Knife Skills

Joined Aug 1, 2010
So my knife skills are amateur-ish to say the least.  I am a home cook and I usually cook all the meals in my home.  My baby has recently learned to walk/run, so my time in the kitchen has become limited.  Chop.  Run and grab the baby from the bathroom.  Chop, chop.  Run and peel her body from the sliding glass door.  Chop, stop her from drinking toilet get the idea.

I would love to become quicker at my prep work.  I feel like it takes me forever.  But how does one go about this?  The type of knife I use is nothing special.  I am not even sure what type it is ( told you I was an amateur) but the blade is slightly curved and it is sharp enough.  Are there any tutorials you would recommend?  Tips? 

Thank you!

Joined Feb 1, 2007
Do you watch any cooking shows on TV? That's actually a good way of learning basic technique.

But speed only comes with experience. You should be concentrating on 1. learning how to hold the knife and food properly; and 2. accuracy. With those two, speed will come in time.

The most basic way of holding a knife, particularly a large one, is the pinch grip. Essentially, you choke up on the handle. The blade, itself, is pinched between your thumb and index finger while the rest of your fingers curl under the handle to grip and support it.

You might find yourself instinctively laying your index finger along the top of the blade. Technically this is incorrect. And for long-time knife work, as would be found in a professional kitchen, it's fatiguing. And there's a loss of control. But for the home cook, if you're comfortable that way, I don't see any reason not to do it. But the pure pinch grip is actually more efficient, especially when chopping.

For chopping, such as when mincing herbs, you use your off hand to hold the point against the board, and your strong hand to lift and lower the knife into the foodstuff, rolling it along as you chop.

For most other things you want to learn this sequence: block, plank, stick, cube. Always start by creating a flat on whatever you're cutting. Let's say a potato. Make a thin sliver along one long side to create the flat. This assures a stable platform as you make your other cuts. Now, make a slice along one side, turn the potato onto that flat, and do it again. When you've done all four sides you will have made your block. In a fine restaurant the goal is to make that into a perfect rectangle. But in the home kitchen it's not so important.

Now, with the potato on one of the flats, make a slice as thick as you want. For discussion sake, shoot for 1/4 inch. Make a second slice, trying to make it as even as the first. Do the whole spud that way, and you'll have created your planks.

Next. Take one of those planks and lay it flat. Cut a stick-like slice from it, making it as close to 1/4 inch as you can. When you're done you'll have made your sticks. Eventually you'll be able to do this by piling all the planks up and cutting them at once. But, initially, do just one or two at a time, until you develop the feel.

Next, take one of the sticks and cut it to form 1/4 inch cubes. When you feel confident, do the same with several sticks at a time.

There are names for the various cuts you've made, based on their size. But you don't have to learn them unless you want to. For the average home cook, for instance, all "sticks" are julienne cut, even though that technically refers to sticks of a precise size.

The only other thing you have to learn is how to hold the foodstuff as you cut it. That comes from your off hand. This is easier to see than to describe, but, essentially, you'll use your off hand sort of like a claw to grip and stabalize the item. Your index, middle, and sometimes ring finger will be on top and slightly to the sides of the item, leaning forward so the fingertips are out of the way. Your thumb should be safely behind your fingers as it helps grip and move the item.

Now, using your knuckles as a guide, lay the knife in place and make your cut. Move your hand back slightly, and make another cut. Etc. What you're actually doing, each time, is moving the knife along the item, with your knuckles acting as both a stop and safety shield.

That's all you really have to know. The rest will come with time in grade. But you'll be surprised at how quickly speed develops.
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Joined Aug 1, 2010
So that's what julienne means!  Alas!

Thank you so much for all your advice!  You have been more than helpful!  I do watch a ton of cooking shows, and what little I do right I have learned from Anthony Bourdain clips.  But I must pay more attention to the cutting next time.  Usually when chopping, the producers flip to commercial and schleps like me miss out.  But I realized after reading your post, one of my biggest mistakes is the way in which I cut.  Holding the knife with the  pinch grip is much easier!  Yes, I went and practiced. It was awkward at first, but definitely something I could get used to!

Thanks again!
Joined Jun 22, 2010
Everything KYHeirloomer said.  

I like videos on youtube for cooking and technique since I can pause, backtrack and skip segments as many times as I like.  

Some basic tutorials by Norman Weinstein below.  Not everyone who's good with a knife follows his techniques but it's a good place to start.  There's nine segments - but here are the two that you might want to look at first.


herb cut

Another that's very efficient but takes a little practice:

Mincing garlic/ making garlic paste

Also, try watching some videos by Jacque Pepin (Fast Food My Way).  I wouldn't try to slice and chop the way he does but I think it's helpful to watch:

1.  The way he stands in relation to the board (left foot forward if you're right handed).  Arm and knife square to the board.

2.  How he holds his chef knife

3.  What he does with his off hand for various cuts

Another visual that does a good job covering some of the above with.... shallots

Hope that helps.

Joined Aug 1, 2010
Thank you so much!  I am going to be doing some serious practicing for a while here.  These videos are awesome!

Joined Sep 18, 2008
For most SAHMs with little tikes, a STRONG FENCE or even coat hooks set high enough off the floor so their toes just touch when you hang 'em up by their collars works wonders for "knife skills" /img/vbsmilies/smilies/biggrin.gif.

More practically, practice when the 'lil darling(s) are napping or otherwise intensively occupied. Once you get some practice, they wiil no longer be so distracting.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Coat hooks you say?  Dont mind if I do!!

Alternatively, Ellie, consider the bunghole theory of child raising.

What happens is after the child is weaned you put her in a barrel and feed her through the bunghole. When she turns 16 decide---either let her out or drive the bung home.
Joined Jul 5, 2010
lol KY  that made my night.  I can think of a few more reasons to call it the bunghole method, but I probably should not get into that here.

Back to the topic, though:  All the advice given here is excellent, but something I have not seen mentioned is elbows and shoulders.  All knife motion originates from those two points, and if you are having to strain either point to maintain a desirable cut, rethink your stance to avoid further fatigue and to help develop a more comfortable style.  I am short (5'4"), so my technique tends to vary a fair amount from most other cooks in that respect.  Most tables are a little high for me to stand as close to a board as others, and I need to angle my shoulders more so that my cutting arm is naturally over the board more, but the basic principles hold true.  Elbows in-shoulders relaxed.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Absolutely, IPWF. Comfort is one of the keys. You shouldn't have a death's grip on the handle, for instance.

What many newbies and home cooks tend to overlook, too, is that the knife should be doing the work. That's why it's called a tool. If you're putting your weight into cuts, slices and chops that means you are working too hard because the knife isn't sharp enough. Ultimately, all your hands should be doing is supporting and guiding the knife.
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