Lemon Meringue Pie – Cook’s Illustrated Version

More than a recipe, all the tips & techniques you'll need to pull off the BEST lemon meringue in the world. Recipe from those persnickity people at cook's illustrated.

I have many recipes that I’ve changed up over the years, but not this one for the Lemon Meringue Pie Cook’s Illustrated version. It is absolute perfection in every way and gets rave reviews. The lemon filling is intense and tart, just a little sweet with a gorgeous texture. The meringue is perfect – it’s like a tasting a fluffy cloud of sweet deliciousness.

Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie
Cook’s Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie

Any lemon meringue pie is a bit of work, and this one is no exception but this pie is SO worth it! It’s the pinnacle of pies! Even people that are lukewarm about Lemon Meringue go on and on about this! You’ll hear it, “Wow, I didn’t think I liked Lemon Meringue, but this is so good!” Just smile and say “Thanks! I’ve printed out the recipe, would you like a copy?” as everyone gushes on!

Cook’s has solved every potential pitfall a lemon meringue pie could possibly have. If you know Cook’s Illustrated, you know their recipes are the BEST but there’s always a few fussy steps.

I’ve made the Cook’s Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie enough times to know that the pre-pie making set up is critical.  You’re going to dirty a lot of dishes and need to have everything on hand before you start. The recipe moves quickly and the timing is everything.

I’m going to guide you through so you won’t have a stressful nightmare of a time with this recipe and a massive clean up later! I’ll point out a few places where there could be potential trouble in the recipe so you can avoid any pitfalls. We cooks usually just pick these things up, but why, when someone can tell you? But first of all, a few things to know:

  • Don’t make meringue on a super humid, hot day – this recipe is pretty fail-safe & I’ve made it in the summer in a rainstorm with no problem – but if it’s 95 degrees, been raining for a week and you have no air – make something else!
  • Allow plenty of time to cool! Warm lemon meringue…yuck. Cook’s says at least two hours on a rack, but I find it takes a good three & half hours or longer.
  • You need a prebaked pie shell – make it easy on yourself and make and bake the crust the day or evening before!
  • Empty your dishwasher or wash your dishes before making this so you have empty sinks to fill, plenty of bowls and a place to put the dirty stuff!
  • Always have an extra lemon in case they’re a bit stingy with the juice. If they’re hard, microwave them for a minute and roll them on the counter, pressing down firmly to release as much juice as possible.
  • Zest before juicing and save any extra zest in a small container in the freezer – easy to use if you need some later and don’t have a lemon.
  • The color of citrus doesn’t matter – choose by weight!

Here’s the kitchen equipment you need when you make the Lemon Meringue Pie, Cook’s Illustrated Version:

  • Seven small bowls: 4 to separate the eggs (one is for the extra two whites), 1 to cool the cornstarch mixture, 1 to mix the sugar and cream of tartar, the last for the zest.
  • 2 pans
  • Mixer bowl & beaters
  • 2 spatulas
  • Whisk
  • Fine grater & reamer
  • Plastic wrap
  • Just about every measuring cup in every size you have

I don’t want to discourage you in any way about this pie, but I do know the first time I made this, I was not prepared in any way shape or form and I’m an experienced cook. I ran short of bowls for one and was pulling dishes out of the dishwasher and washing them to use, and was piling dirty dishes all over my counter, well, you get the idea!

And yes, it was all worth it! And no, the photos don’t do it justice! As a matter of fact, the sliced pie photo was taken after my dog, Gibson had knocked it off the table, so that is actually a testament to how well this pie stands up!

Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie
Cook’s Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie – Cook’s Illustrated Version

Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie
  • Author: adapted from Cook's Illustrated
  • Total Time: 1 1/2 hrs + cool
  • Yield: 8 servings



  • 1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups water
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest plus ½ cup fresh lemon juice (2 1/2 to 3 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 2 pieces


  • ⅓ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup (3½ oz) granulated sugar

Pie crust:


Getting started:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Grate first and then zest lemons, reserving a tablespoon of the zest and 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Use a fine grater and cover the zest so it doesn’t get dry and it will be unnoticeable in the pie.

Divide eggs: note you’ll need six yolks and only four whites, so use another small bowl for the extra two whites. This is best done by working with one egg at a time over a small bowl or cup. Crack the egg, let the white drip into the cup, then put the yolk in one bowl and the white in another. Repeat, breaking the egg over the now empty bowl.

For the Filling:

Have all ingredients ready and within easy reach.

In a heavy medium-sized pan, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in water and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. When mixture starts to turn translucent, (it will still be whitish, but you’ll see the difference) working quickly and whisking vigorously, add in egg yolks, two at a time. Whisk in lemon zest, juice and butter. Return mixture to brief simmer, whisking constantly, then remove from heat. Lay sheet of plastic wrap directly on surface of filling to keep warm and prevent skin from forming.

For the Meringue:

Mix together cream of tartar and sugar, set aside.

In a small saucepan, add the tablespoon of cornstarch, then whisk in 1/3 cup water. Bring to a bare simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, until it becomes just thickened and translucent looking, 1 to 2 minutes at most. Remove from heat, transfer to a small bowl (so it doesn’t continue to cook from the heat of the pan) and let cool slightly to barely lukewarm as the eggs are being whisked.

If using stand mixer, fit it with the whisk. Beat egg whites and vanilla at medium low-speed until foamy and frothy. Turn the speed up to medium-high and add, a tablespoon at a time, the cream of tartar and sugar mixture. Beat until incorporated (it won’t feel grainy when you run a bit between your fingers) and the mixture forms soft, billowy mounds.

While continuing to whip, add the cooked cornstarch mixture, about a tablespoon at a time. As it’s added, place it between the beaters and the side of the bowl. Continue to beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, about two to three minutes longer.


If filling is not still hot, during the last minutes of beating the egg whites, remove plastic and return to very low heat for just a moment or two to warm.

Pour warm filling into cooled pre-baked pie crust. Working quickly, dollop meringue in small mounds across the hot pie filling. Using rubber spatula, immediately distribute meringue evenly around edge first and then the then center of pie, attaching meringue to pie crust to prevent shrinking. Top off with any remaining meringue.

Using the back of spoon, create attractive swirls and peaks in the meringue. (I personally like to use the spoon to make small “scallops” with only a very few peaks which prevent the peaks from over baking before the rest is nicely browned.) Bake until meringue is light golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Cool to room temperature on a rack (at least two hours, Cook’s says, but count on three & half). This pie is at it’s best the same day.


Have all ingredients ready; this is most definitely not a measure and ready it as you go recipe. Timing is critical.


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