and it's totally fine, and has a great handle. I use it all the time for cheese and zest. I need to use it more for chocolate!
posted by oceanjesse at 3:11 AM on January 20, 2013

Naybe. Mine is good quality, and I cook a lot, but I've used my microplane maybe once a year since I got it. I don't consider it a kitchen "must have" like a good knife, chopping board, measuring cups, pepper grinder, silicon utensils, good thick bottomed pans.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:56 AM on January 20, 2013

This article in the NY Times is an interesting read. And it makes the point that the dramatically increased surface area of your micro-shredded cheese or zest == dramatically increased flavor. And dramatically faster melting, for melty things.

I've had a Microplane Classic Zester/Grater (40020) for a decade, I think, and am still impressed whenever I use it. Which is probably weekly. Mostly it's used for parmesan, citrus zest and nutmeg, but I guess I do a lot of that. I'd replace it without hesitation if something befell it.

I can't speak to the rest of their rapidly growing range—most of which aren't particularly micro—but if you're a regular user of hard cheese or zest, I can't imagine you'll regret the purchase.
posted by mumkin at 4:11 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, absolutely recommended, but not at that price. That's ridiculous! I bought one recently as a gift at less than half that price at Amazon here in the States. I've also seen them in stores like Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond for even less, so you might want to call around locally to similar shops like Dunelm Mills.

And FYI: Amazon (and many other online retailers) has a sneaky practice of charging difference prices for the same item based on your location and browser history, a thing they call dynamic pricing; it's been going on for years. Lifehacker has some good tips on how to avoid getting ripped off from this. There's also a site called camelcamelcamel that you can use to monitor the historical price chart of any item you're interested in and/or have them send you an alert when the price drops to something you're willing to pay. The UK version is here.

Personally, I've become so fed up with this crap that I'm not going to renew my Prime membership once it expires and I've gone back to shopping locally if the price is even close to comparable.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 4:16 AM on January 20, 2013 [9 favorites]

Get one. I didn't realize so many people used it to grate ginger but I make tea out of grated ginger every day and the tea tastes so much better when I grate the ginger with a microplane. With everything else it's just so much easier and neater to grate with a microplane.
posted by fromageball at 4:36 AM on January 20, 2013

The microplane is hands down my favourite kitchen utensil. So much so that I've bought a few different kinds and have also bought them as presents for people (always looked at askance when first received then followed up by a phone call raving about it a couple of days later).
I know that some are supposed to be for some things, and some for others but they are all much of a muchness. If you know for sure that you're going to be using it for zesting lemons and quickly grating ginger and garlic then get the smallest holes one. But still, you can use this small holes one for hard AND soft cheese. It actually makes cheese like cheddar go a lot further because the finished result is so airy and voluminous.
My number one use for it is adding garlic to every single dish but it's also great for nutmeg, bread crumbs, and any other slightly hard thing you might want to throw into a dish on whim. I reckon it makes me a more adventurous cook because I'm not put off by all the chopping and then cleaning that normally goes with adding tiny amounts of ingredients to a recipe. Easy to clean too. It is pricey but they don't go blunt and you'll definitely use them every day.
posted by stevedawg at 4:45 AM on January 20, 2013

I probably should have mentioned this, but I have a couple of challenges when it comes to shopping: it's quite difficult, usually, for me to find very specific brands/items where I am (in Greece), if it is even offered here – and if I do find it here (after much effort, usually), it's almost always more expensive than Amazon UK (or eBay). Amazon UK will ship for free on combined orders above £25 that qualify, so I usually end up waiting 'til I have a few things I need, and ordering that way.

The US is way cheaper for almost everything, I know, but shipping rates and customs kill me there, so it's not usually an option.
posted by taz at 4:45 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you considered eBay? Australia doesn't have particularly well-developed e-commerce, so I buy a lot of new things on eBay, typically from sellers who'll ship worldwide. I especially recommend keeping an eye out for UK sellers -- postage from the UK is generally cheaper than postage within Australia. Which is nuts, but nice for me.
posted by Georgina at 5:01 AM on January 20, 2013

I have used that same grater frequently since they first started to get popular. I think it's great for hard cheese, citrus zesting and nutmeg, but I don't think it's so awesome for ginger and I've never even tried it on garlic. I'm anti-gadget, but it's definitely worth having around. That price is really steep, though...

Keep in mind that it's a bunch of tiny knives. Like any knife it can get dull if it is mistreated, but unlike knives there's no practical way to sharpen it. Take care that it doesn't rub on hard or abrasive materials like ceramics, silverware, or your sink. Wash it immediately after using and put it back in its protective sleeve. Figure on needing a new one every several years.

I do not like their coarser tools, especially the microplane box grater; it's lethally sharp, with hundreds of little blades sticking out all over the place, demanding too much caution. I like sharp, but that thing is ridiculous. I was given one as a gift and promptly banished it from my kitchen.
posted by jon1270 at 5:03 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I too have a dinky kitchen and an aversion to useless gadgets (ask my partner about my reaction to his suggestion of a bottle warmer for Lil' Peanut). But yeah a microplane is awesome and not just a one trick pony.

Have you seen the outlet section of Microplane's international online store?
posted by romakimmy at 5:07 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not hard to clean, toothpicks don't come into play, and they're the best thing ever for hard cheeses like parmesan, zesting citrus, ginger, garlic (but watch your fingers), and yes, chocolate. I have a largish kitchen, but if i had to pare down to the basics, I'd take this with me. I would say, however, that it does *not* replace a box grater. If you try to use it for, say, cheddar, the holes are too small and it would get gunked up.
posted by Stewriffic at 5:09 AM on January 20, 2013

an alternative to buying a microplane and a half dozen types of chopping/slicing devices is to bone up on your knife skills. Learning how to pare and slice will open up new worlds to you. I've learned how to pare and chop lemon zest in the 1/10 of the time it would take me to find, use and clean my zester. I'm always a little concerned that too much of the essential oil of my zest and garlic ends up on the surface of the zester and not in the food.
posted by any major dude at 5:13 AM on January 20, 2013

Okay, the price is high. Personally I have two that look like this, which is a little cheaper. Is that imported from the US? The more notches the finer the grating. I could never replace a box grater with a microplane. I'm assuming the one they sell here is just the general purpose one. The second one I have is finer, and can be identified because they put a few notches in each end. Even with two in their sleeves, they still take up less room than the one rod one I got my mother in law a few years ago.

To clean, you wipe the inside out in both directions, then brush once or twice in the opposite direction as the grating surface. In over a decade of usage, with the first five being in commercial kitchens, I have never had a clog. This would actually qualify as a 'must have' if I was stranded on a desert island with only a few non-electric kitchen tools and required to cook a gourmet meal. (in line with knife, cutting board, tongs, sautusse, sautoir, food mill, mortar & pestle, chinois, and tasting spoon - that would probably round out my #10, though if I could only cook eggs, I'd probably swap out the sautoir and tongs for a spatula and a wisk. Either way the 10th slot would be the microplane.).
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:25 AM on January 20, 2013

On a kitchen indispensability scale where 1 is a knife and 10 is a sous vide machine, the microplane is a 3 or 4. And yes, that price is too high.
posted by anildash at 5:48 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about this from IKEA? €2,99
posted by essexjan at 6:08 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a great one and it looks like they ship internationally.
posted by Cuke at 6:11 AM on January 20, 2013

You can also find them at hardware stores - might be cheaper. They didn't start out as culinary tools but rather for woodworking. I'd put mine in my top 2 or 3 kitchen tools along with a good knife and a stand mixer so yeah - worth the money!
posted by leslies at 6:14 AM on January 20, 2013

I was going to say what Cuke said. Look in a hardware store or a store that sells woodworking tools, because this is a tool you should have. I use mine for zesting, yes, but also for grating whole nutmeg, hard cheeses like parmesan, ginger, and, yes, garlic. (It's amazing for making garlic paste, so much better than trying to do it with a mortar and pestle, and garlic paste is AWESOME for adding tons of flavor without upping your fat/sodium content.) Anyway, it's an amazing multipurpose tool. Still, I don't know that I'd pay that price for one, either, so definitely scout out the non-cooking-branded alternatives.
posted by devinemissk at 6:45 AM on January 20, 2013

I use my microplane for zesting, grating parmesan cheese, grating nutmeg, and smooshing up garlic and ginger. It's worth it for the zesting alone, far easier than any other method I've tried. Cleanup consists of an immediate rinse and wipe, something I could not say for a box grater. I paid under $10CDN for mine at a restaurant supply store.
posted by Meagan at 7:28 AM on January 20, 2013

I use mine at least once a day and wouldn't be without it. My kitchen is small, too. I have the microplane, and then a large-hole grater that's also flat and tucks up against the front of a deep drawer, basically taking up no space at all. A box grater is a total waste of space.
posted by HotToddy at 9:07 AM on January 20, 2013

denying yourself the ability to eat a teaspoon of microplaned chocolate, with its maximal surface area, enjoying the simultaneous tongue melting mouthfeel and flavor bud saturation is the worst form of thrift......
posted by lalochezia at 9:08 AM on January 20, 2013

If I had to choose one grater to keep, it would be my file-style Microplane. Yes, even though (as Stewriffic points out) it isn't useful for soft cheeses because they gunk up the holes.

I use that Microplane every day, mostly for Parmesan, lemon zest, and nutmeg, all of which it grates with unparalleled ease and fineness. I grate the ingredient to a satisfyingly fine cloud of scent and flavor right into the bowl or onto the cutting board, then tap the Microplane gently against the bowl or counter edge to knock any clinging bits of precious flavor free. It is dreamy. Get one, get one, GET ONE.

I'll be frank: I'm scroungingly cheap and I have a hilariously tiny kitchen. That file-style Microplane (mine does not have a handle and I find it perfectly pleasant to use) was worth every penny and every scant inch of kitchen space it takes up. Like some others above, I have mine hanging out in the open so I can grab it easily for frequent use. It washes quickly with a sponge or a brush, and mine has lasted several years of hard and careless use without noticeably dulling.

if I had to choose one grater forever and ever, speak now or forever hold your peace, I'd take the Microplane and resign myself to chopping up soft cheeses with a knife if necessary. That is how much I love it.

I was also given a paddle-style Microplane with bigger holes, and it's fine --- certainly better and sharper than most paddle graters I've used --- but I reach for it only occasionally and do not recommend it particularly.

Be aware that Microplane sells their own products internationally, in case that saves you trouble or expense.
posted by Elsa at 9:11 AM on January 20, 2013

Thanks, guys! I love the passion, and I am convinced... and I have found a price I can live with: this eBay offer from the U.S. has a shipping price for me of nearly half the whole sale price (not at all unexpected), but still comes in well below the Amazon UK price, so I think I'll go with this, even though it means I'll have to wait quite a while to receive it (wah!). I was looking only within UK/EU on eBay earlier and didn't find anything less than the Amazon UK price with shipping, but expanding my search got a better price. (I think that Microplane is manufactured and shipped from the US, which is why the retail prices abroad are so much higher.)

Once we have one, I'll be able to compare that to woodworking versions in hardware stores and may be able to replace it that way (when the time comes).

I'll update once it's received and I've had a chance to work it, but I'm still very interested in any cool uses or tips, or even just general enthusiasm. :) Thank you all again!
posted by taz at 9:21 AM on January 20, 2013

Enjoy. For what it's worth, I wouldn't even try to zest a lemon any other way now that I have a microplane. I don't know how I made cakes before.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:22 AM on January 20, 2013

I've found mine useful. I use it for lemon zesting and Parmesan grating.
posted by limeonaire at 10:59 AM on January 20, 2013

Rather than a "zester", I have one Microplane fine grater and one coarser one. We use them all the time. The coarse grater works wonderfully for mincing garlic — quicker than using a knife and a lot smoother and more even than smashing.

I think people sometimes misinterpret what's being pointed at with the advice "avoid single-purpose tools". Yeah, something truly single-purpose (like an egg separator) is fairly useless, but a grater is no more a single-purpose tool than a knife is, IMO.
posted by Lexica at 12:10 PM on January 20, 2013

Glad to hear you're buying one. The genuine ones are - yes - jaw droppingly expensive compared to run of the mill graters or non-branded microplanes. I was exceedingly sceptical when I got one, but, reader, I would marry mine now.

I use it primarily for zesting, parmesan, nutmeg and grating ginger, and it gets used at least once a week, sometimes more. The branded ones are noticeably sharper than the cheaper ones, though I have noticed over the years mine is definitely a little blunter than it used to be, but I would not hesitate to buy new again.

One thing: watch your fingers. If you think accidentally grating your finger on a regular grater is bad, a microplane - especially if you're doing lemons, for example - is a whole new world of pain. They are sharp.
posted by smoke at 1:58 PM on January 20, 2013

I managed to cook for 20 years without one, but then I bought one 10 years ago and use it almost daily. I frequently grate a clove of garlic and then grate some Parmesan cheese without washing in between. It goes in the knife drawer and I think of it as a sort of knife. I have the bread knife, the big knife, the boning knife, and the microplane.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 2:50 PM on January 20, 2013

I just bought a package of three micro planes, fine, medium and coarse, at Costco for about $25 or so. Excellent. I had never seen a coarse micro plane-style grater before which is what caused me to buy. Despite my looking, I cannot find them on the Costco site which was recently redesigned to make it even more useless than it was before.
posted by bz at 5:11 PM on January 20, 2013

The Microplane extra coarse file-style grater does a fine job of shredding potatoes for hash browns. (When choosing it, I relied on the picture of the hunk of cheese, the potato, and the apple on the plastic sleeve.) Rinses clean easily. Great product but I'm going to get one of those cut-protection kitchen gloves to go along with it.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:14 PM on January 22, 2013

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