Kitchen Knife Skills – The Basics

Learning sound kitchen knife skills is a fundamental building block to improving your cooking skills.  You’ll learn how to choose knives, and how to cut food without cutting yourself!  Efficiency is also a byproduct of learning these skills.  The more you practice them, the more comfortable they become.

What’s in your knife block? 

In terms of utilization, I have a few knives that I use routinely.  The bare essentials, for me, are a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated knife.   I use the chef’s knife for pretty much everything, with the paring and serrated knives filling in for spot duty on very specific tasks.  

If you should want to expand out your knife block, I would also obtain a Santoku knife.  This is an eastern design with a flatter blade profile that I find very helpful in some chopping tasks.  I also would get a carving knife, which is used for cooked meats and poultry. It’s a long, thin blade that is useful for getting around joints and bones.   

Holding the Knife:    

There are three predominant grips that are employed with kitchen knives. The Hammer Grip, The Fencer’s Grip and the Blade Grip. 

The hammer grip is with all fingers wrapped securely around the handle and behind the bolster of the knife.  The Fencer’s grip is similar with the thumb riding on the spine of the bolster. The blade grip is held a bit looser and has the index finger and thumb on either side of the blade, steadying and guiding it with the remainder of the fingers wrapped around the handle behind the bolster.   

The Free Hand – The Claw:

This is a grip used to hold the food that you are cutting.  Tuck your fingertips underneath, away from the blade, and use your knuckles to guide the knife.  This is a key piece to your new skill set.  Keeping the fingertips away from the blade, and allowing your knuckles to guide and steady the blade   

When cutting, you want to use stable surfaces as much as possible, so with round foods, prep them by cutting a flat side, and put that face-down on the cutting board.  It’s safer and keeps the food from rolling under knife pressure. That can lead to accidents.

The Basic Cuts:

There are four basic cuts that I use:

  1. The Slice
  2. The Chop
  3. The Reverse Slice
  4. The Fan Chop

Depending on the knives you are using, and what you are cutting, you may find you use some of these more than others.  The slice and fan chop are used mostly with Western knives while chopping is more common with straighter Santoku style blades. 

The Slice: 

This is great for slicing large veggies or meats. I use this with a Western style chef’s knife.

  1. Create a stable surface for cutting.  Employ the claw grip with your free hand to hold the food.  
  2. Hold the tip against the cutting board, angle the blade upward, resting against your knuckles.
  3. Pull the blade backwards until it comes in contact with the food, then push down and forward using the full length of the blade to slice through the food. 
  4. Repeat using an oval motion, keeping the tip against the cutting board at all times. 

The Chop: 

This is great for precise cuts using a santoku knife. It’s interchangeable with the slice, but you will need a sharp knife to prevent crushing the food.

  1. Create a stable surface for cutting.  Employ the claw grip with your free hand to hold the food.  
  2. The entire knife is lifted above the cutting board and guided by your knuckles.
  3. Press downward in a smooth, even stroke, pressing slightly forward as you go. 

The Back-slice:

This is used for creating small, fine slices of delicate items with minimal crushing.  I prefer the flatter blade profile of a santoku for this. 

  1. Create a stable surface for cutting.  Employ the claw grip with your free hand to hold the food.  
  2. Place the tip of the knife against the cutting board, blade resting against your knuckles. 
  3. Hold the knife at a low angle.
  4. Pull backward steadily, using the whole length of the blade to slice through your food with NO downward pressure. 

The Fan Chop:

This is a truly fun cut – for finely mincing.  I like to use a Western Chef’s knife for this cut. The more curved blade profile facilitates the rocking pattern of the cut.

  1. Prep ingredients using the slice or chop. 
  2. Free hand anchors the blade tip to the cutting board using your open palm on top of the blade. 
  3. Rock up and down until your ingredients are minced.
  4. Pro-Tip:  Regather ingredients with blade at a shallow angle. It the blade is perpendicular, it has a tendency to dull quicker.

And there we have it! Four basic cuts …practice and enjoy!

knife skills

2 Responses

  • Scott Robinson

    Thank you Ethan! Excellent tips!!


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