While many pretreatments attempt to improve the enzymatic digestibility of biomass by removing lignin, this study shows that improving the surface area accessible to cellulase is a more important factor for achieving a high sugar yield. Here we compared the pretreatment of switchgrass by two methods, cellulose solvent- and organic solvent-based lignocellulose fractionation (COSLIF) and soaking in aqueous ammonia (SAA). Following pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis was conducted at two cellulase loadings, 15 filter paper units (FPU)/g glucan and 3 FPU/g glucan, with and without BSA blocking of lignin absorption sites. The hydrolysis results showed that the lignin remaining after SAA had a significant negative effect on cellulase performance, despite the high level of delignification achieved with this pretreatment. No negative effect due to lignin was detected for COSLIF-treated substrate. SEM micrographs, XRD crystallinity measurements, and cellulose accessibility to cellulase (CAC) determinations confirmed that COSLIF fully disrupted the cell wall structure, resulting in a 16-fold increase in CAC, while SAA caused a 1.4-fold CAC increase. A surface plot relating the lignin removal, CAC, and digestibility of numerous samples (both pure cellulosic substrates and lignocellulosic materials pretreated by several methods) was also developed to better understand the relative impacts of delignification and CAC on glucan digestibility. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2011; 108:22–30. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.