Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Chef’s Knife

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

A chef’s knife can be the most valuable tool in your arsenal when it comes time for meal prep. This is the do-it-all knife; the one you want for everything from chopping fruit and vegetables to cutting meat to crushing whole spices. Keep your knife skills sharp by avoiding these common mistakes.

1. Cutting on the incorrect work surface.

Just as important as using the right knife for the job is slicing and dicing on the right surface. Cutting on extra-hard surfaces, like glass and ceramic cutting boards and plates, will quickly dull (or potentially damage) the blade of a knife. And working on a cutting board that’s not properly secure can be dangerous, as it can slip out from under you as you cut.

Follow this tip: To better protect your knives from unnecessary wear and tear, stick with working on wood and plastic cutting boards. Also be sure to secure your cutting board with a damp paper towel or no-slip mat.

2. Holding the knife incorrectly.

Are you holding your knife the right way? When held incorrectly, you have less control of the knife. It’s less balanced and less stable, leaving more room for it to slip off food or the cutting board. Good knife technique isn’t just important for safety, but it allows for more control over the knife, and can make you more efficient with prep work. It all starts with the way you hold your knife.

Follow this tip: Before you start cutting, make sure you’re holding your chef’s knife correctly. Pinch the bolster (where the handle meets metal) with your index finger and thumb, and wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle.

3. Cutting things with the wrong part of the blade.

A chef’s knife is more than handle and blade. And just as important as using the right knife for the job is using the right part of the blade for the job.

Follow this tip: For the best (and safest) results, always use the right part of the blade for the job. The blade of your chef’s knife has four distinct parts: point, tip, heel, and spine or edge. Use the point for piercing and scoring foods, and the tip for delicate tasks. The heel of the blade is best used with hard ingredients like carrots and winter squash, while the spine is best saved for scraping things like tomato, chile, and vanilla bean seeds.

4. Scraping with the edge of the blade.

Whether it’s against food, a cutting board, or any other work surface, just say no to scraping the sharp blade of your chef’s knife against anything. Doing this repeatedly will quickly dull the blade of the knife.

Follow this tip: For small items, like scraping seeds from chile pepper and vanilla beans, use the dull spine rather than the sharp blade of the knife. For bigger jobs, stick with the bench scraper buddy system. With a dull, wide blade, this tool is ideal for transferring just-diced ingredients from the cutting board to the stovetop.

5. Cutting with a knife that isn’t sharp.

No question about it — a dull knife is the most dangerous type of knife. The blade of your chef’s knife naturally dulls over time with use. When it lacks a sharp blade, the knife doesn’t grip food as well, making it more likely to slip. You’re more likely to get injured using a dull knife than a sharp one.

Follow this tip: Be sure to sharpen your chef’s knife every once in a while. The frequency will depend on just how often you use your knife, and how you care for and maintain it.