People love to hate garlic presses. Anthony Bourdain hated them. Alton Brown hates them. Anna Hoffman at Epicurious hates them. Every one of these people has their valid reasons for hating this particular kitchen tool, but that does not mean that you have to hate the garlic press.
If you do a lot of cooking or read a lot of words that have been written by people who do a lot of cooking, you will find that most of these people disagree with each other about at least a few — if not many — things. Many of these disagreements boil down to preferences and opinions, which is why it’s always a good idea to try out a bunch of different methods and a few different tools until you find what works for you. There is often more than one way to arrive at the same delicious outcome, and treating the words of any food professional as the end-all-be-all gospel will limit your scope of education and hinder you in the end.
The supposed crimes of the garlic press are many: They crush the garlic too finely, they’re hard to clean, they only do one thing, and they do the same thing as a microplane. All of these claims are at least partially true, but as long as you understand garlic and how it reacts to cutting, crushing, and heat, your cooking will not suffer.
I have always been fairly ambivalent about the garlic press, and I currently have no strong emotions about it. I bought one when I first started cooking, then abandoned it once I learned how to use a knife. Now I have one again, and I do use it sometimes. It does exactly what it is supposed to do.
One of the biggest complaints about the garlic press is that the bits that come out of it are too small, and they certainly are for some applications. I would never subject garlic that came out of a press to a hot sauté, because tiny pieces are more likely to burn, and little acrid bits of burnt garlic can make an entire dish taste rough. If you’re prepping a dish that calls for a lot of garlic and want to press it, you might want to dial it back a few cloves. Pressed garlic does taste more intensely than anything cut with a knife, and you can overpower a dish if you’re not careful. (However, “this is too garlicky” is not something anyone has ever said about my cooking, even when I have added several cloves of the pressed stuff.)
The crushed, almost juiced, pungent garlic that comes out of a press has its uses, and most of them are quite saucy. I use crushed garlic in my vinaigrettes, yogurt- and oil-based dipping sauces, simmered tomato dishes, and any other dressing, soup, or sauce that needs a pure blast of pungent, garlicky heat. It mixes in nicely and adds a strong taste of garlic which, to me, is a good thing. As long as it does not make contact with a super hot pan, it will not burn.
I like adding a clove of raw, pressed garlic to a marinara in addition to the slices I sauté at the beginning. The pressed stuff doesn’t brown amongst the simmering tomatoes, but it does mellow and sweeten, adding another dimension of garlicky flavour to my sauce. I also like to press a clove or three into a hot soup just before consuming to ease the symptoms of a nasty cold — it won’t cure me, but it does clear out my sinuses for a few glorious moments.
And yes, garlic presses are a “unitasker,” but so is my vintage coffee percolator, my caviar spoon, and my pebble ice machine. The cool thing about being a grown up is that you can put whatever you want in your kitchen drawers, even if they only do one thing, and even if Alton Brown doesn’t want you to. Can you “just use a microplane” and get garlic that is similar to the stuff that comes out of a garlic press? Yes, but you can also “just grate the tips of your fingers” if you’re not careful.
In terms of cleaning, they are annoying to clean by hand, which is why mine is dishwasher-safe. It also helps to rinse your garlic press right after use, so the sticky garlic doesn’t have time to solidify on the metal, but even if you forget, the dishwasher does a fine job getting all the gunk off.
You are, of course, free to hate the garlic press, and continue to prep every single clove with a knife or microplane. But you are also free to love the garlic press. Any tool that gets you comfortable with cooking, doing it more, and cooking with more garlic, is a good tool, no matter who else doesn’t care for it.