To us as cooks, a cutlery shop is like a candy store—with so many bright, shiny and expensive options, it’s easy to get swept away. While having the right knives on hand is half the battle, when it comes to preparing food efficiently (and beautifully!), you need to know how to use them too. Whether you’re a knife ninja or a total newbie, these tips and tricks for proper knife handling and techniques are beyond useful to know. Let’s chop to!
Knives You Need
The most important knife in your collection is the chef’s knife (also known as a French or cook’s knife), which varies in length from 6 to 12 inches. Chef’s knives are great for about 80 percent of your basic cooking tasks, including slicing, dicing, mincing and chopping vegetables, fruits, garlic, onions and herbs.
Paring knives, used for trimming and peeling fruits and vegetables, have smaller blades, usually between 2 and 4 inches in length.
A bread knife, or serrated knife, is great for cutting bread, but it’s often mistakenly used for cutting tomatoes or meats. Serrated knives tear food, so they aren’t ideal for cutting meat, vegetables or fruit.
A boning knife is perfect for cutting up a whole chicken or filleting fish, making it non-essential for cooks uninterested in doing either of those things.
Utility knives and vegetables knives are simply nice-to-haves, useful most often when you feel like your chef’s knife is too big for a task.
How to Hold Your Chef’s Knife
Since you’ll use your chef’s knife more often than any other in your kitchen, it’s important to know how to hold it properly.
Start by grabbing the knife as though you are making a firm handshake, pinching the part where the handle meets the blade with your index finger and your thumb.
This “pinch grip” will help add stability to your grip while you are using your knife. With your hand comfortably gripping the knife handle (no white knuckles!), you are now ready to slice and chop.
How to Slice with a Chef’s Knife
Hold the knife comfortably with one hand and securing the food to be sliced with the other hand, using a gentle grip. (You want the food to be secure, but also to be able to move away from the blade as you slice.) With your knife blade on the cutting board, slide the knife toward the food you are slicing with the knife tip remaining on the board so that the food is under the front end of the blade. Slice by sliding the knife forward, making sure to keep the tip of the blade in contact with the cutting board.
Once you have formed your first slice, draw the knife back toward you with the tip of the knife on the board and continue to slice, moving in a rocking, back-and-forth motion.
You will feel the rhythm and fluidity of the circular motion with your knife and learn to adjust the thickness of the slices as you go. Practice makes perfect!
How to Dice an Onion
Dicing fruits and vegetables is about the most common cut to learn when cooking, and is essential to prepping foods for soups, stews and salads. Get started dicing by practicing on an onion.
Start by peeling the onion, cutting off both ends and cutting the onion in half. Remove the tough, papery layers and place each half cut-side down on your cutting board.
Using your chef’s knife and the circular motion slicing technique discussed above, make slices of the desired thickness of your dice, keeping the slices in place as you go.
Then turn the onion slices 90 degrees, so you can cut through the slices to form dice.
Make sure that the hand securing the onion has a “claw” grip, which means the finger tips are in contact with the food and are slightly curled under the knuckles.
Now that you’ve mastered dicing, learn:
How to Use a Paring Knife
Rely on your paring knife for smaller tasks such as trimming or peeling vegetables and fruits, or for cutting stems off of fruits such as strawberries or tomatoes. Because it’s small, it’s easy to hold in your hand and trim produce.
Start by holding the food to be sliced in your hand or hold on the cutting board and trim with one small slice.
Only use your paring knife for smaller jobs, like trimming and peeling. You’re bound to get frustrated—or hurt—if you try to use it for larger tasks.
How to Clean Your Knives
Repeat after us: Do not put your knives in the dishwasher! Dishwasher detergent is corrosive and can dull and even discolor your knives. Use dish soap and a cloth, not a scrubber, to wash your knives.
For safety’s sake, do not place a knife in a sink full of soapy water, as the person washing the dishes can badly cut themselves while reaching around in the water. Once your knife is rinsed off, dry it immediately and put it away safely. The less opportunity the knife has to get knocked against other dishes and hard surfaces, the longer it will stay sharp.
How to Store Your Knives
Keep you and your knives safe by storing them properly; rattling around loose in a drawer is not the way to go! Not only will this dull your knives, but there is also the danger of cutting your hand while rummaging around looking for a knife. Instead, try one of these storage options.
Magnetic knife racks can be mounted on the wall, which makes for easy access.
Drawer-trays are another way to keep knives put away safely.
A knife block is another great option that keeps your set of knives within reach.