Some skills are so rudimentary that it’s easy to forget we ever learned them — how to shave, tie your laces, throw a spiral. Too often missing from this list, however, is one of life’s most important skills: properly wielding a chef’s knife, the most important tool in the kitchen. With proper form, and a bit of practice, prepping dinner becomes both safer and more efficient. If you’re starting from scratch, with little experience behind you, here’s what you never learned about using a chef’s knife, but should have.
The Chef’s Grip
Hold the knife correctly. Most chefs hold a chef’s knife by choking up on the handle, using their thumb and index finger to pinch opposites sides of the blade. This may feel weird if you’re not used to it, but gripping around the bolster allows for maximum control over the blade, resulting in both efficiency and safety. Ultimately, however, the best way to handle a knife is whichever way feels most secure in your hand.
Protect the guiding hand. Your other hand, a.k.a. the guiding hand, does two things. It stabilizes whatever you are cutting so that it doesn’t skid around on the board, but it also helps position the blade. The safest method is to curl your finger into a claw position so that, when you are gripping something, they’re tucked out of harm’s way (keep your thumb in mind, too). Position your hand in a way that your middle finger is more forward than the others, then use your top knuckle to guide your knife on the downward stroke. The face of the blade should never lose contact with your skin.
Helpful Tips from a Cooking Instructor
David Siegel is a chef and culinary instructor, based in New York City, who leads the “Knife Skills” class at The Brooklyn Kitchen. Follow his tips for better, safer cutting.
1. Keep your knife sharp! The duller the knife, the higher chance it has of of slipping off the surface of whatever you’re cutting and onto your finger. See here for a primer on sharpening your knives.
2. If you find your cutting board moving around on your counter while you cut, slip a kitchen towel underneath. This will usually stabilize the board.
3. With round objects, like carrots, your first cut should always be to create a flat, stable surface. This will make it safer to handle throughout the rest of your prep work.
4. Work the long way and save yourself extra work. If you’re dicing a vegetable, longer pieces will require more “reps,” or individual cuts, but you won’t have to repeat the step as many times.
How to Slice
Rock and glide. The blades on western-style chef’s knives are curved in such a way that they can smoothly rock on a flat surface. To slice, use your blade to come into the ingredient at a 45-degree angle. As you apply downward pressure, move the blade forward, letting the blade do most of the work. It should glide through the object you are cutting; this motion is in direct contrast to chopping, as you would with a Japanese-style nakiri knife, which is more of an up-and-down motion that requires more direct pressure.