Serious cooks know the value of fresh-squeezed citrus juice. It’s used in marinades and vinaigrettes, on vegetables and fish, in cakes, tarts, and sorbets.
But how to get that juice? Thinking about my own juicing habits, I realized that I unconsciously follow a “quartercup rule.” If I need less than a quarter of a cup, I squeeze the fruit by hand; more than that, I turn to technology for help. I’ve taken a look at some of the most widely available products used for extracting citrus juice. Although you can spend $500, even up to $3,000 for a citrus juicer (check the Frontgate catalog if you don’t believe me), I’ve kept my perusal to those machines that ring up for $125 or less—much less, in most cases.
For total control, try a hand-held reamer. Hand-held reamers have a handle attached to a ridged cone with a tapered tip. You press the tip into the flesh of a halved citrus fruit and then twist to extract the juice.
“With a reamer you can see if you’re breaking into the rind,” says reamer-fan Norman van Aken, the chef and coowner of Norman’s in Miami. The key flavor point for juicers is whether the juicer breaks into the skin, releasing potent oils that give the juice a more tangy—some would say bitter—flavor.
Reamers are inexpensive (under $10), easy to store, and quick to clean. “When I’m done with the reamer, I just throw it into the sink,” says van Aken. The downside of a reamer is that for large amounts of juice your hand will tire, so choose a model with a comfortable handle.
Add a saucer and a strainer, and you’ve got the quintessential juicer. This is the juicer your grandma used. The citrus half gets pressed onto the cone and turned by hand to extract its juice. Sunkist popularized this kitchen gadget when it launched its “Drink an Orange” campaign in 1916. As part of its promotion, the company began producing its own line of glass reamers. Today, these reamer-saucers are made from all kinds of materials—plastic, ceramic, glass, metal—and have become quite the kitchen collectible. I particularly like a little metal one, available at most kitchen stores, that fits in a drawer and can take a beating (unfortunately, it’s too small for a grapefruit).
Metal hand-held presses are, well, handy. When I saw the jaunty Mexican juice presses in a Williams-Sonoma catalog, I remembered Zarela Martinez, the chef-owner of Zarela’s in New York City, telling me how these are among her favorite kitchen tools. There’s a smaller green one for limes, and a larger—you guessed it—yellow one for lemons. When I squeezed limes with the green press, I fell in love. You put half of a lime, cut side down, in the perforated cap. Press the handles together to squeeze the cone onto the skin side of the lime. With a satisfying pfffft, every drop of juice gets squeezed out as the press inverts the lime.
I was a little less taken with juicing lemons this way. For starters, lemons are usually bigger, so you need two hands to bring the handles together to squeeze the fruit, and a lemon’s thicker skin means you need to exert much more pressure. If your lemon has a little nubs on its bottom, it doesn’t sit well in the cup, which gives you less juice and often a squirt in the eye. (Fine Cooking’s copy editor, who owns these presses, pointed out that she just cuts off those nubs before pressing.)
Aside from these painted presses, there are unpainted metal ones, such as the one featured recently in the Sur la Table catalog. The unpainted metal lime press costs $10.95; the colored presses are $15. None of the hand-held presses can hold an orange or a grapefruit, which is something to consider. But for limes the press works so well (and looks so good), I’d buy one just for making margaritas.
Countertop presses offer plenty of psi, PDQ. Smooth rack-and-pinion gearing, controlled by a lever or handle, exerts hundreds of pounds of downward pressure on a citrus half. Most of these kinds of presses, such as the OrangeX and the Chef’s Juicer, both of which hover around the $100 range, stand fairly tall, and are best suited to kitchens with plenty of counter space. The only short one I’ve come across is called the Mighty OJ, by Metrokane. It’s about eight inches tall, has a charming rounded shape, comes in myriad colors, and costs around $50. (Be sure to shop around when buying juicers: there’s a great disparity in price for the same model from catalogs, discount stores, and the Internet.)
What I like best about all these countertop juicers is that you can juice a lot of fruit quickly without the annoying whir of an electric motor. But they can split the fruit if you follow through too far with the handle, and they do require some effort. After juicing a cup of lemon juice with the OrangeX, I could feel my triceps starting to burn. And danger looms: the heavy top on both the Mighty OJ and the OrangeX can fall onto your fingers if you leave it up; that has happened to me while cleaning the Mighty OJ, and I can tell you it hurts. For that reason alone, I’d consider the Chef’s Juicer, which has a spring-action handle with a swing-back mechanism that keeps the press from falling on careless fingers.
Electric juicers are fastest and least painful. An electric juicer may be the way to go if you drink a lot of juice. All the electric models I tested work basically the same way: you press a citrus half on a reamer, but instead of you turning the fruit, the reamer turns automatically. The most powerful one I tried, the 250-watt Waring Citrus Juicer ($125), produced a cup of lemon juice about thirty seconds faster than the fastest countertop press, and about a full minute faster than the reamers. (Of course, the amount of juice in each lemon will vary, so results will vary.) But where the electric models undeniably beat out the competition is in effort exerted, which is minimal.
You can get an electric model for as little as $15, but you may not want to. The ones I tried in that range worked fine but had definite flaws. Farberware’s Deluxe Citrus Juicer, for example, looks kind of cool and retro with its metal trim, and I liked how you can coil its excess cord neatly below the container. But its metal edges were sharp and the strainer didn’t attach to the container smoothly. The inexpensive Krups Pressa Maxi went together better, but some juice would spray outside of the provided container, perhaps because its cone sits too high, or perhaps because the container isn’t wide enough.
Though it won for speed and muscle, the Waring model, which is identical to the Waring-made juicer marketed as Acme, had an irritating high-pitched sound: something I wouldn’t want to wake up to. And it doesn’t come with a lid, which I found surprising. A lid seems a sensible, inexpensive feature for keeping out dust and whatever else might fall into the bowl while the juicer isn’t running.
My favorite of the electric models I tested was the Braun Citromatic de Luxe. For a reasonable $30, this one has it all. While its motor isn’t as powerful as the Waring model, its sound wasn’t nearly as annoying. It also comes with a lid, and its spout can be turned up so that juice doesn’t drip onto your counter when you take the glass away. I also liked the unique design of its strainer, which is not only easy to clean because the pulp doesn’t get stuck in it, but also keeps even the smallest bits of seeds from getting into the juice. (Pastry chef Melissa Murphy, owner of Sweet Melissa Pâtisserie in Brooklyn, New York, wisely points out that it’s a good idea to strain juice from most electric juicers, even those that have a built-in strainer.)
Appliance attachments are another option. I didn’t even think of this category until David Lebovitz, a pastry chef and author (who mainly uses his vintage glass reamer for juicing), mentioned that when he needs a lot of juice he turns to his Cuisinart food processor’s citrus attachment. Cuisinart no longer makes the attachment for its larger models, but its Little Pro Plus comes with a citrus attachment. You can buy a citrus attachment for KitchenAid’s food processors, as well as for its stand mixers. Since I already have a KitchenAid stand mixer, the attachment really appeals to me—I get the benefit of the mixer’s powerful electric motor but with an easy-to-store, reasonably priced ($25) attachment.
So with all these options, what’s one to buy? If you have a household of fresh-squeezed-juice-drinking folks (or, come to think of it, if you have arthritis), by all means get an electric juicer or, for a quieter morning, one of the countertop presses. (One warning: if you like pulp, your choices will be more limited: the presses, the Braun, and the Waring strain virtually all pulp.)
But if you find, like I do, that you need more than a cup of citrus juice only three, maybe four, times a year, pocket the money, save the counter space, and give your hands an occasional workout with a reamer. On the other hand, if I had an electric juicer, maybe I’d be inclined to start my day more often with fresh juice.