How to Properly Use a Chef’s Knife
The Chef Knife is the most-used tool in any cooks arsenal. Mastering your chef knife skills is the first thing they teach you in culinary arts school. The reason being is that your speed and technique must be built from the ground up the proper way, or it can lead to bad habits that can result in injury, inefficiency, or other detriments.
When I first started taking cooking seriously, I had some bad habits with my knife skills, including improper knife handling, opposing hand position, and chopping motion. I had to relearn how to cut with a knife and it really felt like I was using my left hand. It takes at least six months to get a good feel for the proper chef knife techniques, so do not give up. The benefits vastly outweigh the inconvenience.
The Chef Knife
Choosing a Chef Knife
Choosing a proper chef’s knife is an important purchase. When it comes to knives, quality is paramount. You must choose a knife with a solid reputation, excellent German or Japanese blade, and proper size and length. The weight of the knife is also important, as a heavy knife will cause fatigue early.
Blade thickness is also an important factor to consider, as thicker knives, while more durable, tend to have difficulty with precision cutting. Especially when it comes to creating the various types of cuts.
A sharp knife is of the utmost importance, and if you currently use a dull knife, get it sharpened or start shopping around for a new one. A dull knife will cause more injuries than a sharp one. Crushing your food is not a good technique.
Recommended Chef Knives
Different knives have different quality blades and the price tag does not always reflect that. A higher price knife won’t necessarily have a better blade and you don’t want to be buying a brand as much as you want to be buying quality. A knife with a great blade will keep its edge longer and will last months of daily commercial kitchen abuse before requiring sharpening.
This is a hotly contested topic when it comes to professional cooks and chefs. Some swear by the cheap plastic-handled knives you can buy through Sysco, while others demand high-quality steel.
My preference is a solid balance. A good chef knife will keep its edge longer between sharpening and a properly maintained chef knife will last years. I have chosen my top three chef knives which you can check out on Amazon. By clicking through these links and making a purchase, you can help support The Culinary Cook as we receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Top 3 Recommended Chef Knives
Maintaining Your Chef Knife
To keep your blade in tip-top shape requires the proper maintenance. Steeling your knife before and after every use will ensure you keep your blade honed and sharp.
Watch this video on how to steel your knife
How to Properly Grip Your Chef Knife
A proper grip is where we start when we talk about how to use a knife. Holding your knife properly will ensure that you minimize fatigue, maintain absolute control, and have an excellent range of motion. The image above shows how to properly hold a chef knife.
If you are holding the knife at the handle and tang, you create an imbalance. Holding the knife at the bolster will help achieve balance.
How to Properly Chop With Your Chef Knife
Learning how to properly chop with your chef knife is important. Your opposing free hand must act as the guide for your knife as the other hand cuts. To achieve this, you must place your opposing fingers right next to the knife blade in a “claw” grip with the tips of the fingers pointed inward to avoid injury. If you use this technique, you will both reduce the risk of accidental injury by cutting your hand and increase efficiency.
The proper way to cut with your knife uses the last knuckle of your forefinger or middle finger as a guide, while your ring, pinky, and thumb stabilize the item you are cutting. While you may feel a bit nervous at first, know that this technique will eliminate 99% of cuts to your hands. Start with slow, controlled slicing motions while always keeping the item stationary. Your knife moves to the guide of your knuckle. Your guiding hand does not guide the food into the knife!
If you are cutting around or abnormally shaped item, such as tomato, try slicing off a piece from the side perpendicular to the side you wish to cut from in order to give the item a flat surface to stabilize it with. This ensures the item doesn’t roll away from you or slide around.
The Wrong Way to Use a Knife
The picture on the right will show you the improper way to use your knife. This is bad form, and if you do this it can result in poor habits or worse – injury. Many people learned to cut in this manner and it is not rare to see this cutting form. It may take time to learn the proper method, but do yourself a favor as start today.
Always remember that when learning (Or re-learning) how to use your knife, patience is the key. You won’t be a pro overnight! Speed will come with time, but when it does come you’ll realize why these foundations are so important.