The knife is the chef's most indispensable tool, and knowing how to use one properly is essential to knowing how to cook easily, enjoyably, and safely.
For information on knife selection and terminology, see the Knife Guide.
The blade of a new knife is sharpened to a fine, tapered edge. Everyday use of a knife will cause its edge to become misaligned, detracting from the sharpness of the blade. You should realign the edge of the knife by honing the blade regularly. Eventually, however, the edge of the knife will lose its angle, and the knife will become dull. Honing cannot sharpen a dull knife, as this requires material to be removed from the blade itself, but honing can help prolong the knife your knife can function before it needs to be sharpened.
Hold the honing steel either horizontally, pointing away from you, or vertically, with the tip resting on the counter. Place the heel of the knife at the base of the steel, at a 20° angle, and run the blade down until the tip of the knife is at the tip of the steel. Do this as if you were slicing the steel with your knife, making sure to use all sections of the blade, and applying pressure throughout. Repeat several times, equally on each side so that the edge is aligned properly. When you are finished, wipe the blade or run it under water to remove any metal fragments.
Honing the blade once a day before use or even once a week is usually sufficient, but if you use your knife heavily you may need to hone multiple times throughout the day. Howcast on how to hone a knife
Most chefs pinch the blade of the knife at the bolster with their thumb and index finger, and then wrap their remaining three fingers around the handle. If you have smaller hands, you may only need to place your thumb on the bolster, or simply wrap all your fingers around the handle with your thumb at the side, but this can lead to you having less control. Do not place your index finger on top of the spine of the knife, as this makes it difficult to balance.
Slicing small ingredients
Smaller foods such as celery and carrots can be sliced with the knife remaining in contact with the board, allowing for a rapid and versatile chop.
To slice, place the tip of your chef’s knife on the cutting board, place the heel of the knife over the food, and then push down while moving the knife forward at the same time, until the heel meets the cutting board and the blade is sliding forward. Then, use your wrist and arm to draw the knife up and back, while still keeping the tip of the knife on the board, and repeat the motion. If you are doing it properly, you will make a circle with the back of your knife as you cut, while the blade of the knife remains in continuous contact with the board.
Practice making this circular motion until it feels even, rhythmic, and comfortable.
Very small foods can be sliced easily and precisely using only the tip of the knife.
The guiding hand
Your non-dominant hand is used to hold the food on the cutting board and stabilize it as it is being cut by the knife. Using the proper position for your guiding hand helps you position your knife properly, make evenly-sized cuts, and keep your hand safe. Hold food so that your hand and forearm are facing the side of your knife. Always hold food with your fingers bent back, so that your knuckles are positioned forward, and your fingertips are safely tucked underneath (often called a claw grip). Use the knuckles of your index, middle, and ring fingers to guide the knife by holding them against the side of the blade. As you cut, the side of the blade should slide up and down the knuckles of your guiding hand. Hold your thumb and pinky finger further back, so that as you chop, the knife and your three fingers move towards them.
Slicing medium ingredients
Slicing foods such as potatoes, onions, fruits, and meats must be done with the knife above the board. Simply place the belly or heel of the knife on the food and push down slightly, drawing back and forth as needed.
If you are drawing the knife back and forth, you will normally not need to push down very much, as the back and forward motion combined with the weight of the knife allows it to easily come down. However, since sawing food back and forth can create an uneven-looking cut, use long knives and long slicing motions when cutting things like meat.
Mincing is usually used after chopping things like garlic and herbs to create a finer consistency. Place the tip of the knife on the board and the heel of the knife over the food. Place your guiding hand over the top of the end of the blade to stabilize it. Bring the heel of the knife down over different places on the food, pivoting the knife around the tip. This can be done very quickly, as no part of your hand is in danger of being cut.
Dicing is the cutting of food into smaller, evenly-sized cubes, through multiple slices or chops in different directions.
To begin dicing long, round ingredients, begin by cutting crosswise once or twice into manageable lengths. Once your ingredients are small enough to handle, begin by either cutting into half lengthwise, or cutting off a slice from the side. Place the flat surface you have just created face down so that your food is stable. Make vertical, lengthwise slices. Stack a few of these slices together and cut vertically and lengthwise again, creating strips. Then, hold the strips together and dice, using the chopping technique.
Foods like onions that have rings can be diced in a similar process. Cut off the tip of the onion, and cut off the root while leaving as much of the base end as you can intact. Next, slice the onion in half. Then make horizontal and vertical cuts beginning from the tip end, stopping about a quarter-inch from the root end. Slice crosswise to dice.
Miscellaneous cutting techniques
- To cut very large, hard ingredients such as squashes and melons, use your guiding hand to begin cutting in half, but only for a short way. Then use both hands to rock and push the knife down. Continue cutting into smaller pieces with the above techniques.
- To cut broccoli or cauliflower, hold the head upside-down by the stem and cut off the individual florets. This can be done in the air if you use a smaller knife, such as a paring knife.
- To cut bell peppers, use a paring knife to remove the stem and core, either before or after halving the pepper, then cut into smaller pieces to slice.
- To chop bunched herbs, bunch the leaves together and hold with your guiding hand as you cut. Chop the leaves as thinly as you can, and then cut further by using the mincing technique.
- To chop larger, leafy herbs, use the chiffonade technique. Stack the leaves, with smaller leaves on top of bigger ones, and then roll like a cigarette (or joint). Chop into the desired thickness, and continue mincing if desired.