Knife Skills Everyone Should Know

Published on March 24, 2023 | Updated on July 17, 2024 | by Allen Bixby

As a home cook, you’re always looking for ways to make your life easier and cooking is no exception. After all, who has time to waste when there are only so many hours in the day? You want to be able to get dinner on the table quickly and efficiently, without any fuss. One way to do that is by mastering some basic knife skills.

Culinary schools teach essential knife skills that every chef uses on a daily basis. These same techniques can also be used at home to improve your everyday cooking. Here are some of the best tips and tricks for using knives like a pro.

The different types of knives and their uses

different types of knives in draw

Selecting the right knife can be daunting in the kitchen, but understanding the different types and their uses will quickly become second nature.

Chef’s knife is first and foremost as the go-to cutting implement for a variety of preparation tasks. Measuring six to ten inches long, this multipurpose workhorse has a versatile blade designed for slicing, dicing, mincing and chopping. Your knife should be well balanced and sized to your hands and build. See some of our favorite value knives here.

Utility knives generally have shorter blades, 5-8 inches for lighter jobs such as peeling and slicing fruits/veggies. Santoku knives are a great knife for this category.

Paring knives for intricate cutting have shorter smaller blades, some quite flexible. Peeling small veggies, paring (hence the name) which is cutting off unwanted pieces, stems, tips edges, etc. that you don’t want in your food, are the tasks this knife is suited for

Boning knives have longer somewhat to noticeably curved blades that somewhat flexible. This makes them ideal for getting meat off the bone and trimming excess fat from meat.

Serrated knives are perfect for sawing through hard-crusted breads, some will have softer serrations for slicing meat and such. Tomato knives are serrated to more easily break the skin without crushing the fruit.

Slicers will generally have longer straight blades so that they draw easily through meats and such giving you smooth slices with no tearing of the tissues.

The range of blades available to cooks gives an advantage when attacking any culinary task! Knowing which one to grab before you start hacking and slashing your food into submission will make your cooking experience much better.

How to hold a knife for maximum control

Holding a knife correctly is an important skill to learn in the kitchen, not just for safety but also to ensure maximum control while cutting. Just try walking into a commercial kitchen and grabbing a knife, they will set you straight right away, because yes, there truly is a proper way to grip these tools. It is called the pinch grip.

The best way to do this is by gripping the handle with your dominant hand wrapping the last three fingers around the grip. Place your thumb firmly on the blade close to the bolster (that’s the thickened band where handle meets blade) and pinch the very back part of the blade between thumb and forefinger. Your forefinger can wrap just around and touch the tip of your thumb right behind the bolster.

This gets your center of gravity in the right place for controlled slicing and chopping, it also comes in handy when cutting harder vegetables. Keep your ‘pinch’ close to the handle itself to maintain balance and control of the knife. Let it rest in your fingertips so you can move it freely and give yourself more precision. With these basics skills in place cooking will become safer, neater and faster.

Note; This is a western kitchen grip – not like cowboy – differing from what you may see in a sushi house where cooks will have their index finger extended out over the spine of the blade.

The basic cuts every home cook should know -slicing, dicing, chopping, mincing

Girl Cutting cucumber on cutting board

Knowing the proper way to slice, dice, chop, and mince  can make a world of difference in your home cooking. Learning these foundational techniques found in culinary school is essential for making the best use of your time in the kitchen. From slicing through soft produce such as tomatoes and mushrooms, to chopping harder veggies like onions and potatoes, mastering your knife skills can simplify meal prep by allowing you to move more quickly between ingredients. Then add flair with julienne cuts and intricate dicing; this will take any dish up a notch on both presentation and flavor. Knife skills save time by producing better results in less of it!

Common Mistakes or Bad Habits when Using Knives

Dull Knives in kitchen

Always-always-always make sure your knife is sharp. The biggest cause of cutting accidents is using a dull knife.  This forces you to apply too much pressure while cutting, which in addition to being unsafe, can lead to uneven slices and take longer than necessary. Proper techniques are key when using a knife in order to cut safely and efficiently. This includes keeping your fingers curled inwards away from the blade while chopping and using your off hand as a guide. Generally, you want a straight up and down motion when chopping, use a back-and-forth motion when slicing. Picking the right knife is important here too. Knifes for chopping will allow the blade to contact the board and keep your knuckles just clear of contact. Slicer blades don’t have that height because your motions are front to back not up and down. Lastly, having an adequate surface on which to cut. Cutting boards should always be used, they protect your knife’s edge, and will help keep countertops from being damaged by knives.

What Our Favorite Chefs Have to Say

chris cosentino knife pro
Chris Cosentino, Top Chef Winner & Knife Guru

 

Popular chefs agree that having the right knife for the job is key when it comes to using a knife. According to James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Cosentino, “Having the right size and type of knife not only makes cutting easier, but safer too.” He emphasizes the importance of investing in good quality knives as they can last longer and provide better performance.

Chef José Andrés also encourages home cooks to invest in well-crafted knives that feel comfortable in their hands. He explains that having a comfortable grip is essential because it helps with control and accuracy while cutting or chopping. He also recommends learning how to sharpen knives which can help improve their longevity and keep them sharp for longer periods of time. A great tip he provides is to store knives properly in woodblock or on magnet strips to helps protect the blade and anyone reaching into a drawer.

For many chefs, knowing how to properly hold a knife is just as important as having good quality tools. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay emphasizes keeping your wrist straight when holding a knife to ensure maximum control while slicing, chopping or mincing ingredients. He advises against gripping too much of the blade itself since it could lead to fatigue, cuts or other accidents during food prep.

Popular chefs understand the importance of using high quality knives and knowing how to use them correctly for maximum safety and efficiency during food prep.

Investing in well-made knives with comfortable handles, practicing proper technique when holding a knife and storing blades properly are all tips supported by experienced professionals in the culinary world.

Tips for using knives like a pro; honing, sharpening, storing

Girl sharpening Knife

Becoming an expert with a knife doesn’t have to be difficult. Just mastering the basics like honing, sharpening, and storing it correctly, can make you feel like a pro in the kitchen. Hone your knife regularly so you have greater control over the blade and can maintain sharpness.

Sharpen, or get professionally sharpened, when needed to ensure a proper edge on the blade so that it glides through food perfectly. Finally, investing in good storage for your knives is important for safety reasons, you don’t want them loose in a drawer. Think about getting a magnetic wall strip or sturdy block, or specific drawer inserts where you can always find them easily. With just these three tips, you’ll quickly be cutting like a pro at home.

Putting it all together

Now that you’ve honed your knife skills (pun intended), it’s time to put them into practice! Try putting your newfound techniques to use with some recipes that are sure to impress based on your cutting skills. From herb-filled salads to veggie-packed stir-fries, dinner prep is a breeze. For a great cooking experience, follow the basic tips shared here; selecting the right knife for the job, learning proper technique and safety, and using honing or sharpening techniques regularly to keep your blades sharp.

About the Author Allen Bixby

A retired restaurateur, not quite ready to stop playing in the kitchen.

I have had the pleasure of watching amazing high end chefs, and classic American style diner cooking, creating a very diverse background with food. Add both parents teaching English, watching Julia Childs and Graham Kerr as a child, and learning to bake bread from my Finnish great grandma, and you get a decent recipe for a knowledgeable voice to write about food.

From recipe design to equipment testing, there is a broad spectrum of entertaining aspects of food and how we do what we do every day to feed our loved ones!

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