Just about every chef knows that knife skills can make or break a cook’s confidence in the kitchen… But, do you have difficulty chopping and dicing -even the simplest of ingredients?
This is a crash course how to use a kitchen knife. We’ll cover the basics of what you need to know about handling a kitchen knife for chopping, slicing, dicing and, of course, impressing friends. Let’s jump in and review some of the best practices of wielding a knife like a professional chef; from proper techniques, hints, and tricks from the culinary school advice, as well as basic safety and maintenance methods.
Anatomy of a Knife
Learning the anatomy of a kitchen knife and its many different parts and features is essential for anyone who wants to get comfortable with their knife skills. You may not know- in culinary schools, students learn how to properly use a knife to produce consistent results every single time. Additionally, there are still plenty of hacks, tips, and tricks out there that make cutting easier. But, to ensure optimal safety and maintenance over time, you’ll want to invest in quality knives.
These are knives that have contoured handles made from materials designed to withstand various situations in your kitchen. Since all knives come in varying types depending on their size and shape, you’ll want to select the right blade for whatever type of meal you plan to make. Taking the time to learn more about the anatomy of a kitchen knife will further help transform you into an expert chef in very little time.
Holding the Knife
The important first step is to get the basics of knife handling before you can consider yourself a master chef. Holding a knife properly starts with having a comfortable grip -after all, kitchen work can be an all-day task and you don’t want to tire out your hand prematurely. You probably know the Hammer Grip which is the most common way to hold a knife and is the same way you would hold a hammer in your hand.
Then there is another technique called the Pinch Grip, which involves your thumb and forefinger forming an ‘okay’ symbol over the back end of the blade. This leaves the rest of your fingers curled around the handle. With this method of finger positioning, there is less effort for cutting since the weight of the blade and gravity will do most of the work. This also allows you to have better control of the knife blade since you are essentially pinch-gripping your knife.
To get better at precision cutting, always keep your forefinger on top of the blade spine as you slice away. This makes sure that you can keep your hand steady for small and delicate cuts that are controlled mainly by your wrist. This technique is called the Pointed Finger Grip (or Fingertip Grip) and is perfect for decorative cutting where you need your slices to appear nice and clean. In combination, all of these knife techniques can be used to your advantage.
Cutting your ingredients is an essential skill not just for cooking, but also for presentation. This is why it helps to understand why the different types of cuts are so important. Whether you are preparing a dish like ratatouille or flexing your knife skills like making vegetable flowers, knowing the difference between a dice, slice, mince, julienne, and chiffonade cut can dramatically improve your visual presentation with many meals.
A dice cut basically involves cutting vegetables into small cubes and is usually done when creating soups or stews but not limited to side dishes or salads where making neat little cubes is required. Mincing requires extensive chopping of vegetables into incredibly tiny pieces and is best used in creating flavorful sauces, pesto, or salsa. Mastering these skills is not necessary but with a little practice, you’ll prefer your Chef’s knife to a veggie chopper as we quickly found in our testing and review of those “amazing” devices that slice, dice, and also make Julianne fries…
Then there is the Julienne cut which keeps the length of the vegetables, but is cutting these ingredients extremely thin like French fries.
Lastly, there is chiffonade (pronounced “shif-oh-NOD”) slicing that’ is used when you stack select herbs onto each other and is finely sliced into long strips. There are perfect when you’re finishing off garnishes that are added to entrees, soups, and salads.
Follow these steps to perform chiffonade slicing properly:
- Wash and dry the herbs or leafy vegetables.
- Remove the stems, if any, from the leaves.
- Stack a few leaves on top of each other, making sure they are aligned.
- Roll the leaves tightly together to form a cylinder.
- Cut the cylinder crosswise into thin strips, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch in width.
- Fluff the strips apart with your fingers.
Mastering this technique can take some practice, but it’s a great skill to have in your culinary tool kit.
There can never be enough talk about learning how to safely handle and store your kitchen knives, especially using one in the kitchen. All too often, it’s easy to forget this aspect of culinary skill-building can have consequences that can result in all sorts of accidents. To help keep everyone safe and prevent unnecessary injuries, all home cooks need to learn about several key safety tips when working with knives.
At a minimum, it’s important to never leave any sharp knives laying around or unsupervised in general. This rookie mistake could lead to accidental cuts, injury, or damage to someone who doesn’t understand how to handle a knife correctly. On top of this, storing your knives properly by using sheaths or guards can help protect others from accidentally coming into contact with these sharp edges and blades.
This is why following these basic safety measures helps ensure that you’re able to practice proper knife skills while keeping yourself and those around you safe.
It’s essential that everyone needs a great set of kitchen knives, and even further, you’ll also spend a lifetime making sure they stay in top condition. Keeping your knives sharp is more reason why successful food preparation goes smoothly. Without a doubt, it’s best to use ceramic or steel honing rods further help keep the edge of your blade smooth and aligned between regular sharpening.
When it’s time for an efficient method for sharpening, whetstones provide experienced chefs an additional level of control beyond honing rods when ensuring a proper cutting edge, learn more about manual sharping and honing here, and you can see some of our favorite manual sharpeners here. Aside from all this, it’s the proper cleaning of kitchen knives that’s always a crucial step to ensure no food particles or bacteria strains linger after every use. You’ll want to use warm soapy water or even sanitizing solutions to clean off your knives so you help keep them in excellent shape.
Knife Hacks & Additional Tips
With a few simple creative hacks and tricks, you can easily use your knives to speed up cooking tasks making them easier to do too. For example, you can use the flat side of a chef’s knife to smash garlic cloves. Just placing the flat edge of the blade onto an unpeeled clove and whacking it with the butt of your palm opens ‘them’ up quickly so you don’t have to spend so much time peeling off the skin.
Or try cutting a tomato with one long “guillotine” slice right down the middle while holding it together between your fingers. This makes it easy to lay the tomato on its flat side and cut it into wedge-shaped sections. Plus, you can remove seed sections easier when you finish each slice. Or how about placing the back end of a long knife onto a boiled egg and rolling the egg lightly down the blade to get perfectly sliced egg whites and unharmed round yolk popping out. Check it out in this viral Tiktok:
@andrealanevI’m just now figuring this out after almost 30 years on this spinning rock?♬ original sound – Andrea VanDerwerker
When it comes to cleanup, use a folded damp towel to wipe off excess food particles from the blade, making each cut super clean like you would see with making slices for sushi. But when you’re done with any task, make sure to maintain your knives properly with regular sharpening and cleaning. Always wipe or gently rinse blades right after use and store them in a block or in-drawer sheath. Be sure not to place dirty or even wet knives into a knife block as they can be breading ground for harmful bacterias. A real professional will avoid washing any decent knife in the dishwasher and rinse them off by hand. Dry a wet knife off with a clean towel rather than letting them air dry in a dish rack too, this will prevent your knives from being attacked with rust.
What are basic safety tips to keep in mind when using knives?
It goes without saying, never leave any sharp knives laying around. Storing your knives properly by using sheaths or guards can help prevent accidental contact with sharp blade edges – there’s nothing worst than the drawer of unsheathed knives where you reach in and slice a finger. You always want to cut on a cutting board to avoid dulling your knife or having your knife slip from cutting on a hard flat surface. And lastly, leading into my next FAQ – always keep your knives sharp, there’s no easier way to cut yourself badly than working with a dull knife, I know it sounds counterintuitive but the duller the knife, the more likely you are lose control of the knife and cut yourself. Again, see our full writeup on sharpening here for more info.
How often should I sharpen my kitchen knives?
Depending on the type of knife and how often you use it, your kitchen knives should be re-sharpened at least once every couple of months. Honing rod should be used between regular knife use which helps to maintain the edge of the blade. Whetstones and electric knife sharpeners further provide experienced chefs with additional levels of control when getting an accurate cutting edge.
What is the best way to clean my kitchen knives?
To ensure that no food particles or bacteria are still lingering after use, it’s best to clean kitchen knives with warm soapy water. Make sure to dry them off immediately after washing so that they don’t rust prematurely. Avoid the dishwasher when it comes to knives you care about.
What are the most popular cuts I should be familiar with?
There are several different types of cuts that you can make using your kitchen knives depending on what type of food you are preparing. In addition to regular chopping and cutting, there is the julienne cut (long thin strips), a chiffonade cut (for thinly sliced leaves), the dicing cut (small cubes), the mince chop (very fine pieces), a brunoise chop (diced for very finely chopped vegetables) and batonnets (coarsely cut sticks).
Do I need to spend a ton of money to get a good knife?
No, not necessarily. While there are many high-end options that can be quite expensive, there are also many affordable knives and sets that offer excellent value for the price, you can see our full review of knifes and knife sets here we also wrote an article featuring our best Chef’s knives for the price.