How To Begin Sharpening Your Knife Skills

Posted on September 20, 2016 by Downtown Market

How to improve your knife skills

One of the most frequent questions we hear is “What can I do to become a better cook?” One of the simplest answers is to master basic knife skills.  As we head towards the holiday season, there is no better time than right now for us to work on these essential techniques that can really make you a master in the kitchen.

There are three core things that you need to learn in order to excel: selecting the right knife for the job, how to hold that knife, and how to cut with that knife.

 Selecting Your Knife:

You have all heard at one point that certain knife brands are “the best” to buy.  Well, rest assured that you don’t need to break the bank on a knife to master knife skills. What you need is a knife that is comfortable in your hand, properly sharpened, and one that fits your budget. However, there are so many different brands, different weights, different shapes, and different sizes of knives… how do you choose? The only way that you will know the right knife for you is by actually picking them up and holding them to see if they are comfortable to use for an extended period of time. 

You also don’t need a whole set of knives. The basic three knives everyone should have in their kitchen are:

  1. A Chef knife.
  2. A Utility or Paring knife.
  3. A Serrated knife.

Most importantly, no knife will work well when it is dull.  Consider taking your knives to a local place to get them sharpened.  You will be amazed at how that simple step will make cooking easier and so much more fun.

The Three Most Important Knives

Holding the Knife:

We all hold knives differently and, really, there is no set way to hold the knife as long as you remember that the knife should always feel comfortable while, at the same time, keeping all your fingers safe.  The most common grips used by most chefs are the...

Chef’s Grip - Take the palm of your cutting hand and choke up on the handle as the thumb and index finger grip the section of the blade. This is the most efficient way to use the weight of the knife to your advantage and cause the least fatigue while cutting.

Claw Grip - This is for your helping hand or guide hand, which moves the food toward the knife. The ideal position for your guide hand is to curl your fingertips under, placing the flat part of your knuckles close to the blade so that no part of your hand can slip under the knife. This technique will take lots of practice and muscle memory, so don’t feel discouraged. Safety is more important than the speed of cutting and the more you practice, the quicker you will become.

The Chef Grip is the hand on the left cutting, and the Claw Grip is guiding. 

Cutting with Your Knife:

Now that we have the grips down, we need to discuss how to actually use your knife to cut. The most effective way to cut your foods is by using a nice, even, fluid motion. Keep the tip of the knife on the cutting board and gently rock the knife up and down and forward through the items. Remember, you only have to lift that blade up just high enough to slide the food underneath. You may start to tense up or be tempted to go too fast at this point, so take a moment and relax your wrist.  Don’t rush. It takes practice to get it right every time, so don’t be discouraged by the pace of your cutting. 

The main thing to remember when starting to work on your knife skills is to have your food in small, manageable pieces that are comfortable to hold. Make sure your food is never too large, too small, or in shapes that will roll around your cutting board, making for an unsafe experience. Below are a few tips for cutting a few common items...

Round vegetables:

Take round vegetables and cut a small flat side to them so they are secure to the cutting board. This will limit the risk of injury and also help you make even cuts. For example, cut the bottom off of an apple to make it flat, then slice it.

Long skinny vegetables:

These vegetables, like celery, should be cut into small sticks that fit in your guide hand and can easily fit on your cutting board.

Soft vegetables:

All soft fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes or oranges, can be cut easily with your serrated knife (it’s not just for bread). Take your time and don’t push the knife. Let the blade do the work for you by allowing it to lightly glide through the food.

Small leaves and herbs:

These items are one of the hardest items to cut. They are small, tiny, and move all over the board. An easy trick when cutting basil, for example, is to stack the leaves and roll them all up to cut at one time. When cutting other tiny items that give you trouble, simply stack them in a neat pile and chop them freely.

We hope that this blog post has given you a better understanding of some basic knife skills. Remember, it takes tons of practice and patience to truly master the art of cutting. Don’t get discouraged and take your time.  If you need a coach to demonstrate or to give this guide a personal touch, feel free to come and visit us.  We always have a Beginning Knife Skills class on our calendar specifically designed to help you improve your skills and become more confident in the kitchen.

Over to You!

What tactics, tips, and tricks have made you more confident with your kitchen tools? Let us know in the comments below!