Many home cooks complain about how long it takes to cut, dice, or slice foods when cooking, but it doesn’t have to take that long. All it takes is a good quality sharp knife and some basic knife skills!
Knife skills are the fundamental and most important skill to master in order to be successful in the kitchen. When you cook from scratch, knives are used more than any other kitchen tool. Mastering knife skills can transform your cooking experience; you will reduce your cooking time and increase the quality of your meals.
In other words, you will cook faster and your food will taste and look better! Who wouldn’t want that?
Types of Knives
There are three types of knives that every home cook should own: a paring, serrated, and chef’s knife. Let’s review these different knife uses and functions.
- Paring Knife: cutting small quantities of small items (i.e. slicing grapes and strawberries), detail work, and peeling
- Serrated Knife: slicing foods with crusty or tough skins and soft interiors, such as bread or tomatoes
- Chef’s Knife: almost everything! This is your go-to knife for cutting all things not listed above.
We recommend purchasing forged knives, where the knife blade is made from a single piece of steel and extends through the handle, secured by rivets. You can also buy stamped knives where the blade is stamped from a piece of steel and then attached to the handle, but they tend to be lower quality and don’t have quite the same feel in your hand.
Purchase the best chef’s knife you can afford, as this knife will be your everyday, go-to knife! If you care for it properly, it can last a lifetime. We are Wusthof fans, but there are lots of good choices out there.
Parts of a Knife
Learning about the different parts of a knife can be helpful when learning how to use a knife, especially when taking a knife skills class. Take a look at this picture of a forged knife.
Knowing these different parts of a knife can help you know where to grip the knife and which parts to use when slicing and dicing different foods.
How to Care for Kitchen Knives
Rule #1 of knife care: never ever put your knives in the dishwasher!
Putting your knives in the dishwasher will cause them to dull, possibly get banged around, and ruin the handle (if made from wood). After using a knife, immediately clean it with warm soapy water and a sponge, then air dry.
Rule #2 of knife care: store wisely.
There are many options when it comes to storing knives. There are knife racks designed to fit in a kitchen drawer, knife blocks, and magnetic strips. Whichever you choose, keep the blade protected to prevent dulling and accidental cuts. If placing knives in a drawer without a rack, be sure to cover your blade with a scabbard.
Honing and Sharpening Knives
Is your knife sharp? All knives dull as they are used over time. The more you use your knife, the duller it becomes. There are several tools that can help make your knife’s blade sharp again: a honing steel, hand-held sharpeners, and wet stones.
A honing steel or knife sharpener rod doesn’t actually sharpen a knife. Rather, it realigns or straightens the blade. To use a honing steel, place the steel at a 90º angle on a folded towel on your kitchen counter (the towel will keep the rod from slipping around the counter). Then, hold your knife’s blade at a 90º angle to the steel, then cut that angle in half to a 45º angle, then finally cut that angle in half again to a ~20º angle.
Using medium firm pressure, drag your knife’s blade from heel to tip. Do this same motion several times on each side, then gently wipe the knife blade on a towel just in case any bits of steel were shaved off. You can use a honing steel every time you use your knife, although you might not need to.
Check out this video to watch how to use a knife sharpener rod.
Unlike a honing steel, a hand-held sharpener does shave off a little bit of metal from the blade. If your knife seems dull, use the honing steel first. If it still feels dull after honing, then pull out the hand-held sharpener. There are several different kinds of sharpeners, but they all function mostly the same. You either run the knife from heel to tip through the sharpener or hold the knife still upside down, and run the sharpener from heel to tip. Reference your specific brand’s directions on how to use a knife sharpener to make sure you are using it correctly.
We recommend getting your knife professionally sharpened at least once a year (depending on how much you use it and how well you take care of it). Professional knife sharpeners use wet stones that will make your knife feel brand new again! Some individuals choose to sharpen their knives with a wet stone at home. If you choose to do this, be sure to use it correctly so that you don’t damage your knives.
How to Hold a Chef’s Knife
To guarantee comfort, efficiency, and best technique, it is important to master the proper grip. Put your thumb on one side of the blade, curl your pointer finger around the other side so that your thumb and the side of your pointer finger “pinch” the heel of the blade, then wrap your remaining three fingers around the handle. Don’t put your finger on top of the blade – this is a less stable hold that will hurt your wrist and is more likely to cause slipping and cuts.
What about the hand that’s not holding the knife? Curl your non-knife fingers back into a claw shape to prevent being cut. Your knuckles will serve as a guide for your knife cuts and keep your fingers out of the way.
There are lots of different knife cuts, but the ones below are the most important for home cooks to master.
Julienne and Batonnet (Sticks)
The words “julienne” and “batonnet” are just fancy names for sticks, each indicating a different size. Julienne sticks are ⅛” thick and 2” long whereas batonnet sticks are ¼” thick and 2” long. The more important skill to master here is creating equal sized sticks, even if they are not precisely measured. Equal sized cuts promote even cooking and a more enjoyable eating experience.
Dicing is a precise technique in which you cut foods into uniform cubes. There are different sizes of dices: large (¾”), medium (½”), small (¼”), and tiny or brunoise (⅛”). To dice, you must first cut sticks into the desired dice widths, then make crosswise cuts. Some foods, such as watermelon, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers, require making panels the width of the dice first before cutting sticks then dices. Learn how to dice an onion here and how to dice a bell pepper here.
Chopping is an imprecise technique in which you cut foods into evenly sized pieces, but they do not necessarily have to be uniform. Chopping is used when presentation is not a factor, like for vegetables used to season a stock, veggies that will be blended into a smooth soup, or most fresh herbs.
Chiffonading is cutting leafy vegetables or herbs into thin strips. To chiffonade, stack several leaves, such as basil, spinach, or others,roll them up lengthwise, then thinly slice. Chiffonading is great for beautiful garnishes and appealing presentations. Learn how to chiffonade basil here.
Mincing is cutting or chopping a food finely. One of the most popular minced foods is garlic. Learn how to mince garlic here.
Ready to take YOUR Knife Skills to the next level??
In this self-paced, online-exclusive class, we walk you through everything discussed in this article and more! You will learn more about different types of knives, when and how to use them, and how to care for the cutting boards you chop, slice, and dice on.
Our team will demonstrate how to make all of the different knife cuts, and then show you how to cut 10 of the most common fruits and vegetables. You will learn how to dice potatoes, how to dice a tomato, and how to dice a mango, and more!
This knife skills class is designed for home cooks; we will teach you skills and techniques that are realistic and relatable. We can’t wait to see you in class!
To YOUR Taste!