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Lesson 2: Knife Skills
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Knives are one of the most common things you'll use in the kitchen. Sharp and sturdy knives are a must for any cook.

In this lesson, you'll learn about knife safety, cleaning and sharpening your knives, how to identify knife cuts, and also how to cut all the things!


Holding and Using Your Knife Correctly

Having a firm, steady grip on your knife is very important. You should always be mindful when cutting and take careful note of where your fingers are.

When you hold the knife, your entire hand should be around the handle, right behind the blade. You don't want any fingers sticking out where they could get cut!

Above is an example of how NOT to hold your knife. Avoid placing one finger on top of the blade - this reduces your leverage of the knife, meaning it will be easier for the knife to shift in your hand. You've got a pretty high chance of the knife going a bit sideways when cutting if you hold it this way - very dangerous!

When cutting or dicing, make sure the hand holding the item you're cutting is shaped like a claw. Curl your fingers in and make sure your thumb is behind your fingers. The curled knuckles of your fingers will act as a guard for the blade, saving your hand from cuts. :)

For another view of how to hold your hand, click here!

When mincing, keep your dominant hand on the knife handle and place your other hand flat on the top of the blade. Rock the knife back and forth, using the hand on the top of the blade to keep pressure on the cutting board.


Tips for Safer Cutting

Secure Your Cutting Board

If your cutting board moves around quite a bit as you work on it, dampen a paper or cloth towel and lay it under the cutting board. This will keep the board from scooting around all over your countertop.

Flat Bottoms Make for Easier Cutting

When dealing with round objects like potatoes, onions or melons, it's a good idea to cut them in half and lay them cut side down for safer cutting in most cases.

You can also run a vegetable peeler down one side of the item to slightly flatten it and keep it from rolling everywhere.

A Sharp Knife is a Safe Knife

I know many folks disagree with this, but it's true! The duller a knife is, the more pressure you have to apply to make a proper cut.

A sharp knife should glide through food easily and quickly, using very little force.

An injury with a sharp knife is often comparable to a paper cut because you're using so little pressure with it. Injuries with dull knives tend to be much worse because you're applying so much force to get through the item - if a finger gets in the way it will be very bad!


Basic Knife Cuts and Why They're Important

If you want your food to turn out like the recipe you're following, you'll need to make sure you're using the right knife cuts! Cutting your food to the right size and shape will allow it to cook properly.

Consistency in cut size is key for good cooking: ingredients should be cut to very similar sizes so they all cook at the same time. For example, if you're cutting up a carrot for a stew, and the pieces are all different sizes - that's a problem! The smaller pieces might cook to mush while the larger pieces of carrot are still hard in the middle.

Chopping

Chopping is essentially breaking food down into larger chunks. These pieces are usually 1 inch square or larger. Great for roasting or long simmering stews. :)

Slicing

Slicing is just want it sounds like: cutting something whole into slices. When doing this, try to make sure the cuts are all the same thickness so they cook evenly. Remember that food can be sliced a variety of ways, so refer to the specific recipe to see if you should cut down the length of the item, or across it.

Dicing

Dicing is one of the most common cuts, and can be done in a variety of sizes, ranging from about a 1/4 to 3/4 inch square. It is most often done by cutting the ingredient into strips, and then into squares.

To see how I cut this onion, check out How to Chop an Onion.

Mincing

Mincing is a very fine cut, much smaller than the smallest dice.

To mince, you'll want to first dice or slice the ingredient. Then you'll place your dominant hand on the handle of the knife and set the palm of your other hand on the back of the blade. Rock the knife back and forth, cutting the ingredient into smaller and smaller pieces.


Cleaning Your Knives

While many knife manufacturers say you can wash your knives in a dishwasher, I would advise against it. Knives put in a dishwasher may knock into other cutlery or items while washing, which can damage the blade.

Instead, I recommend hand washing and drying your knives right away after use.

Many stainless steel knives can rust quite easily, which is why I like to wash and dry as soon as possible. :)


Knife Sharpening

Knife sharpening can be a pretty hot button issue amongst cooks and chefs. Some folks sharpen them by hand using a whetstone, some folks never let anyone but a professional touch them.

Personally, I use electric knife sharpeners and have always enjoyed them.

If you'd like to learn more about knife sharpening, check out this fantastic article from Cook's Illustrated.

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