Cooking School Day 1: Knife Skills

Cooking School Day 1: Knife Skills

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Emma Christensen
Oct 6, 2014
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)
(Image credit: The Kitchn)
  • Today's Lesson: Knife Skills
  • The Goal: 20 lessons, 20 days to become a better cook at home
  • Enter to win The Kitchn Cookbook: Simply share and tag photos of your Kitchn Cooking School progress on Instagram and Twitter with #kitchnschool to enter for a chance to win. We're giving away one copy for every homework assignment during The Kitchn's Cooking School. See rules and regulations.
  • Enroll & see all the lessons so far: The Kitchn's Cooking School

Welcome to The Kitchn's Cooking School! Over the next four weeks, we're going to walk you through the basics of home cooking so you can feel like a confident knife-wielding, onion-juggling, skillet-twirling pro in your kitchen.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? Today, we're practicing our knife skills. Come get a refresh on the essentials of good knife skills, and decide which of the three homework options you'll tackle tonight!

This photo shows the correct grip you should have on your chef's knife, and also "The Claw," which protects the non-cutting hand by curling the fingers inwards.
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Day 1 Lesson: How to Use a Chef's Knife Properly

Choosing a chef's knife: Your chef's knife is your ally in the kitchen. You'll use it every day, every time you cook, so make sure you buy one that feels comfortable in your hand: not too heavy or too light, not too long or too short, just right. If you can, go to a store that has several different kinds and brands of chef's knives and give them all a try. But remember: you only need one solid knife. And a good knife doesn't have to be expensive (we love this inexpensive Victorinox knife).

Your knife should be sharp! Next up, make sure your knife is sharp and honed. It should be able to cut through ingredients cleanly and easily without needing to use a lot of force. If it doesn't, take it to a professional knife sharpener to get it fixed up. If you had your knife sharpened recently, it may just need to be honed on a honing steel to straighten out the edge.

Pro Tip!

If you're not sure if your knife is sharp enough, try slicing through a tomato or a piece of paper that you're holding up in the air. Sharp knives can get through tough tomato skin without damaging the soft flesh inside or make a clean cut through a piece of paper.

How to hold the knife. Good knife skills start with holding the knife properly. Pinch the blade of the knife where it meets the handle between your thumb and first finger, then wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle. (Do not lay your first finger across the top of the blade.) This position will give you the most leverage and control as you cut and dice. It might feel a little awkward at first, but if you keep practicing holding your knife this way, it will quickly start to feel natural. Watch the video above to really see how this is done.

Use "The Claw" to protect your other hand. Be sure to protect your other hand as you cut: use "The Claw" position. Curl the fingers of your opposite hand into a "claw" and rest just the tips of your fingers on top of the ingredient you're about to cut. Tuck your thumb in; your wrist should be parallel to the cutting board. As you slice, move your fingers back, still keeping this claw formation. If your knife slips as you cut, it will hit against your knuckles or fingernails, protecting you from a serious slice.

Stabilize your cutting board. Last but not least, stabilize your cutting board by placing a rubber mat or a damp paper towel underneath. This will keep it from slipping as you cut, helping you work more quickly and safely.

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Every lesson has three homework options. Maybe you've already got one down, or you just have time for a quick study session. So pick one, and show us by tagging it with #kitchnschool on Instagram or Twitter.

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Study: This guide on the difference between different kinds of cuts and slices called for in recipes — How To Slice, Dice, and Mince

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Practice: Hold your knife as described above and use "The Claw" as you make dinner tonight. Stabilize your cutting board.

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Improve: Get your knives sharpened! Sometime over the next few days, take your knives into a knife sharpener and get them sharpened up. We'll be using our knives a lot over the next few weeks, so let's start things off with a sharp blade.

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

The Kitchn Cookbook & Knife Skills

The Cooking School was inspired by our new book, The Kitchn Cookbook and there's plenty in the book to help your Cooking School experience.

Today's tip: See page 43 for a list of all-time favorite knives from Sara Kate, Emma, Faith, Elizabeth, and Dana. Also, see page 109 for more photos and tips on learning how to use a chef's knife well.

5 Recipes to Practice Your Knife Skills

Here are five recipes that all involve a fair bit of chopping! They're good practice recipes if you want to focus on your knife skills and still get dinner on the table.

  1. Potato, Squash, and Goat Cheese Gratin
  2. Barbecue Chicken Cobb Salad
  3. Quinoa Tabbouleh
  4. Chickpea Waldorf Salad
  5. Vietnamese Spring Rolls

The Kitchn's Cooking School

The Kitchn's Cooking School is 20 days, 20 lessons to become a better cook at home. Every day we'll tackle an essential cooking topic and explain what you should know. Each lesson has three different homework options, so you can choose the one that teaches you what you need. Whether you want to refresh your skills or start from scratch, come to school with us!

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