How To Use A Chef’s Knife

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Learning how to use a chef's knife is one of the most fundamental skills you can have in your kitchen. By learning how to use a chef's knife, you'll be able to easily chop, mince and slice all types of ingredients with dexterity.

In this article, we're going to teach you the secrets of using a chef's knife, and give you some pointers on what the best knives can do. Be sure to also check out our guide for the best Japanese Damascus chef knives for your kitchen.

Let's get started.

How to hold a chef's knife

The first thing you're going to want to learn is how to hold your knife. If you have a good grip on it, you'll be able to control the blade better and avoid cutting yourself. You can either place your right or left hand (whichever is more comfortable) around the front of the handle with your index finger resting on top of the blade near where it meets the handle. Your thumb should be next to one side of the handle, and your other three fingers grasping firmly on the other side.

How to Use a Chef knife
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You can also use both hands – it doesn't matter which hand you use in which position.

The most important thing about holding the knife is making sure it's secure. If you don't have a good grip on the handle, you're just going to end up stabbing yourself in the hand. For this reason, you should always try out various grips and see what feels most comfortable for you 

How to hold your cutting board

The next thing we will teach you about how to use a chef's knife is how to hold your cutting board. 

There are three important aspects of holding your board so that it doesn't slip while using your kitchen knife: countertop, wrist position, and finger placement:

  1. a) Holding the cutting board against the countertop can help stabilize it by adding friction between both surfaces. You can do this manually or place a damp towel underneath – damp towels provide extra friction.
  2. b) Holding your wrist straight when you make a slice helps avoid injury and allows you to maintain control over the knife.
  3. c) Placing your fingertips around the cutting board as far from the blade as possible provides another source of stability, keeping your hand away from where the action is taking place.

How to safely use a chef's knife

There are a few rules for basic knife safety that everyone should follow: always cut on a flat surface (the countertop is ideal), keep your fingers out of the way by placing them on top of what you're cutting or against other parts of the food, and lastly  –  never move your hands back and forth while making cuts with a chef's knife.

Fix your grip if it feels wrong  –  you should be practicing a new grip until it feels comfortable, and then move on. It's better to have a poor grip for one day than permanently injuring yourself. You should also consider sharpening your chef’s knife as you go along.

chef knife cutting
Image Credit: Kitchen Infinity Photo

Basic cuts with a chef's knife

The most important thing to remember is the motion you're going to use  –  we call it “rocking” because like rocking a baby in a cradle, your blade moves back and forth. For this reason, it's also called a “chiffonade” cut (like leaves of grass or herbs). Always hold the food firmly so that it doesn't move while cutting. You can rock from either side (left or right), depending on which feels more natural.

If you want to cut an onion, the first slice off both ends of the onion so they are flat (so they won't roll around and fall off the cutting board). Then cut the onion in half from top to bottom and peel the outer skin away  –  this is your starting point.

Here's a tip: You can hold the onion by either peeling it from one side or use both hands, one on each end. For thin slices, you want to rock with your left hand holding the lower part of the onion against your board while you slice with your right hand. With thicker sections, you'll want to start by slicing off a small portion of it first so that you have something stable to work with. 

Your thumb should always be on top of what you are cutting and next to where the blade meets the handle (to control how much gets sliced off as well as adding support).

Once you have the hang of it you can increase your speed by making two cuts on each side. For example, when cutting thin slices: top to bottom and then diagonal from the left  –  this will cut out more waste and create thinner slices than if you were to just use one cut.

The next thing we want to teach you is how to mince garlic. The technique here is called “running” and lets us chop long pieces into smaller ones very quickly without smashing them up too much. Start with a clove of garlic that has been peeled but still retains its root end (this allows for easier mincing).

To start, clamp your left hand down on top of what you're cutting while holding the knife in an overhand grip (blade is facing downward) and slice off the biggest part of the clove  –  this will give you a stable base to work with. Your left thumb should be resting on top of what you're cutting while your fingers are curled around the root end.

Now using just rocking motions, slide your knife across the surface of the garlic until it's cut into smaller pieces. It's very important to keep the blade vertical so that it doesn't smash up against what you are cutting before making contact with it. If you want more control over how much gets minced (like if you don't want to create too fine of pieces), use a chopping motion where you push forward instead of rock back and forth.

If you're trying to make extra fine pieces, you can always crush the garlic against your board with the knife. Just make sure to hold it firmly and don't use excessive force or else you'll end up mashing instead of crushing.

Knife safety tips to keep in mind

When learning how to use a chef's knife, safety should be your primary concern. A good place to start is by using the proper cutting surface  –  meaning, try to avoid surfaces that can easily dull or damage the blade. 

Also always make sure that you're using a cutting board large enough for what you want to do  –  too small a cutting board makes your arms and body unstable which increases the chance of slipping and causing injury as well as making it more difficult to cut properly. 

using a chef knife

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Another thing worth noting is that when learning how to use a chef's knife, you also need to learn how not to use it (in other words, what NOT to do). Here are some important things that shouldn't be done with any type of knife:

Using a chef's knife to pry or push is not advisable and can lead to serious injury. If you try to do so, you’ll be putting your fingers directly in the line of fire. Another “don't” is trying to cut through bones with your chef's knife. If you want to cut into the bone, make sure that you have a proper boning/slicer knife for the job.

Making cuts against hard surfaces like concrete or glass will dull your knife blade much faster than if it were being used on something softer like wood or bamboo which are designed for cutting purposes (avoidance of concrete and glass helps prevent accidents as well).

When cooking, always make sure that your work area is clean before you start  –  visiting the sink to wash off your knife handle between cuts can be a warning sign of improper cutting habits.

Final thoughts on how to use a chef's knife

In conclusion, learning how to use a chef's knife is about getting comfortable with the tool. By learning when and how to use a chef's knife, you'll be able to cut almost any ingredient and have much more control over the process compared to using kitchen shears or other methods like buying pre-cut vegetables and fruits..

Using a chef's knife might seem difficult at first but with practice, it'll soon become second nature. Having proper knives makes cutting easier, faster, safer, and more fun  –  all of which add up to better meals. We hope that we've taught you everything you need to know about how to use a chef's knife.


Kevin Farrugia

Kevin Farrugia

Kevin is a household and appliance enthusiast and loves to follow the latest trends in kitchen and house decoration. He also loves to walk the isles of Home Depot and Lowes to review products and materials in person. Before joining Kitchen Infinity, Kevin owned a handyman company.

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