How To Keep All Your Fingers Intact During Root Vegetable Season

Knife Skills

Fall is open season on cook's fingers. Why? All those root vegetables and tough winter squash, of course! Have you ever been in fear for your digits while dismantling a pumpkin or a butternut squash? Have you ever come close to losing a thumb while peeling a rutabaga? I still have a scar from a run-in with a tough little potato, of all things. Here are some safety tips on keeping your fingers safe and unharmed during the root vegetable season!

Here are my own little reminders for knife safety this time of year. I try to slow down and remember these each time I have a big batch of tough vegetables to slice.

Keep Your Fingers: 5 Good Knife Skills

1. Use a sharp knife!
The biggest thing you can do to chop safely is use a well-sharpened, honed knife. The sharper the knife, the less pressure you have to put on it when peeling or cutting a large vegetable. Then, if you slip, you only nick yourself — instead of hacking off a finger.

→ See expert tips on how to tell if your knife is sharp enough. Also, do you know what kind of cook is really hard on their knives?

2. Stabilize your cutting board.
Place a rubber mat under your cutting board (or a damp paper towel) so it doesn't move around. This will not only make your cutting safer, but speedier, as you're not constantly adjusting and pulling your board around to straighten it.

→ See more in this video on how to stabilize your cutting board.

3. Go slow and focus.
My worst kitchen injury ever came while I was chopping a big batch of potatoes and chattering with friends at the same time. I looked the wrong way, missed the potato, and hit my finger. Several stitches later, I was renewed in my resolve to pay attention to what I'm doing when I have a knife in my hand. Go slow, tell your friends to set the table; bodily harm is never worth the distraction.

→ Some etiquette pointers on kicking guests out of the kitchen.

4. Soften the vegetable first, if possible.
Some vegetables can be softened up in the microwave or oven before cutting. Sometimes I roast half a squash for half an hour, then peel and cut it up. It's much softer and easier to handle.

→ Some tips on roasting squash whole (and pumpkins too!) before cutting them up.

5. Cut off the top and bottom of the vegetable first.
Just like stabilizing your cutting board, the beet or cabbage or squash you're cutting should be stable too. Cut the top and bottom off first so you can lay the vegetable flat and firm on your cutting board. (Especially good to remember when using a knife to peel something hefty!)

→ Peel, cut, core, dice: 20 tips for cutting up all kinds of vegetables.

Have you ever received an injury courtesy of an autumn vegetable? Any other safety tips or advice you've learned in handling these unwieldy treasures of fall?

More Knife Skill Tutorials and Reminders!

How To Learn Basic Knife Skills: The Video
How To Peel Squash: An Easier Way
Knife Skills: Keeping Your Knife Sharp
Knife Skills: Do You Know the Best Way to Clean Knives?

(Image: Faith Durand)

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