Chopping, slicing, dicing, peeling, and squealing (well hopefully not). That’s the gist of most of the knife skills you will need to learn in order to get through most of your cooking tasks. Most people can accomplish these things, but I bet they could accomplish them much more quickly and efficiently. You see, there is a right way to hold your knife and learning how to use it will put you on the path the blasting through green onions, celery and anything else like real chefs do (and you will feel awesome while you do it).
Okay right, let’s start on our journey of learning how to knife! First lesson is learning your knife anatomy, so check that link out if you want to delve a little deeper into each piece of a knife. If not, no worries I’ll make sure you get the gist of what I mean here.
Holding a knife
First up is getting how to hold it down. It actually depends a little bit on the knife and what you’re cutting. I’ll be going over three different types of ways to hold it with each having their own purpose. You have your pinch hold, which is great for most of your knife related tasks. Then, the power hold (not an official title) which is great for tougher cuts that need a little more umph! Lastly, the pairing knife hold is used to hold a pairing knife and is used for peeling.
So let’s start with the pinch hold! Almost every time you use your chef’s knife you will be using this hold. What you want to do is grasp the handle with your middle, ring, and pinky fingers. Your middle finger should rest on the bolster of the blade (that’s the transition area between the handle and the blade). It should fit rather comfortably as the knife’s handle is made for this. Next, take your index finger and thumb then pinch the blade at the top near the spine (top of the knife).
It may take some getting used to, but this really is the best way to hold a knife. Oftentimes people either use their whole hand on the handle and really have no control with the blade. Either that, or they rest their index finger along the spine gaining control but lose speed and tire themselves quickly. What you get is a great balance of strength and control that gives you the ability to slice through veggies in no time.
While the pinch hold is the most versatile, it’s not quite as awesome for getting through tough cuts like the power hold is. When you have a tougher cut of meat with bone and gristle or bread with a hearty crust you will want to use this type of hold. Start off with taking all fingers but the thumb and grasping the blade near the bolster. Then, use your thumb to press along the spine of the blade. Pressing with your thumb gives you the strength to get through those tougher cuts that the pinch hold doesn’t give.
Lastly, the pairing knife cut that is exclusive to the pairing knife is used to peel things (like apples, pears, carrots and whatnot). It’s comparable to the power hold where you grab with all your fingers but the thumb. Your grasp will rest along the spine as shown in the picture. Then, you will extend your thumb out and use that to guide and pull your knife along whatever it’s peeling. Don’t worry too much about cutting yourself! Since the tendons in your hand work together to grasp it’s unlikely you will slip and force the knife to slice you. You can also use the tip of the knife to cut out nasty spots as needed.
Using a knife
Phew, so now that we went over the holds we still need to cover the techniques of actually slicing something. Now, every single food and type of cut is a little different in how you go about it, but I’ll give you a rundown of the best ways to approach. Special cutting techniques we’ll cover with their own post since this is really just for general stuff.
First off, let me just say, keep your knives sharp enough to do the job easily. A dull knife is a dangerous one. You will put on more pressure than needed and that can cause you to lose control and increase the chances of accidents. So, be careful! I have a post on how to properly sharpen with a sharpening stone if you need to know. Oh, and use a plastic or wooden cutting board (anything else will destroy your knives)!
Next, make what you are cutting have a flat end. For instance if it’s a potato you will want to slice off a sliver from one end so that it does not roll around when you go to cut the rest. Tomatoes, onions, peppers and what not you will usually want to cut in half. This not only makes your cuts more even, you’re less likely to lose control and slice yourself.
Feed and Slice Method
When slicing through something small like celery, green onions, etc. You’re going to want to position your knifeless palm on the ingredient with your fingers tucked in. Use the pinch hold on a chef’s knife and place the tip on the cutting board. Rock your knife up and down never allowing the tip to leave the cutting board. Use your non knife hand to feed the ingredients into your knife. Make sure your fingers stay tucked in the entire time to prevent accidents.
Go slowly at first and get the feel for it. You will pick up the speed soon enough. Practice really makes perfect so don’t be afraid to buy some green onions, potatoes or carrots and go to town! You will find this feed and slice method pretty handy once you get used to it, and you can really cut through things like the pros.
Dicing is perfect to get little cubes that cook up evenly and look nice in dishes. To begin dicing you want to start with your ingredient washed and peeled as needed. You will want to slice off ends to make a rough rectangular shape. After that, start slicing lengthwise to your desired end width then turn 90 the ingredient degrees and slice the same width again (try hard to make sure everything stays together. You will end up with long french-fry shaped pieces. Lastly, turn from length-wise to width-wise and use the feed and slice method for your last cut. You will see your cubes pile up as you go along (something is just so satisfying about it).
Nearly the same method is handled with an onion, you just do not need to worry about making the long rectangular shapes. Here’s a little GIF showcasing my skills! (Okay my skills are so so, but you will get the idea)
Mincing is pretty much a combination of dicing and the feed and slice method. Basically start of by dicing your ingredient into as tiny of cubes as you can. Then, collect all of your diced cubes together and run through them with your knife several times (I usually try to feed to cubes through the first few times then just make several passes through without feeding). Once you feel that it’s sufficiently minces (i.e. so small and tiny it’s hard to discern individual pieces) scrape it all at once (using the spine of your knife!) and use as needed! This is roughly the consistency you’re looking for.
Hopefully this run down has given you a few good ideas on how to knife properly in the kitchen. It’s certainly and easily overlooked skill that can really cut down on the time in the kitchen overall if you spend just a few hours to get the basics down. I have a delicious salsa recipe that is perfect for getting your knife skills going, so be sure to check that out for some practice with satisfying results. Pass this post on and share it if you liked it and comment below to let me know if I should have added something or if there is anything I could explain better. Thanks for reading!