Knife Skills 101
Sharpen your kinfe skills with these basics on work station set up, knife safety, and common knife-cut terminology. Click the bold links for video explainations.
Having proper knife skills improves the appearance of finished meals and ensures that food cooks evenly. Most importantly, handling a kitchen knife correctly leads to safer and quicker cooking. Before diving in, it's essential to learn about the various types of knives, their different parts, and how to create a safe workstation. Understanding the distinctions between dicing, slicing, and mincing will help decipher any recipe and result in a successful final dish.
Types of knives
The three most important knives every kitchen should have are a basic chef’s knife, a small paring knife, and a large serrated knife. Chef’s knives are generally 7-12 inches in length and can do the job of most other knives. Paring knives, also known as utility knives, have short blades and are best used for intricate cutting, peeling, and seeding. Serrated knives come in a variety of lengths and are best for cutting ingredients with firm exteriors and delicate interiors, like bread, tomatoes, and pineapples.
Get familiar with the anatomy of a knife
On a chef’s knife, the base of the blade, known as the heel, is best used for slicing and chopping bulkier ingredients that require a heavier hand, like carrots or potatoes. The tip of the knife can be used for cutting more delicate ingredients like fresh herbs, berries, or cherry tomatoes.
Set up a workstation
Once you have chosen the right knife for the job, the next step is to set up a workstation. Choose a cutting board bigger than the length of the knife being used. Lay a damp paper towel or kitchen towel down flat with the cutting board on top to help secure the board from slipping. Set out a few bowls, one for cut ingredients and one for scraps. This will keep things flowing, keep the cutting board tidy, and reduce trips around the kitchen. We recommend keeping the bowl of cut ingredients to the left of the cutting board for right-handed cooks (or vice versa) for maximum efficiency.
To practice knife safety, remember that a sharp knife is actually safer than a dull knife because a dull knife is more likely to slip against what is being chopped. Opt for sharp knives whenever possible. Another way to avoid slipping knives is to create a flat surface on whatever is being cut, like cutting an onion in half and placing cut-side down before dicing. When you’re finished using a knife, never leave it in a sink where others may not see it. A best practice is to wash, dry, and put away knives as soon as they are done being used. And remember, never catch a falling knife — let it fall.
How to hold a knife
To properly hold a knife, with your dominant hand place your middle finger under the heel (where the handle meets the blade), grip the sides of the blade firmly using the pointer finger and thumb, and wrap the rest of your hand around the handle. With your helping hand, curl all fingers like an angry bear to create “the claw”. Rest the fingertips on top of the ingredient, perpendicular to the surface of the food, with your knuckles as a shield. Your thumb should be perpendicular to the food as well, but on the side to stabilize the ingredient. This prevents your fingers from getting in the way of the knife, while still being able to handle the ingredient being cut.
Now that you’re ready to cook, let’s go over knife-cut terminology. Most Season recipes use words like dice, slice, and mince.
Slicing means to cut ingredients into thin equal strips. To slice a bell pepper, first cut it in half lengthwise from the bottom to the stem. Use your hands or a knife to remove the seeds and stem. Thinly slice the bell pepper with the skin-side down.
Dicing means to cut ingredients into small even squares or pieces. This can be achieved by slicing an ingredient into equal strips, then turning and slicing evenly across the strips to create small squares. To dice an onion, trim the ends while keeping the root end slightly intact — this helps hold everything together. Cut the onion in half through the root ends, peel away the skin, and lay cut-side down on the cutting board. Carefully slice the onion horizontally almost all the way through the onion to the root end. Then, slice the onion vertically along the natural lines of the onion. Turn the onion and cut across the strip cuts to create small equal pieces. Chop any remaining large pieces.
Mincing means to finely chop ingredients such as garlic, ginger, and herbs. To mince garlic, remove cloves of garlic from the garlic bulb and smash them with the side of the knife (blade facing away from you) to help loosen the skin. Remove the skin and remove the tough root end. Thinly slice the garlic clove and then hold down the front of the knife as an anchor and rock the knife back and forth while chopping until minced.