Introduction to Knife Skills: Holding the Knife Properly.

The tool that you are using is dangerous. it is designed to cut through flesh. Preferably animal flesh, but given the opportunity, it will cut your flesh just as smoothly. As you embark on your quest to use your knife properly, you will inevitably feel the sting of the blade. At first, you may even cut yourself more often than you are accustomed to being injured. Do not despair. With practice, you will overcome your difficulties and display both speed and grace in the kitchen as you prepare your meals.

The first step on the road to cutlery competence is developing the proper grip. Doing so is a two-handed affair. Somewhat surprisingly to a new student, you do not want your hand to be entirely on the handle. Rather, grip the top of the blade with your thumb and forefinger. Doing so helps you to exercise better control over the knife so that it goes where you want it to when you want it to go there. Be careful not to wrap your fingers all the way around the blade: if you grip the cutting edge, it will cut you.

holding the knife properly

Wrap your other three fingers around the handle. You are now halfway to having the proper knife grip.

The next thing you need to do is to develop the proper grip for your guide hand, as your non-dominant hand is known. Your guide hand should have a sort of claw-like grip on the food that you are slicing, such that your index and middle fingers are in front with the fingertips bent back, out of the way of the blade’s path. The thumb should be held behind these two fingers, as well; and your ring finger and pinky should hold the side of the food and also be out of the way of the blade’s path.

When your guide hand is in the proper position, the second joints of your ring and middle fingers should form a flat surface perpendicular to the cutting board. The side of the knife blade should be in contact with this surface while you are slicing food. To hold the knife blade in contact with their guide hand is the toughest thing for most people to accept when they’re learning to use their knife properly.

the proper position of your guide hand People have a tendency to want to stick their fingertips out while they slice. To do so would be dangerous were you to try to maintain contact between the blade and your guide hand, the most likely result being that you slice off the tips of your fingers.

Even once you have trained yourself to curl your fingertips back out of harm’s way, the next issue you’re likely to have to tackle is the placement of your thumb. It is tempting to use the thumb to feed the food past your fingertips into the knife’s cutting path, thereby maintaining a constant flow of work, but every time you poke your thumb out from behind your guide fingers, you risk slicing off its tip.

I myself committed this error during my second month of culinary school. I was having a great time in knife skills class, singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” as I sliced lettuce for a salad when, all of a sudden, I screamed a synonym for “fornicate!” because copious amounts of blood were issuing from a painful void in my thumb. Please do yourself a favor and avoid experiencing the sensation for yourself; instead, just be careful to keep your thumb behind your fingers.

chopping carrots

Before you start cutting anything, practice the grip without anything on your cutting board. Keep the tip of the knife in contact with the cutting board and use a rocking motion to mimic the act of cutting. Tuck your fingertips back out of the way so that you have a couple of knuckles to safely rest the side of the knife against. Be sure to keep the side of the blade in contact with your guide hand and keep your thumb away from the business end of the knife. When you’re comfortable with this motion, you’re ready to try it out on some food.

Potatoes are a good vegetable to start with. They have a relatively soft texture, so your knife should slice through them without much resistance. Plus, they’re cheap, so if you do happen to cut yourself, you don’t have to feel bad about having to throw away a bunch of product that you’ve bled all over. Just do me a favor: cut one side of the potato off and place the cut side of the potato down on the cutting board before making any further cuts. Putting the flat side down will provide you with a stable vegetable that shouldn’t roll away as you try to slice it. That’s one of the tricks the pros use to help them cut more quickly and more accurately, because it’s nearly impossible to exercise precision on a vegetable that won’t sit still.

Next time: Cutting food! Including the names, sizes, and techniques to use to make several standard cuts.

5 Responses to “Introduction to Knife Skills: Holding the Knife Properly.”

  1. kari Says:

    am thankful for knife skills lessons, because I’ve gotten VERY LAZY and HASTY with my knife over the summer and have chopped my pointer and thumb guide finger-nails off several times! pros and cons: didn’t cut the tip of my pointer and thumb fingers off, but had to search through the food to find the nail before I could serve it to others.

  2. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » Making Perfect Knife Cuts Says:

    [...] The first cut you should always make is the most important. Using the proper knife grip, Slice one edge off and set it to the side. [...]

  3. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » Maintaining Your Knives Says:

    [...] To use the steel correctly, grasp it in your guide hand and hold your knife in your dominant hand. Next, find the appropriate angle between your blade and the steel, about 20 degrees. The snooty-snoo guy at the knife counter in the upscale kitchen store will advise you that the exact angle desired is 22.5 degrees; but, in all reality, as long as you’re in the right ballpark, you’ll be doing your knife more good than harm. His guideline can be helpful, though, especially since his angle might be even easier to find than the ballpark figure: hold it at a 45 degree angle, and then cut the angle in half. You’ll be right where you want to be. Starting with the heel of the blade (the end closer to the handle), turn your wrist so that you scrape the blade evenly across the steel in one fluid motion. Repeat for the other side of the blade. Get each side of the blade 4-6 times, but not more than that: over-honing your blade will dull it prematurely. Most new steels have a shield at the top of the handle to protect you from accidentally slashing your thumb while honing the blade. Make sure you keep your thumb behind this shield, because if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to give yourself a healthy laceration. If your steel happens to be an older model without a shield, make sure you watch where your hand is and make certain that it’s well out of harm’s way. [...]

  4. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » Knife Skills Table of Contents Says:

    [...] How to Hold Your Knife Properly: Let’s face it, used incorrectly, the knife can be a dangerous piece of equipment. Holding it in the proper manner is the first step toward using it as a valuable culinary tool. [...]

  5. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » Pittsburgh Knife Skills Class Update Says:

    [...] I hope everyone has read about how to hold your knife properly. I plan on having a post on using the knife properly up in the next week. Once everyone has read that, we should be ready for some hands-on practice. The first Pittsburgh Knife Skills class will be held at my house (contact me if you don’t know where it is, but I’m not going to post my address on the internet) on Sunday, September 10, 2006 at 2:30 PM. The cost will be $10 per person and will include a demonstration of proper technique, one-on-one tutorial, and a meal created from the vegetables we cut. Recipes that we cook will be posted on the blog. [...]

Leave a Reply