Learning how to properly use a knife is an essential skill to become a great chef. In this new series I will teach you everything there is to know about knife skills and knife care. Starting with some questions I get asked frequently.
What does ‘knife skills’ mean?
Knife skills really come down to learning how to cut more efficiently and safely, and how to consistently cut your food in uniform pieces. Uniformity is key to knife skills because it means the food will cook more evenly.
What are the different parts of a knife called?
What knives do I need?
Three essential knives to have are a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. With these three knives you can do almost anything in the kitchen. When you get into more advanced knife work there are many specialty knives that are great to have. But these three knives are essential.
What about a knife block set?
I don’t recommend buying a knife block set. Often, when you buy a knife block set you are buying more knives than you actually need. I also do not like storing my knives in a knife block because they harbor a lot of bacteria. It’s best to buy each knife you need a la carte. That way you are getting only what you need and you are getting the best knife of each type that works best for you.
What should I look for when buying a knife?
Bottom line the knife has to feel good in your hand. Look for things like the weight of the knife, how long the blade is, and how the handle feels in your hand. Buying a knife is a lot like buying running shoes, one size does not fit all. Go to a place that will let you test different knives. I am going to do an in depth blog post about what details to look for when buying a knife.
What is the difference between a french knife and a santoku knife?
The biggest difference is the shape of the blade. A french knife is curved while a santoku is straight. This affects the way you move the knife as you cut. A french knife you move in a rocking motion and a santoku you move up and down.
Do I need a french knife and a santoku knife?
No, but that is totally up to you. It really depends on if you like to cut in a rocking motion or up and down. Most chefs will have one of each but they serve the same purpose. It comes down to personal preference.
What is a granton edge knife?
A granton edge knife has divots on the side of the blade. These provide an air gap between the food and your knife to help prevent the food from sticking on the side. While they can be helpful, I don’t notice a huge difference with them or without them.
What are the best knife brands?
A great beginner knife brand is Wusthof. Wusthof knives tend to be heavier and very durable. They keep their sharpness longer which means that they are easier to maintain than other knives. Wusthof also has knives at all different price levels. Some other brands I like are Miyabi, Global, Zwilling, Mercer, and Shun. However, the best knife is going to be what works best for you.
What is the best way to store knives?
My favorite way to store knives is on a magnetic knife strip you install on the wall of your kitchen. It makes accessing your knives easy and safe and it keeps them germ free. I do not recommend storing your knives in a drawer. It’s not safe and it can dull your knife. The best way to go is to store them up and away and out in the open.
What is the best way to care for my knives?
The best thing you can do for your knives is hand wash them and keep them sharp. Putting your knives in the dishwasher does more damage to the handle than anything else but it can also dull the blade. The high heat and detergent is what wears out the handle the most. Hand wash your knives, dry them immediately and store them in a safe place.
I recommend getting your knives professionally sharpened 1-2 times a year depending on how often you use your knife. Find someone whose craft is to sharpen knives. I do not recommend going to a kitchen gadget store like Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table. They use an electric sharpener which tends to shave off too much of the metal on your blade.
What is the difference between sharpening and honing?
Sharpening actually creates a new blade on your knife. You are essentially shaving off metal to create a whole new blade edge.
Honing helps maintain the sharpness of your knife. When you regularly use your knife, at a microscopic level the tip of your knife can bend a little bit making it feel like your knife is dull. After honing your knife the blade straightens out and is as good as new.
How do I hone a knife?
If I want to sharpen my knives myself, what should I use?
There are a couple options. There are electric sharpeners, handheld multi stage sharpeners, oil stones and wet stones. I recommended using a wet stone. Electric and handheld multi stage sharpeners are the easiest to use but also, in my opinion, the worst for your knife. They often shave off too much of your blade.
Using a sharpening stone takes more skill and practice to get right but gives you much more control and is more gentle on your knife. There are oil stones and wet stones. The only difference is what type of lubrication is used. You need some sort of lubrication for each to help with friction. Oil stones require mineral oil (you cannot use any other type of oil) while wet stones just need water. For that reason I prefer a wet stone because I always have access to water and don’t need to buy a special oil to sharpen my knives. There are many great tutorials on youtube on how to use a wet stone.
What is the proper way to hold a knife?
The proper way is to use the pinch grip. You take the index finger and thumb on your dominant hand and pinch the bolster of the knife. The bolster is where the blade meets the handle. The rest of your three fingers wrap around the handle. This makes the knife an extension of your arm. It is also more stable and more gentle on your wrist.
What do I do with my other hand?
Make what we call in the biz a kitchen claw. You essentially tuck all your fingertips under and use your knuckles as a guide for your knife. Remember to relax this hand, the harder you press with this hand the harder it’s going to be to move and cut your food. Here is a video I made showing you the kitchen claw.
Any other tips to get better at knife skills?
Start slow! It’s ok to cut your food really slowly at first. Chances are you haven’t been properly holding your knife so it will feel weird to grip your knife a different way.
Cut your food one piece at a time. This will help you slow down and really get a feel for each type of knife cut.
Please, please, please do not use your paring knife to cut larger items like onions. A paring knife is meant for small, more detailed cuts. You should be using your chef’s knife for most knife cuts. Become one with your chef’s knife.
Keep your cutting board clear as you work on your knife cuts. Do not store food that has already been cut on your cutting board. Give yourself space so you can properly use your knife.
Check in with yourself as you are cutting. Are you using the pinch grip? Is your other hand in the kitchen claw position? Is your cutting board clear?
I am really excited to dive deeper into knife skills in the next couple of posts. I would love to hear any knife skills questions you have down below in the comment section.
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