As one of the most important tools used for food preparation, knives also have the most safety issues. The following guidelines will help ensure proper use.
- Use the correct knife for the task.
- Always cut away from your body.
- Cut on a cutting board; do not cut on glass, marble or metal surfaces.
- Keep knives sharp; a dull knife can cause more harm than a sharp one.
- When carrying a knife, hold it with the tip pointed down.
- Do not attempt to catch a knife that is falling.
- Never leave a knife in a sink of water; wash and dry it immediately and put it away.
The Parts of a Knife
Tip: The pointed end; use for piercing, precision cutting and slicing small items, such as scallions and mushrooms. Treat with care and never attempt to pry open items with it as the tip can break off.
Cutting edge: The sharp side; used for cutting and slicing. It will dull with use and most be honed and sharpened regularly.
Heel: The base of the blade; used for leverage when cutting through a hard vegetable or joint of meat.
Bolster: Thick metal section between the blade and handle; balances and adds stability to the knife making it easy to use and comfortable to hold.
Scales: The knife handle.
Back or Spine: The thick, blunt side; use it to grip or steady the knife as you work.
Shoulder: The thick end of the blade where it meets the handle.
Tang: The part of the blade where it joins the handle. A full tang is when the blade extends all of the way into the butt.
Butt: Back end of the knife. With a full tang, the blade is visible between the two pieces of the handle.
Types of Knives
Chef’s knife: With an 8- to 10-inch long and a 2-inch wide blade, this knife is the main tool used for cutting and chopping. The flat side of the blade can also be used for crushing garlic and herbs.
Santoku-style knife: This all-purpose Japanese knife is sharp on both sides, creating a V-shaped cutting edge. It is similar to a chef’s knife, but has a thinner, shorter, broad blade.
Slicing knife: With a 10-inch long and 1-inch wide blade, this knife is used to slice raw meat and fish; also used to carve cooked meats, roasts, chicken and ham.
Boning knife: The narrow and flexible blade of this 5- to 6-inch knife is used for trimming off cartilage, fat and tendons. Stiff boning knives are used primarily for beef.
Paring knife: A 3-inch or shorter knife, typically used for peeling, cutting, coring fruits and vegetables. Also used for cutting cheese, trimming vegetables and deveining shrimp.
Serrated knife: With a scalloped cutting edge, usually 8-inches or longer, this knife saws easily through hard crusts to slice bread. Designed to be used in a sawing motion, it is also useful for slicing tender foods, such as tomatoes, that might otherwise fall apart under the pressure of a chef’s knife.
Kitchen shears: These are handy for snipping herbs, trimming vegetables, and other tasks.
A sharpening stone called a whetstone is used to put an edge on a dull knife blade. To use, place the heel of the knife blade against the whetstone at a 20-degree angle. Keeping that angle, press down on the blade while pushing it away from you creating a long arc. The entire length of the blade should come in contact with the whetstone during each sweep. Repeat the procedure on both sides of the blade until it is sharp. Wash thoroughly with soap and water before using.
A steel is used to hone or straighten the blade immediately after and between sharpening. To use a steel, place the blade against it at a 20-degree angle. Then draw the blade along the entire length of the steel. Repeat several times on each side of the blade.
Grip: There are several ways to grip a knife and finding the most comfortable one that works for you is important. The most common grip is to hold the handle with three fingers while gripping the blade between the thumb and index finger. Otherwise, you can grip the handle with four fingers and place the thumb on the front of the handle. Use a firm grip but, not so tight that your hand becomes tired.
Knife control: To safely use a knife, you should guide it with one hand (your grip hand) and hold the item being cut with the other hand. To protect the fingers holding the item being cut, always hold them perpendicular to the blade (see diagram). Allow the sharp edge of the blade to do the cutting in a smooth, even stroke. Never force the blade.
Knowing how to use your knife to cut and chop items will help make food preparation easier and faster. Uniform size and shapes of ingredients ensures even cooking and enhances the appearance of dishes. There are several types of cuts which are easy to learn and become proficient at.
Slicing: Cut into a relatively broad, thin piece from a larger object; this is usually the first step for other cuts.
- Chiffonade: Finely slicing leafy vegetables or herbs, such as parsley.
- Rondelles: Rounds or disk-shaped slices of cylindrical vegetables, such as carrots
- Diagonals: Elongated or oval-shaped slices of cylindrical vegetables.
- Oblique: Roll-cut small pieces with two angle-cut sides of cylindrical vegetables.
- Lozenges: Diamond-shaped cuts of cylindrical vegetables.
Horizontal slicing: Used to butterfly or cut a pocket into chicken, meat and fish.
Julienne slice: Cutting into long, thin strips that are 1/8 x 1/8-inch thick and 2-inches long.
Batonnet slice: Cutting into long, thin strips that are 1/4 x 1/4-inch thick and 2-inches long.
Dicing: Cutting into small blocks or cube-shaped pieces for uniformity of size and shape. First step is to cut into julienne or batonnet slices. The following is the terminology to describe the dice sizes:
- Paysanne: 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/4-inch cubes
- Large dice: 5/8 x 5/8 x 5/8-inch cubes
- Medium dice: 3/8 x 3/8 x 3/8-inch cubes
- Small dice: 1/4 x 1/4 x 1/4-inch cubes
- Brunoise: 1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8-inch cubes
For meal preparation at home, you will likely just use large, medium and small dice to prepare vegetables for soups, stews, salads, etc.
Chopping: Cut into smaller pieces where uniformity of size and shape are not as important and where items being cut are not as easy to shape.
- Coarse chop: Approximately 3/4-inch cubes
- Fine chop or minced: Cut into very small pieces; usually herbs, such as parsley, and smaller items such as garlic or shallots. Mincing is usually done by keeping the knife blade on the cutting board and using a rocking motion.
Please see the demo section of the website for the video demonstration.