Knife Skills 101

by Lara on August 22, 2013

Recently I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon at a knife skills class; that is, learning to choose, use, and care for kitchen knives.

Knife Skills 101

I so enjoyed this class!  I learned a great deal in a short period of time.  My primary takeaway was that having good basic knife skills can negate the need for fancy kitchen gadgets (such as choppers, julienne peelers, mango pitters, etc).

Choosing a knife

  • If you make the investment, choose a knife that is fully forged.
  • You’ll want to go and physically hold the knife (or knives) before you purchase them.  Ideally the knife will be well-balanced, and the blade weight will be equal to the weight of the handle.  However, the most important thing is that it feels comfortable and secure in your hand.
  • A traditional pre-loaded knife block is actually unnecessary.  Most people will use a chef’s knife 90% of the time.  Therefore, investing in a good chef’s knife is the best place to start.  A standard chef’s knife is 8″, which is fine for most people.  If you are particularly small or large, you may prefer a smaller or bigger version.
  • Some will prefer a Santoku knife, also known as a Japanese chef’s knife.  Choosing between the two is merely a matter of preference, and partly down to how you chop (a rocking motion vs a more vertical motion).
  • Other useful knives to add-on:
    • Cleaver (for thick and heavy produce such as butternut squash or coconut, or meat)
    • Serrated knife:  This is similar to a bread knife but not as long and cumbersome.  A serrated knife can be useful on fruits with a delicate skin, such as tomatoes or peaches.
    • Filet knife:  also known as a fish knife, used to prepare fish.
    • Pairing knife: for more detail-oriented tasks such as creating a garnish or deveining shrimp.
    • Ceramic knife:  this is not a type of knife, but rather a different material to look for if you are very particular about things like herbs and lettuce.  A ceramic knife will prevent bruising of delicate leaves but is also very breakable and lightweight.

Knife Skills 101

Basic knife usage

  • We learned to hold the knife at the base of the blade and chop using a rocking motion.  The technique is shown very well in this 10-minute video.
  • Using a knife well is not about speed!  Speed will come with practice.  Focus on proper technique and your food prep will become much more efficient without having to go all Iron Chef with the knife.

Care of knives

  • Knives should not be stored haphazardly in a drawer.  Not only is this a safety issue, but it will wear down the blades.  Store knives in a knife block, on a magnetic knife strip (the instructor suggested putting the strip not on the wall but underneath a cabinet, which I think is a great tip for both aesthetic and safety purposes), or covered safely in a drawer.
  • Knives should always be hand-washed and never put in the dishwasher.
  • A sharp knife is KEY for safety and efficiency.  People are afraid of sharp knives but often don’t realize that a sharper knife is much safer than a dull one in the kitchen.  Knives should be sharpened regularly (think once a week if they are used frequently) using either a sharpening stone or a sharpener like this.
  • That long rod-like device that usually comes in a knife block?  It’s not a sharpener.  It’s a honing steel, and it’s used to align the blade after it has been sharpened.

Knife Skills 101

Useful kitchen tools to make chopping easier

  • Place a damp kitchen or paper towel under your cutting board to keep it in place.  This makes for safer chopping.
  • Never use a glass chopping block, which can damage your knife blade.  Use wood or the lower maintenance Epicurean board.
  • Instead of using the blade of your knife to drag and move chopped food (which can dull the knife), try a bench scraper.
  • Microplanes are a great tool to keep in the kitchen to use for garlic, ginger, citrus peels, chocolate, etc.

Other food prep tips and tricks

  • Peel garlic cloves like this.
  • Use a teaspoon to peel ginger (seriously, try it!).
  • Martha still knows it all.

Please share!  What’s your best kitchen tip?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa August 23, 2013 at 9:12 am

Great class it seems and a very wonderful post! I have a Shun Santoku knife and it, along with a paring knife of the same brand, are the only tools for chopping, slicing, mincing, etc. that I have or need. I really need to learn how to sharpen my own knives! For the time being I have a great kitchenware store that does it for a couple of dollars.


Lara August 23, 2013 at 11:47 am

I didn’t know you could do that at kitchen stores! Great tip!


HEABIE August 23, 2013 at 3:18 pm

So glad you blogged about the knife class. So in need of some better knife skills over here! Oh, and I have never understood glass cutting boards. Not only do they dull knives, they are so loud when cutting on them. So very loud.


Deb August 23, 2013 at 4:20 pm

And slippery and scary!


Deb August 23, 2013 at 4:19 pm

What? A honer??? Who knew! Thx for all the info. I’m going to bookmark this & go to all the links when I have some time to devote to it! Is it sad that this is what excites me?


Andrea@WellnessNotes August 24, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Sounds like a great class! Thanks for all the tips!


Frankie Timmons October 21, 2013 at 8:16 am

Lara – Where did you take the class? I’d love to do this!


Lara October 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Frankie, it was at a local cookbook shop! I forget where you are living now, but I’m sure if you google around, you can find one!


Frankie Timmons October 28, 2013 at 10:02 am

Good idea – I’m in Newport Beach now. I will look into some local options. Thanks, Lara!


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