How NOT to hold a knife: Do's and Don'ts with Your Knife | Types of Cooking Knives

pictured center (from left) paring, chef, and serrated knife

As a chef and culinary teacher, the questions I probably get most frequently are about knives. 

How do I cut an onion like a pro? or how do i hold it so I’m not scared?

These are valid questions.

It’s nobody’s fault. Home EC wasn’t around for most of us to learn the basics about cooking and holding a knife.

I’m here to be a guiding teacher in the kitchen and make you feel more confident cooking.

I know if you enjoy cooking more, you’ll do it more often. So, that’s what I want for you. Starting with the knife.

Below, I put together some of the most common questions and concerns that I have come across teaching students.

My hope is that after reading this you will feel less intimidated by knives and see how they can make your work in the kitchen more efficient, and more enjoyable.

In this read, you’ll learn:

  • Which knives to have
  • Why knife skills matter
  • Caring for knifes 
  • Using a knife safely in 3 simple steps
  • How to quickly cut an onion without crying
  • Recipes with a lot of cutting to practice

Okay, let’s dive into my world, the chef’s #1 tool, knives.

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Why do good knife skills matter?

Consistency of cut means consistency of cook. Its science. If all your ingredients are cut to the same size, they will cook evenly and be done at the same time.

If you cook a stew for 3 hours, you wouldn’t add diced carrots with large carrots because the diced carrots would turn to mush while large carrots are perfectly tender.

That’s exactly why you need to learn how to cut your ingredients to the same size and shape. They will not only cook evenly, but make your plates look more attractive, too.

What is a chef’s knife?

The chef’s knife is the most used knife in the kitchen. It’s a multi-purpose tool used for slicing, mincing, chopping and even slicing delicate herbs. It falls within 6-14 inches in length.

It can almost be used for anything, but doesn’t perform well for cutting bread, disjointing some cuts, and cleaving meat bones.

Different types of knives 

There are many different knives like the fish knife or deboning knife, but I will focus on just the other two most used ones here.

Introducing the paring knife, a small knife 2.5-4 inches in length, used for small ingredients and to mince ingredients finely. It’s great for mincing garlic, peeling and cutting small fruits, and deveining shrimp.

And the serrated knife, a large jagged knife, around 10 inches in length. The saw-like edge can be dangerously sharp. Cuts through bread and tomato easily without smashing them.

Knife care and maintenance

A sharp knife is the best knife. If you cannot cut green onions without smashing them, your knife is probably dull.

Use a honing steel to sharpen your knife (straighten the blade). Watch a little video I put together below to guided on how to do this.

The sharper your knife is, the more efficient it will be for you. Let the knife do the work for you. A dull knife creates more resistance and requires more force by you- which can become tiring after a while.

In this lesson, learn how to hone your knife. 🔪This means we will be straightening the blade so it cuts better. This can be done every one to two weeks depending on how much you use it. . “Sharpening” a knife requires another tool and sometimes a professional service. It creates a new blade, whereas “honing” is just straightening the blade temporarily. “Sharpening” your knives with a stone or professionally can be done once a year. . In this easy lesson, use the honing steel that came with your knives to quickly straighten the blade and have your knife work for you as it should. The ultimate test- Can it cut a tomato easily? . Hope this tip was helpful! If it was leave a comment below! . . Check out my other videos on IGTV to learn more cooking basics. 👩🏻‍🍳😋 #cooking #cookingtips #mirepoix #frenchcooking #onion #carrot #celery #juliachild #instafood #learntocook #simplecookingcookingshow #cookingbasics #choppingonions #cookingschool #onlinecooking #lachef #privatechef #quarantine #quarantineandcook #sharpening #sharpeningknives #howtosharpenaknife #simplecookingcookingshow
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The cutting board you use is just as important as caring for your knife.

Choose wooden cutting boards whenever possible because they do not dull the blade as fast as plastic does. Stay away from glass cutting boards at all costs. They dull the blade too quickly.

Look for high-quality materials like teak, maple, or walnut for the best cutting boards.

In addition to cutting boards, make sure to store your knives properly. Do not put them in loose drawers or the tip will dull when opening and closing the drawer. Use a knife block or knife insert in your drawer.

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Using a knife safely in 3 simple steps

Now, you must learn how to hold a knife correctly if you want to get the best use out of it. Well, you also should learn for your safety. Remember these simple steps next time you use your chef’s knife. 
  1. Holding the Knife
  2. The Claw
  3. Seesaw Motion

Step 1: Holding the Knife

Most people do not know they are holding the chef knife completely wrong. Most grip the handle like a fist, but this does not stabilize the knife.

The correct way to hold the knife is to use the last 3 fingers (pinky, ring, and middle fingers) to grip the handle. Then, use the index and thumb to pinch the part where the blade and handle meet.

This gives you greater control and dexterity. The knife should be an extension of your wrist and this stabilizes the knife so it doesn’t turn when you use it. (See a visual in the video below)

If you learn one thing from this post, this might be the most important. You will get less tired using your knife once you see that it can work with you, not against you.

Step 2: The Claw

Think of the knife-holding hand as the machine. The brains of the operation is really the other hand, the non-knife hand. The brain tells the knife-holding hand where to go and it must stay clear of the knife.

The best way to do this is the form a claw with the non-knife holding hand. Claw the food to hold it very stable on the board. You do not want it to move when you go to cut it or the knife can slip. Hold it firmly with purpose.

This simple lesson can really save your fingers. Don’t forget to CLAW your food!

Step 3: Seesaw Motion

Now you are ready to make your first cuts. Hold the knife straight, always at 90 degrees to the cutting board. Always make sure the knife has contact with the board.

Practice with a banana or some celery.

Go for a rocking motion. Cut into the item. Slide knife away from you to complete the cut. I can’t tell you how many people do not complete the cut and have to re-do their work. Finish the cut, like a baseball player swings all the way through.

Tip to heel, tip to heel. slide knife in a counter clockwise motion. Do not just smash down. This is especially importably for cutting delicate items like herbs and tomatoes.

How to cut an onion without crying

See the video below on the quickest way to cut an onion. Remember if you don’t want to cry cutting an onion, do these two things:

  • Keep onion in the fridge
  • Have a very sharp knife so you don’t smash the onion when cutting it

Recipes with a lot of cutting to practice

In Summary

I recommend just having 3 knives at home- the chef’s knife, the paring knife, and the serrated knife. Although, I use the chef’s knife for almost every task. I sharpen it once every 1-2 weeks.

Take it slow and safe. You have a lifetime to practice!

If you take away one thing from this post, it is how to hold and use the knife correctly. Once the knife starts working for you, you will find cooking more enjoyable.

Instead of being scared of the knife, it will become your new best friend. (Chef’s are obsessed with their knives) Be one with the knife.  You’ll be cooking like a pro chef before you know it!

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