Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie

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 adapted and changed over the years, but this one – it always gets rave reviews and I’ve never changed a thing other than the instructions. The Meringue is perfect – it’s like a tasting a fluffy cloud of sweet deliciousness (and I’m not really much of a meringue fan!) It’s not a “mile-hi” meringue, just the perfect amount. The lemon filling is intense and tart, just a little sweet with a gorgeous texture.

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

There’ll be no weeping of the meringue with this method – and no wailing when you serve it! Just smile and say “Thanks! I’ve printed out the recipe, would you like a copy?” as everyone gushes on! This a pie that solves every issue ever that Lemon Meringue has. Right up front, I want to say this post is for the pie, not the pie crust. I don’t generally use the Cook’s crust, but one from my mother, although I’ve made it today with just a standard crust. I’ll post both of those at another time, though.

I do have something to add to the party though, or I’d just post a link to Cook’s Illustrated! I’ve made this enough times to know that the set up is critical, you need enough bowls and timing is everything with this pie! 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 save & 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. Cool at least two hours on a rack, according to Cook’s Illustrated, but I find it takes a good three & half hours or longer, especially in warm weather or if no rack is used.
  • 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 moment 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. Color of citrus doesn’t matter – choose by weight!

For the pie itself, you’ll make a considerable amount of dirty dishes, and need a lot of small bowls, two pans and the mixer bowl & beaters. You’ll need two spatulas and a whisk, too. You’ll need a fine grater for the zest and a reamer of some sort for the lemon juice. And you’ll need just about every measuring cup & size you have! You’ll also need Saran wrap handy.

Have seven small bowls or containers ready: 4 small bowls for the eggs (one with a cover or use Saran for the extra two yolks) and one small bowl to cool the cornstarch mixture that goes in the meringue. You’ll need another bowl to mix the sugar and cream of tarter with. And another for the zest.

Any lemon meringue pie is a bit of work, and this one is no exception with an extra step for the meringue, 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!” Everyone will think you’re a genius when you serve this pie! You might even think you are! I know I do…:) and all I did was trust Cook’s!

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

Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

instructions adapted


  • 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:

Photos, below:

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.

For the Filling:

In a heavy medium-sized pan, mix together the sugar and cornstarch and salt (under the ingredients for filling.) 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) 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:

In a small pan, add the tablespoon of cornstarch, then whisk in 1/3 cup water. Bring to a bare simmer in small saucepan and cook, whisking occasionally, until it just becomes thickened and translucent looking, 1 to 2 minutes at most. Remove from heat and let cool slightly to barely or lukewarm while the eggs are being whisked. It’s helpful to transfer to a small cup as it may continue to cook and harden in the hot pan and be difficult to incorporate into the meringue.

If using stand mixer, fit it with the whisk, and beat egg whites and vanilla at medium low-speed until foamy and frothy. Mix together the cream of tarter and sugar, turn the speed up to medium high and add, a tablespoon at a time until incorporated (it won’t feel grainy when you run a bit between your fingers) and the mixture forms soft, billowy mounds. Continue to whip and add the cornstarch mixture, about a tablespoon at a time. 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 and 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 meringue. (I personally like to use the spoon to make small “scallops” with only a very few peaks which prevents 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 I’d say three & half). This pie is at it’s best the same day.

from the kitchen of, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

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52 thoughts on “Lemon Meringue Pie – Cook’s Illustrated Version”

  1. I am looking forward to making this for Christmas (my hubby’s fav). Can it be made 1-2 days ahead of time? Thanks Debbie

    1. Hi Debbie, yes it can. The meringue should hold well this time of year and you’ll want it completely cool when you serve it. Let me amend that, Debbie. I’d go one day ahead, not two…

        1. The same to you, Sandra.

          These photos were all taken the second day, and after I set the pie down on my little table and turned to get my camera, my dog, Gibson (RIP Gibs) stuck his big old snout in the far side of the pie and knocked it to the floor. It landed upright, so I turned it to get the pic, which was unfortunate because that crust was NO work of art and that was the worst side. I tried to get fancy with these little cuts you fold over. But in true blogger fashion…or maybe true dog owner fashion, the show must go on. It’s a bit of work to make, & I didn’t want to make it just again, lol, I just cut off the bad half and managed to rescue a slice or two of only slightly damaged pie!!

          So in spite of being the next day, half eaten by a 100 pound labrador and dropped to the floor, it held up remarkably well!! I had a little trouble getting a “perfect” slice but I blame the trauma!!

          And the meringue still looks gorgeous, I think!!

  2. I believe this is the recipe I made once over 10 years ago. I got the recipe from Cooks Illustrated magazine a year or two before my mom died in 2006. She was always the queen of pie making in the family. Lemon Meringue was my favorite of her pies. One day she said to me, Sandra I don’t know what you will do for a lemon pie after I am gone. I saw it as a loving challenge for me to show her I could carry on her tradition. Whew! It was a challenge. You are so right about the number of bowls etc. needed and the mess. It took me 4 hours of intense concentration and will power to pull this off. I can say that any recipe that has the word “Ultimate” in it I have steered clear of since. They are not kidding. But I will say it was the Ultimate Lemon Meringue Pie of Perfection. The one thing different that was so remarkable was the crust! I was buttery light and flakey but held together beautifully. I think there was the use of ice somewhere in the making of the pastry. That alone would have given the word “Ultimate” its meaning. But in addition the Meringue and lemon filling was like it was made in heaven. Thank you for finding and posting this recipe again for me. I have gotten over my promise to never take it on again. But I did not see the recipe for the Cooks version of the crust do you still have that?

    1. Hi Sandra, and thanks for stopping by. My Mom was the lemon meringue pie maker (and see passed in 2000.) I have to admit this is actually better than hers – but I usually use my Mom’s crust recipe which I don’t have with me (out of town) and it included finely ground almonds. Gosh it is a good crust. I never did write down the Cook’s Pie Crust that went with this pie.

      I know what you mean about “ultimate” recipes, but this pie really is the best lemon meringue I’ve ever had!

      I did a bit of digging around and almost every pie crust I could find was from a 2008 recipe, the one that uses Vodka, but then I found a recipe adapted from another Cook’s pie crust using ice-water and sour cream. Does that sound familiar? This one has ice-water and sour cream:

      Anyway, I hope that helps!

      1. Thank you for such a quick reply. I am not remembering the sour cream ingredient but it could be since I don’t remember much about what went into the crust. But I do agree with you this was the best Lemon Meringue Pie I had ever eaten and the others raved about it too. But I almost took an oath to never again make it., 4 hours! But time has passed just like the pains of childbirth passes and I am probably going to try once again to make this pie. You’ve so graciously found the forgotten recipe. Thanks again.

        1. lol to the childbirth! If the trauma didn’t fade no one would have more than one baby…or make more than one lemon meringue, huh!! I’m getting all psyched up to make this again, now, so that’s all your fault! j/k…

        2. Sandra, if you’re still following comments and it’s not too late, I was leafing through my recipe folder and I DO have a Cook’s Illustrated “Best Pie Dough.” Note the changes for a deep dish pie, which is the glass pyrex like the one I used.

          1 1/4 cups flour
          1/2 teaspoon salt
          1 tablespoon sugar
          6 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into 1/4″ pieces
          4 tablespoons shortening, chilled
          3 tablespoons ice water and up to 4 tablespoons

          Mix flour, salt, sugar in food processor with steel blade. Scatter butter pieces across flour, tossing to coat. Cut into flour with five 1 second pulses. Add shortening and continue to pulse until flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal with bits of butter no larger than small peas, about four more 1 second pulses. Turn into medium bowl.

          Sprinkle 3 tablespoons water over mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix. Press down with the broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more of water if dough will not come together.

          Shape dough into a ball with hands, then flatten into a 4″ wide disc. Dust lightly with flour and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes before rolling.

          For a 10″ pie or 9″ deep dish, increase flour by 1/4 cup and butter by 2 tablespoons.

          More directions were given for a double crust…

          1. You are wonderful! That sounds exactly like what I vaguely remembered! Not it is not too late either. I am still trying to work up my courage. I have two visits of family coming in Aug and Sept. I will try to get to the gym for a week or so to build up my stamina then give it another go. This is wonderful for you to go to the trouble to find this lost perfect pie recipe. I will admit I am tempted to try the sour cream crust it sounded delicious too. Thank you so much.

            L & P,


            1. Sandra, you are so funny! I love your sense of humor! I have made a crust before with cream cheese and it was easy to work with and beautiful – I’m guessing that the same would hold true with the sour cream.

    1. Yeah, it is! Which is why I detailed it out coz the first time I made this is was a mess and I was digging around for bowls, tupperware, etc!

      This is worth every single moment spent on it – it is so much better than any lemon meringue I have ever tasted or made! Of course that’s an awful big build up, isn’t it!! It’s just SO bright!

      1. I’ve never seen any other recipes that add cooked cornstarch to the egg whites. I guess it’s meant to stabilize/firm up the meringue layer.

    1. Thanks, Conor! I always forget how much I like lemon meringue until I make one = which is not often as they are a bit of a pain! Then the first taste and I remember it’s worth the work.

    1. Happy Easter to you, too! As I took a couple quick shots of the pie, Gibson (the LAPrador) was attempting to finish the rest, behind my back! He certainly had a happy Easter! The rest of us had to share!

  3. Oh yum. That was one of the family staples. I’ll have to ask mum to give me the recipe she’s always used. They’ll probably be pretty similar, though. There’s only so many variations of lemon meringue pie in the woorld!

    1. Thanks! We aren’t cutting in to it until tomorrow for Easter dessert, so unfortunately no “inside” photo, yet! But this recipe does have the most gorgeous meringue!

        1. LOL! Well meringue is at it’s best the same day, so I’m hoping it will still be lovely tomorrow! I found this particular recipe holds better than most, probably because of the cornstarch mixture!

    1. Hi Jess, I appreciate you stopping by! Have a piece! Hey, I noticed that we BOTH have a post on the Ultimate double chocolate brownie! You have good taste, my friend! 🙂

  4. Love lemon meringue pie, I am guessing it’s a mistake to have 1 1/2 cups water twice in the filling, right? Really different recipe for meringue adding the corn starch stabilizer. Cooks illustrated always comes up with great recipes.

    1. Oh, my gosh! Thanks Suzanne! Good eye! I moved it to the “proper” place and forgot to delete! Cook’s can be a bit fussy sometimes, but heck, who am I to fault them for that…I am fussy enough sometimes to claim spinster status!! “)

  5. Sorry but could you clarify (this may be illustrated in the pictures but they’re not loading in for me- I live in a rural area and my internet can be really spotty)? For the filling you’ve got 1 and 1/2 cups of water listed twice and then in the filling instructions you don’t mention water…is it just 1 and 1/2 cups of water and is that what you’re mixing the sugar, salt and cornstarch with to bring to a simmer before you add the yolks, juice, and zest? Much thanks=)

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