How to Dry Lemon Zest

Have you ever squeezed a bunch of lemons then wondered what to do with all the leftover skins?  I mean, there on the counter is a heaping pile of lemon zest with no where to go.  It breaks my heart.  I squeeze my brain wondering what could I possibly do to save all that potential.  Then it hits me!

Dehydrate the zest to make Lemon Pepper and Lemon Butter (for smearing on poultry before roasting).  Damn I'm good!


The photo below is from my first attempt at drying lemon zest.  On the left, I used a paring knife to remove the zest.  On the right, I used a microplane.  I wanted to explore the length of time it would take the zest to dry and the ease of handing the zest after it had dried.  I didn't have a set of instructions to follow, only my curiosity.


Begin by wrapping a dehydrator tray with aluminum foil.  Punch out a hole in the center to ventilate the heat.

Spread the zest out over the foil.  Thicker cuts of zest should be closer to the center where it's hotter, and smaller cuts around the outer edge. Depending on the number of trays, drying time will vary from 4 to 6 hours.

I learned that the zest cut with the microplane dried faster.  No big surprise there.  However, it stuck to itself and was sort of a pain to spread on the tray.  After it dried, it stuck to the foil and was tricky to scrap off without pieces flying all over the counter.  The zest wasn't small enough to use as a lemon pepper spice.  So, I still needed to run it through a spice grinder, which is really my old coffee grinder.  It was quick to grind up, but I had to be careful not to grind it into a fine powder.

The larger zest pieces cut by the paring knife took longer to dry but were easier to move around on the tray for better drying positions.  No sticking problems here.  I kept them in the dryer until they were no longer pliable.  I didn't want to run the risk of having  moisture in my spice jar.

Running the larger pieces through the coffee grinder gave me a lot more flexibility.  I was able to obtain small lemon flakes rather than lemon powder.  I thought this would be better for dry rub recipes, marinades, and sauces, so I decided to keep different textures on hand.  I stored the flakes in a small, clean jar with an air-tight lid.  And moved on.


I continued to grind away the next batch into a coarse powder.  This time I was thinking lemon pepper.  After I got the texture like I wanted, I tossed in a teaspoonful of fresh ground pepper, then gave it a quick spin to mix it up.  Tasting it was the only way I would know if I had the ratio right. Here I just had to wing it.  I, honestly, couldn't tell you the ratio of zest to pepper I came up with.  I was shootin' for 50/50.  If you wish to make lemon pepper, you're going to have to work it out for your own taste preference.

Finally, I transferred my lemon pepper to another clean jar with an air-tight lid away from heat and light.  It has kept very well for several, several weeks.  Right up until I ran out.