10 Essential Knife Skills & Cutting Techniques
by HexClad Cookware
We’re all about getting creative in the kitchen. Experimenting and expressing yourself through the food you make can help build your cooking confidence, master new skills, and create delicious new dishes.
When it comes to your chopping, dicing, and slicing — well, these are a few areas where you’re better off keeping the experimentation at bay.
In fact, properly learning essential knife skills and cutting techniques will protect your fingers and help keep you safe while helping you breeze through prep work more efficiently. Knowing your chops (pun intended) will save you time and energy so that you can fully dive into your kitchen concoctions.
Let’s get to it!
Why Are Knife Skills Important?
Safety should be the number one priority for any chef. After all, how can you cook that killer meal if you’re tending to a wounded thumb?
Using a knife is a must for almost all recipes and dishes, whether you are chopping veggies, dicing an onion, breaking into a butternut squash or watermelon, or slicing meat.
Learning knife skills can help ensure you are able to do all of the above (and more!) safely, while also building your confidence with a knife. This can make the entire cooking process less daunting and more enjoyable.
With proper cutting techniques and knife skills, you’ll be able to tackle cutting tasks more quickly and efficiently. Not to mention, your dish will taste better when ingredients are cooking evenly, which requires them to be cut uniformly. In this case, size matters!
With the right cutting techniques, you’ll be confidently crafting uniform pieces and safely breezing through prep work in no time.
What Are Basic Knife Skills and Cutting Techniques?
Now that we understand why knife skills are so important, we can start building our cutting technique knowledge — and get to cooking.
Know Which Knife To Use
There is no shortage of types of knives available, and knowing which one to use for which task can help simplify the cutting process.
The main knife you’ll use in the kitchen is a chef's knife. Chef’s knives typically range between six to ten inches in length, and they are sharp knives with curved blades. A trusty chef’s knife can handle most dicing, chopping, and mincing, and it’s what you’ll want on hand for most cutting jobs, including garnishes.
A paring knife is great to have for delicate close-up work like peeling, deseeding, and trimming. These lightweight knives are shorter and should be used with smaller, more tender fruits and vegetables such as strawberries or ginger. They’re also ideal for deveining shrimp.
A serrated knife is a must for working with breads and can help cut through other ingredients that have delicate centers. The serrated teeth of the blade can saw through breads and cakes without crushing the softer layer inside. A serrated knife can also move through delicate fruits and veggies like tomatoes and bell peppers without squishing them.
These are the basic knives of any great kitchen. If you don’t have these already in your drawers or yours are showing their age, it may be time to invest in a set of high-quality knives. Knowing your equipment is ready and up to the task, can be just as important as having the skills to use them.
Stabilize Your Cutting Board
This may seem like a simple task, but it is a vital starting point. Before you wield your knife, make sure your cutting board is placed on a flat surface at a comfortable height for you. (Ideally, you’ll want the cutting board to rest just below the elbows so that your upper body can help put downward pressure on the knife once you start cutting.)
You also want to make sure your board won’t slide around under weight and pressure. If your cutting board doesn’t have a non-slip or rubber bottom, you can place a damp cloth or paper towel underneath the cutting board or add your own non-slip liner.
Make Sure Your Knife Is Sharp
Sharp knives are not only easier to work with, they’re also safer. The duller the knife, the higher the risk of injury. This is because a dull knife requires more force to cut through food, which can make it more likely to slip.
Even the sharpest blades wear down and dull over time, so it’s important to take steps to keep your knives sharp. Using a honing steel regularly can help keep the edge of your blade straight (once every week or so should do the trick), while using a professional knife sharpening service once or twice a year can further reduce the risk of injury.
How To Hold the Knife
Many home cooks wrap their entire hand around the knife handle when cutting. This simple approach might be the most intuitive way to grip a knife, but it doesn’t provide the most accurate control.
Chefs have developed a different technique: the palm sits high on the handle close to the blade, while the thumb and index finger grip the top of the blade. This uses the knife’s weight and sharpness most effectively, allowing for easy and controlled cutting.
How To Hold the Food
Your dominant hand holds the handle, but your other hand has a vital role, too: It can support, stabilize, and maneuver the ingredient you’re cutting.
The Claw Grip
The best position for your helping hand is known as the claw grip or the bear claw.
To form the bear claw, curl your fingertips under your knuckles, and keep the fingers together as you press the tips of the fingers down on the food you're cutting. This grip ensures your fingers are out of the way of the knife, while also providing added control as the fingertips keep the ingredients you’re working with from slipping and sliding.
When cutting food into even pieces, try to keep the middle of the blade close to your knuckles, and rock the blade over the food as you slice. Keep your helping hand in its claw position and simply move the claw back after every slice to continue stabilizing each new piece.
The Bridge Method
Another useful position is the bridge method. Here, you’ll use your free hand to form a bridge over the ingredient you’re cutting. With your thumb resting on one side of the ingredient and the other fingers held together on the opposite side, carefully move the knife under the center of the bridge. From there, you’ll saw through the ingredient as your bridge helps keep it in place. This method is effective for holding smaller rounded fruits and veggies such as a tomato.
As you use the knife, remember to keep your hands and wrists relaxed. Grip the blade as well as the handle. Having your hand too far back on the handle won’t give you enough control.
Ultimately — whichever grip you use — it’s crucial to hold the knife in a way that feels safe and secure for you.
Chopping can feel like a chore, but with the right knife and solid technique, you’ll be a pro in no time.
With chopping, your pieces don’t have to be perfectly neat and even, which takes off some of the pressure. When a recipe calls for chopped ingredients, you’ll want to cut your ingredient into pieces that are roughly the same size, but you don’t need to worry much about their shape or minor inconsistencies.
The best knife to use for chopping is a chef’s knife. Rock the blade along the food while using your claw grip to stabilize the ingredients as you go.
Read on for tips that will have you chopping like a champ.
How To Chop Garlic
The first feat to tackle with garlic: unpeeling the clove.
Here’s a trick to save you time and frustration. Start with placing your unpeeled clove on the cutting board. You’ll use the flat side of your chef’s knife blade to smash down on the clove.
Holding your chef’s knife by the handle, make sure the flat side is parallel to the cutting board. Hold the knife against the clove with one flat side touching the clove and the other flat side facing upward.
In a quick motion, bring the palm of your hand down against the side of the blade so that the knife smashes down on the clove. This will help loosen the skin, making it easier to peel before you begin chopping.
Once the skin is removed from all of the cloves you need, cut off and dispose of the root ends.
Now that your cloves are peeled, take a clove and hold it firmly on the board with the claw method. Your knuckles should be directly above your fingertips, with your fingers close together as they are pressed into the clove.
With the heel of the knife, you’ll slice through the garlic from the root end to the top. Then, pile all of your slices together and chop through them with quick, even motions using the blade. You can rest your helping hand atop the knife to help lead and stabilize as your dominant hand lifts the heel of the blade up and down.
How To Chop Herbs
As with garlic, chopping herbs is a great time to implement the claw method. Push your herbs together in a pile, trim the leaves off the stems, and collect the leaves together.
With the leaves bunched together under your claw, move the knife in a rocking motion to chop. Once you have moved the knife from one side of the herb pile to the other, turn the pile 90 degrees and rock through them again to get a rough chop.
You can repeat the process two more times for a finer chop, or three more times for mincing.
How To Chop a Carrot
The chef’s knife comes in handy for another chopping task. Cut each carrot in half, then use the bridge method with your helping hand as you cut the carrot lengthwise.
Then, with the flat sides of each carrot piece facing downward on the cutting board, slice the pieces into half-moons using the claw hand. Move your claw back along the carrot after each cut to help get even slices.
Now you’re ready to chop!
Pile your half-moon slices together and hold them with your claw hand, then rock your blade back and forth and up and down across the pile. Cut them into about quarter moons for a rough chop, and repeat the process once more for a medium chop. To achieve a finer chop, repeat twice more.
Dicing is a bit more complex than chopping, but we know you can conquer this — especially with the right knife skills.
When you dice, you turn even the toughest and strangest-shaped fruits and veggies into small, neat cubes that will cook evenly. Cutting fruits and veggies along their horizontal and vertical lines will help you to create a dicing masterpiece.
Typically, a large dice will yield cubes around 3/4s of an inch, while a small dice should yield pieces closer to a quarter inch. But the main goal is to have each piece the same size.
A chef's knife will again be the tool of choice when it comes time to get dicey.
How To Dice an Onion
Many recipes call for a diced onion, making this a great veggie to practice your dicing skills with.
First, you’ll cut the onion in half from the stem tip to the bottom root. Peel the onion half, and place it on the cutting board with the flat side down. Rest your fingertips on top of the onion with your helping hand, and use the other hand to cut horizontal slices that start towards the stem and head toward the root end.
Make sure you stop short of hitting the root end with the knife–you don’t want to fully disconnect the slices yet. The slices should be about a quarter-inch thick.
Once you’ve completed your horizontal slices, make a claw with your helping hand as you hold the onion, and cut downwards to create quarter-inch slices vertically. Move your claw hand back towards the root after each new cut to keep the onion in place and the slices even.
Once you’ve reached the root end, you’ll have transformed your onion into evenly diced cubes!
How To Dice a Tomato
The delicate, squishy insides of the tomato can make these vegetables (fruits?) a bit testy to dice, but don’t worry–there are a few tricks that can help you out.
While a serrated knife can help you slice into a tomato, a sharp chef’s knife is often still best for dicing — but make sure it’s sharp! Otherwise, you risk crushing the tomato as you press the knife into it, which can cause the juice to splatter.
Use your sharp chef’s knife and claw grip to cut the tomato in half, then lay the flat sides down to cut them in half again, leaving you with four quarters. You can loosen the flesh by pressing your thumbs against the skin of each quarter and pushing them into the cutting board.
Next, deseed each quarter by placing skin side down on the board and carefully trimming out the seeds.
Finally, you’ll flip over each quarter and cut them into even strips. Turn the strips 90 degrees and cut the other way to create uniform cubes.
When it comes to mincing, the goal is to create small pieces that can be spread throughout a dish. Since you're chopping the ingredients into such tiny pieces that will cook easily, the shapes themselves matter less than with dicing.
Many recipes will call for minced herbs or garlic, and you’ll use the same technique you use for chopping. The only difference is that for mincing, you’ll repeat the process of piling the pieces together and rocking the knife through them a few extra times until each piece is sufficiently small.
Slicing is one of the most basic cuts, and you can often use a chef’s knife to cut most fruits or veggies like carrots, zucchini, or shallots into thick or thin slices by moving the knife in quick downward strokes.
However, when slicing more delicate ingredients like tomatoes, many chefs prefer to saw back and forth with a serrated knife, which can help the knife cut through the soft center to create smooth, even slices.
Using a Santoku Knife
Our full-tang Damascus steel santoku knife has a wide sheepsfoot blade and no tip, making it perfect for more refined, precise cuts. The knife is a true triple-threat — it’s perfect for mincing, dicing, or chopping, three of the essential skills we covered above.
Knowing how and when to use a santoku knife makes you more efficient than ever in the kitchen. This blade is ideal for lightning-fast food prep, so pull it out when you need to mince an onion, dice an apple or tomato, or even scoop ingredients from a cutting board into a pan.
Learning essential knife skills can help you feel more confident and comfortable in the kitchen — and save you time.