Avoid a mishap by knowing exactly how many lemons to buy for your recipe.

Say you’re making a citrusy salad dressing—and the recipe calls for ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice. While this amount isn’t wrong, it tells you zero information about how many lemons you actually need to buy.

Will one medium-sized lemon produce enough juice? Or should you buy a bushel just to be safe? Probably not, since that’s a lot of lemons, but either way it’s nearly impossible to know the correct amount to buy.

Ideally, you need a standard measurement for lemons to juice. The problem is, lemons vary in size—and the larger they are, the more juice they contain. In other words, buying one small lemon for a recipe that calls for several tablespoons of juice may not be enough. And without enough lemon juice, the flavor of your food could be affected.

To figure out exactly how much juice one lemon contains, I squeezed the juice from nearly a dozen lemons—small, medium, and large ones—and compared the yields. The differences were minimal, but still enough to affect the way your recipe tastes.  

So the next time you’re making a lemon-infused cocktail or brown butter sauce—and the recipe calls for a specific amount of juice—refer to this helpful guide. Here is the exact amount of juice in one lemon, regardless of its size:

1 Small Lemon (4 oz.) = 3 tablespoons fresh juice

1 Medium Lemon (5 oz.) = 4 tablespoons fresh juice

1 Large Lemon (6 oz.) = 5 tablespoons fresh juice

If your recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, then you would need to buy at least one small lemon. Conversely, if your recipe calls for the juice of one lemon and all you have is bottled lemon juice, then you know you’ll need between 3 and 5 tablespoons of juice.  

How to Juice a Lemon

Credit: Elizabeth Laseter

Some lemons are tougher to squeeze than others, which means you could be leaving precious unused juice behind. However, you can maximize the amount of juice you get from a lemon by utilizing a few simple tricks:

  • Before you do anything, gently massage the lemon by rolling it across a cutting board. This helps softens the lemon and makes it much easier to juice.
  • Slice the lemon in half crosswise instead of lengthwise.
  • I’m old school, so I like to juice lemons by hand. There are no fancy kitchen tools required (just a small prep bowl to catch the juice) and it’s easier to get into the nooks and crannies of each lemon half. Take it from personal experience, DO NOT try this if you have an open cut on your hand—wear latex gloves or use a citrus juicer instead.
  • As you’re juicing, don’t worry about catching the seeds. You can always dig them out of the juice later with a slotted spoon.

Now that you know how much juice is in one lemon, make these lip-smackingly good lemon recipes and shop the produce section with confidence.