What’s Eating You: How to Not Burn Your Garlic

What’s Eating You? is a weekly advice column where I answer all of your burning cooking questions. To get the ball rolling, I’ve asked some of my friends to send me theirs. If you’d like your kitchen dilemma solved, feed it to me here.

Steph M. is newly married and still working out how to make her kitchen life reflect her married life: supportive of one another, while still having her own space! Also a new California resident, Steph is loving the availability of incredible fresh produce. Her husband, Rodrigo, asked this question last week!

I feel almost ashamed to admit this, but I still burn my garlic! I consider myself a decent cook, but this culinary dark spot leaves me stressed and frantic when standing over the stove. Rather than browning the garlic in oil initially, I have started adding it after a few things are already going in the pan. This seems to work ok, but I imagine that the flavor does not develop in the same way and that the flavor incorporates is unevenly. Is the oil too hot? Am I not using enough? Am I cooking it too long? It always seems to go from golden to brown in a flash!

Have no shame! Garlic can be tricky. There are multiple factors that could contribute to your burnt garlic problem – and there is nothing ickier than burnt garlic. It all starts with your prep work and how you plan on using the garlic. Here are a few thoughts in the matter.

The most common way of taking the skins off garlic is to use the back of your knife to flatten the clove. This is efficient (and kind of empowering), but it also crushes the garlic and releases some of its sugary juices. Any garlic that has been bruised like this, or is subsequently pulverized even more by rough chopping, is a prime candidate for burning. There’s nothing wrong with this preparation. But you need to make sure that you add the garlic further into the cooking process – usually after you’ve sautéed other aromatics like onions and carrots. The onions etc. will release some of their own liquids as they sauté and create a less harsh pan environment for the garlic when it comes time to introduce it. You should only sauté the garlic for a minute or so – until fragrant. Then continue by adding more liquids to the pan, or other vegetables that will release some.

If you are introducing the garlic to a pan with hot oil alone, make sure to use perfectly sliced, diced, or whole garlic. Start by thinly slicing the ends off the cloves with a paring knife. Then cut the clove in half and remove the skins. You can thinly slice the cloves from there, or dice it much like you would an onion by making horizontal and vertical slits in the clove.

When you’re frying garlic in hot oil, you want to keep the flame on medium. Watch the pan and once the garlic starts to turn golden, turn the heat down to low. It can go from golden to burned in a flash, so you’ll need to control the heat and also be ready with whatever the next ingredient is you’re adding. You can always turn the heat back up once the garlic is safe from the hot oil.

An easy way to impart great garlic flavor and avoid burning it is to use whole peeled garlic cloves. Brown them in hot oil, then remove them from the pan. You can continue with the recipe and then add the cloves back in when you’re simmering your sauce.

The most important thing is to pay attention, and don’t be intimidated! Let me know how it goes.

Happy cooking!



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5 Responses to What’s Eating You: How to Not Burn Your Garlic

  1. Frankie says:

    I have this same problem, Steph! I wimp out and put my cloves through a press and then add them way later. I prefer the flavor, actually. But now that I have these tips I’ll give it another try. Thanks, Phoebe!

  2. Steph says:

    Thank you, Phoebe, for that deliciously comprehensive answer to my embarrassing cooking question! I am ready to get back on the golden garlic horse, paring knife in hand, and I will definitely let you know how it goes!

  3. Matt says:

    I have the same problem when adding garlic to roasting vegetables. Any tips?

    • I would recommend stirring it in during the last 10 minutes of the roasting process, especially if you’re roasting a veg that takes a while (20+ minutes) to caramelize. Hope this helps!

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