Food That Sticks To Your Knife -- How to Handle It

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STICKY FOOD TECHNIQUE:

Some foods, usually crisp, wet foods like potatoes and cucumbers stick more than others.  Food which is sliced very thin also tends to stick to the side of the knife.

There are several keys to dealing with these foods.  

First, good knife technique:  
 
  • Use a sharp knife which cuts rather than wedges.  
  • Keep you knife moving straight up and down, with the edge square to the board.
  • Use the same part of the edge to make the cut, every time.  That way the new cut forces the old slice straight off the blade.  
  • Keep your cuts parallel to one another.
  • Keep you knife clean.  Rinse and wipe it as often as necessary. 
Second, and possibly more important, good board management:  
 
  • Keep your food oriented square with the board.  
  • Move your knife from right to left on every cut (if you're right handed).  
  • Keep plenty of room on the right side of the board so you have a place for your slices.  
  • The cutting action will push slices off the knife onto the board, organize the pile as often as necessary to keep from cutting into it.  Don't be lazy.  If you get food on both sides of your knife you're lost.  
  • If the cut pieces are crawling all over the knife, wipe the knife down.  Don't let too many accumulate.
  • Clear the cut food into whatever you're using to hold your mise as often as necessary.  And that means often.
And Remember:
  • 90% of this whole thing is keeping the cutting side of the knife clean and free from debris.  Think of it as just another expression of the great truth, "If you're in too much of a hurry to do it right, where are you going to find the time to do it over?"
One last Tip:
  • It helps to have just a little scuff on your knife.  If you bought a knife with a mirror polish, don't try too hard to maintain the polish.  When you wash the knife, scrub it with a Scotch Brite, and/or rub it down with baking soda or similar mild abrasive.
Hope this helps,
BDL

PS.  I wrote this for Fred's Cutlery Forum, but thought it might be of general interest so am posting this slightly edited version here.
 
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when slicing cucumber i find it helps to angle the knife slightly away from the other hand, so that the food that sticks to the knife will more likely fall on the 'cut' side.

it you're slicing food finely though why not just use a Mandolin instead? .. that way you get even slices without compromising your knife skills.

.
 
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because mandolins were invented by someone missing fingertips and getting revenge on everyone else.
 
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Mandolines are for sissies and waffle potatoes. And if you've never seen a waffle potato using a mandoline, you haven't lived.
 
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CoulisO wrote,
when slicing cucumber i find it helps to angle the knife slightly away from the other hand, so that the food that sticks to the knife will more likely fall on the 'cut' side.
Cutting in the way described necessarily means cutting ovals instead of coins.  Ovals have more surface, and everything else being equal stick to the knife more than coins.  Furthermore, there is no reason an oval "will more likely fall on the cut side."  [Emphasis added]  Food will ALWAYS come off the right side of a right handed knife if the knife is square to the board, because it's falling off the right side (of a right handed knife), unless there's something very wrong with other aspects of knife technique.

There are two most common cause of problems is not purshing the pile of cut food over to leave enough room to use the knife without cutting into the pile.  In other words, poor board management. 

The second is knife skills and arises when the user angles the knife to the board.  That is, when a right handed cook leans the knife slightly to the left.  It's very important to keep the edge dead square to the board unless you have some very good reason not to, as for instance if you're carving slices on the bias (which doesn't apply here).
[If] you're slicing food finely though why not just use a Mandolin instead? .. that way you get even slices without compromising your knife skills.
I'm not talking about "slicing food," but rather about chopping.  That is, the knife action is a chopping action, rather than a slicing action whether the desired results are coins, ovals, planks, sticks or dice.  They're even BECAUSE I have good knife skills, not because I "compromise" them. 

As to when to use a mandoline, it's mostly a matter of efficiency.  If I were prepping cucumber salad for twenty I might use a mandoline or even a food processor.  But for prepping a salad for eight, it's just too much trouble to break out a separate tool, make room to use it, then need to clean it afterwards.

There's also a degree of thinness that's done more efficiently with a mandoline -- making more than a few potato crisps for instance; and not just pommes gaufrette.  But again, since I can cut darn near as thin with a knife, I usually accept the extra 1/2mm or so because it's so much easier to stay with it.

And frankly, I prefer the slight variation I get using a chef knife to machine consistency.  It suits my aesthetic better.

Oh yes.  All those snarky things the other guys said about mandolines.  Me too.

Hope this helps,

BDL
 
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re: cutting at an angle.

In addition to what BDL said, about coins vs. ovals, it also won't work for most people. Because the right-handed knife is leaning towards the left, the pieces actually climb the knive and are pushed over the spine towards the left, and then get in the way of the knife. Rather than being more efficient, it actually slows you down because you have to pause more often (sometimes after every cut) to move them out of the way.

If I were going to angle the blade at all it would be towards the right. Each piece is then pushed more to the right, and out of the way.

But, as BDL points out, it's rare you should be cutting on an angle at all.
 
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But, as BDL points out, it's rare you should be cutting on an angle at all.
Well, no, but if you're going to be cutting on an angle, you're normally going to be cutting on an extremely steep angle, not a slight thing to facilitate bits falling. There are reasons you might want to cut horizontally or fairly close to it, for example. But in that case, you're essentially cutting backwards, usually mostly on the draw and right to left (though there are again exceptions).

Personally, I'd say that the blunt fact is that cucumber and potato slices stick. If you're going smooth and quick, and keeping your blade straight up-and-down and your cutting motion consistent, the pieces are going to drop out of the way, possibly a few slices after you cut them, if you see what I mean. If they're falling in the way, it's time to stop and sweep up. As your technique improves, you'll have to do that less and less. There is no solution but technique.
 
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For certain cutting jobs I find that holding the knife virtually vertical eliminates food sticking to the blade. This technique wouldn't work too well for cuting potato chips perhaps, where some precision is necessary but for basic chopping it works for me.
 
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I don't follow, Jock. Why wouldn't you hold the knife vertical in almost every instance (unless doing something like cross-cutting, as mentioned in my last post)?
 
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I don't have a problem with the stuff sticking to the knife since the next slice pushes it off.  The problem, BDL (et al) is where it pushes it off to.    I'm a messy enough cook as it is, with stuff flying all over the place while i wildly chop and slice at lightening speed. 

If i want the slices of cucumber to fall onto the board and not in every which way, rolling on the floor most likely, i hold the knife in such a way as the top edge of the blade is further away from my left hand (the one holding the cucumber or carrot) than the lower part - Not too much angled, but just enough to make the slices fall in a pile on the other side.  To make this work, I hold the end of the cucumber slightly raised.  I didn't think of it that way, but my hands knew what to do.  I don;t care if the slices are round or not, but that actually does make them round. 

In the case of cucumbers, I have a good hand and eye, and will usually use a one-handed knife technique, letting the weight of the blade help pull itself down, The handle is in my right hand with my wrist making quick up-and-down motions, and the slight angle outwards making the slices fall in a more predictable way. 

Otherwise i slice stuff that doesn't stick with the knife  vertical (chopping onions or celery, for instance) and holding the tip of the blade lightly in the left and with the right i hold the blade with thumb and forefinger next to the handle, both effectively forming a hinge on either side of the blade.  The point of the blade stays in the same position, the back of the blade goes up and down.  This i learned on tv - julia child and the galloping gourmet.  Since i studied art, I'm good at crosshatching, making lots of little parallel lines close together. 
 
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Most foods that stick are vegetables and most vegetables I chop with a chinese cleaver.  The way I grip a cleaver (with my middle finger on the bolster and index finger pointed down towards the board) I can chop without pause because my index finger is there to stop anything from climbing the knife.  With Practice the food stuck to the knife between my finger and the board can be used to hold the other pieces being chopped from moving at all once cut.

With a conventional knife I'll often chop with the very tip whenever possible which seems keep the food from moving as much although probably leads to more nicks on my hand.

A cook in one of the kitchens I worked in had a plastic blue thing that was supposed to clamp on the spine of your knife to aid with sharpening but he sometimes used it to thwart sticky food.  Not much of a solution imo but seemed worth mentioning.
 
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Thanks for posting this BDL.  I have a santoku (hope that's the right spelling) knife that I use for chopping fruits and vegetables.  The divets on the knife prevent sticking but my biggest problem is where the veggies fly once they're chopped.. sadly I'm not the tidiest cook..  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/chef.gif
 
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Can't understand all these knife problems. For cukes, mushrtooms, zuch etc. cut with the tip of knife only, less surface to product. To chop sprinkle some salt on the items after they are chopped a bit, this will help stop sticking to blade. As far as food flying all over? Learn control. The hand should apply different pressures on knife for different tasks. Cut on a good dry service and make sure knife is sharp.Use the correct knife for the task. Practice makes perfect
 
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Can't understand all these knife problems. For cukes, mushrtooms, zuch etc. cut with the tip of knife only, less surface to product. To chop sprinkle some salt on the items after they are chopped a bit, this will help stop sticking to blade. As far as food flying all over? Learn control. The hand should apply different pressures on knife for different tasks. Cut on a good dry service and make sure knife is sharp.Use the correct knife for the task. Practice makes perfect
I get lots of very even slices, thin or thick, even paper thin, with my technique, so i don;t think there is a problem with that - the cucumbers generally end up rolling all over because they are cut in a rolling position and the knife going down on slice number two pushes off slice number one from the blade and maybe because my blade is very high, it goes rolling everywhere. 

If i hold the cucumber with one end resting on the board but lift the other end slightly, and angle the knife so it is perpendicular to the cucumber (rather than the board) they tend to fall down right next to where they are cut and don't tend to roll.  It's not more than a ten to twenty degree angle.

It's not slower and i get the same accuracy - perfect, even slices.  I hold the knife by the handle fairly loosely since the two handed hold on two ends of the blade is not possible when doing cucumbers that are higher than, say, celery. 

That said, my technique is my own variation based on what i learned 40 years ago watching julia child and the galloping gourmet.  I realized how to make the cucumber rounds fall right on the board by tilting the cucumber only in recent years.  I'm sure there is much to learn about different techniques, but I think i'm pretty fast and accurate and it would be hard to get faster. 

I'm wondering if you have a gigantic cutting board or if the slices really don't go rolling around on you.  If so, there must be something you;re doing that I don't know about.
 
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Chef BDL,

Thank you for the tips, informative as always. I find that if I cut fast the cucumbers don't stick, its only when I slow down that I notice they stick, I don't know why. It was timely post , much appreciated.
 
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knife skills are college basics really ...  the greatest skill you can attain with using knives is being able to use them without cutting yourself, that means putting your own safety before the job at hand... and if you are confident enough to use your chef knives without cutting yourself you probably wouldn't care less about which side of the knife the food falls on.
 
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you probably wouldn't care less about which side of the knife the food falls on.

I couldn't disagree more.

Confidence comes with practice, and if you aren't fully confident than the trick is to slow down and not try to emulate the speed demons you see on TV.

However, no matter how confident you are, which side of the knife is an important issue.

If you're right handed you are cutting from right to left. The food should fall to the right, out of the way. If it falls to the left you are guaranteed to cut into it on the next or subsequent strokes of the knife. To avoid that you have to cut, stop, reach for the piece and move it, then make your next cut. Hardly the most efficient way to go.
 
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Originally Posted by Coulis-o  
[If] you are confident enough to use your chef knives without cutting yourself you probably wouldn't care less about which side of the knife the food falls on.
You have some very interesting opinions.

BDL
 
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There's "college basics," as Coulis-O puts it, meaning "don't cut yourself and get the job done sort of acceptably." There's good knife skills, meaning "get the job done quick, clean, and very precise." And there's terrific knife skills, meaning "make the job something whose results will of themselves please the diner." There is probably some truth to the notion that if you're really fighting with cucumbers sticking, you're at stage one, but that's no reason to claim knife skills in general are trivial.
 
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Originally Posted by petalsandcoco  
Thank you for the tips, informative as always. I find that if I cut fast the cucumbers don't stick, its only when I slow down that I notice they stick, I don't know why. It was timely post , much appreciated.
When you go fast, you move the knife quickly enough and hit the board hard enough with your knife to shake the slices off. 

Speed makes a big difference, but it's not the best starting place for teaching knife skills.  Proficiency comes first.

BDL 
 
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