Cooking is a skill that can take a lifetime to perfect. But thankfully, you can master your new cutlery after just a few uses.
And, don’t worry – if you can stack toy building blocks, you’ve got what it takes to turn out restaurant-quality slicing, dicing, and juliennes with just a little practice.
By using proper techniques, you’re less likely to injure yourself as you learn to wield your new kitchen cutlery. Here’s important information on preparing your station, correct ways of holding your knife, how to sharpen your kitchen knives, and kitchen cutlery storage options that suit your style.
Start by Selecting the Right Cutting Board
We’ll assume that you’re not going to start chopping your vegetables on a bare kitchen counter like a heathen. After all, you bought nice knives, didn’t you?
Still, you’re going to need a good cutting board – none of those hard glass numbers that make a crunching sound when you chop and slice, since those quickly dull your knife’s edge.
Instead, for sanitation reasons, you’ll want two cutting boards: one for fruit and veggies, and one for meats. Both can be either wood or plastic. However, make sure that the cutting board that’s designated for meats is small enough to fit within your sink basin for proper cleaning.
How to Set Up Your Cutting Station Like a Pro
Setting up your cooking station helps you stay organized and efficient. Think about which ingredients you’ll be using, make sure to have the right tools on hand, then follow these steps:
1. Anchor Your Board
A cutting board that slides all over the counter isn’t only annoying, it’s unsafe. If your cutting board doesn’t have non-slip grips on the bottom, place either a square of wet paper towel or a small piece of shelf liner between the counter and the cutting board.
2. Organize Your Prep
Organizing your prepped ingredients into little bowls isn’t just for TV chefs, it’s a great idea for home cooks too. This setup makes it easy to grab an ingredient and add it to a hot pan at just the right moment.
3. Keep It Tidy
Don’t push vegetable trimmings to one side of your cutting board, since this reduces your available work area. Instead, designate a small bowl or plastic bag to remove trimming debris.
How to Hold and Use Your Kitchen Knives
Learning to use your knife well is like learning to type. Speed comes from repetition, don’t worry about going fast at first. And, just like typing, proper hand position is important.
The image above shows a control grip. This position, in which the fingers of your cutting hand choke up on the handle, forces you to grip the actual knife blade between your thumb and forefinger. As its name suggests, this grip offers you more control and precision.
When you’re cutting through hard foods or bone, you’ll want to hold the knife further back on its handle. This allows you to use more force and leverage, while keeping your fingers safe from danger should your hand slightly slip while exerting more pressure.
Good technique includes protecting your non-cutting hand by practicing a claw-like position. This “bear claw” grip allows you to hold food in place and minimize danger.
Be sure to tuck your fingertips in and completely away from the knife, while resting your knuckles against the side of the blade. During the upward motion of slicing, reposition your guiding hand for the next cut.
How to Cut Items of Different Sizes
Depending on the food being prepared, you’ll use different parts of the knife blade and different motions. Here are the four basics that can get food on your table most every night of the week:
1. Tip Down for Small Items
To cut small items such as celery, you’ll want to push your blade forward and down in a rocking motion. The knife never stops, and the tip never leaves the cutting board completely. Go slowly at first, using the blade’s curve to guide the middle of the knife through smooth strokes.
This type of motion is more about speed than precision, so don’t expect your ingredients to come out in identical pieces even after practice. It’s also difficult to do with larger items. If you feel like you’re jamming your shoulder into your ear as you lift the knife, move on to the next motion.
2. Life Your Blade Up for Large Items
Whether a cucumber, onion, or eggplant, larger ingredients require you to lift up your knife to get clearance. Then, bring down the blade in smooth, even strokes.
If the item that you’re chopping is firm, move the blade in a push-pull motion on your downward stroke. Doing so saves you from having to lift your elbow quite so high, and will keep your arm from becoming fatigued.
3. Use Both Hands When Mincing
To mince herbs and garlic into tiny pieces, you’ll want to use both hands. Grip the handle with one hand and rest the fingers of your other hand (which is momentarily allowed out of its claw position), and lightly rest it on the knife tip.
This grip facilitates an up-and-down rocking motion needed for mincing. Finally, to be sure that your food is evenly minced, pivot your knife as you work through the pile.
4. For Tough Items, Put Some Heel Into It
To cut through difficult foods like winter squash or bone-in chicken, use the heel of your hand for leverage. To do so, assume a similar position as when mincing with one hand gripping the handle.
Instead of your fingertips, you’ll place the flat palm of your hand on the spine of the blade. Cut straight down into the item, pushing the blade gently. Be careful and make sure that your hand and the knife are dry to prevent slippage.
Why Else Bother Developing Your Knife Technique?
Aside from reducing the risk of injury, why else go through the trouble it takes to perfect your kitchen cutlery skills? Mostly because well-cut vegetables make one heck of an impression.
Not only do precisely cut ingredients look nice, but taking the time to prepare with a presentation in mind shows the people that you’re cooking for that you care about the meals you made and how much they enjoy it.
But it’s not all for show. Being able to create uniform cuts also allows you to control how quickly different ingredients cook to ensure that one item needn't become mush just so that others are cooked through.
Alternately, improperly cut chunks of food might burn or be left undercooked, imparting harsh flavors to your meal.
In short, your food will cook evenly, and you’ll get the best texture and finish from each ingredient. Isn’t that worth a little hands on practice?
How to Care for and Sharpen Your Kitchen Cutlery
A sharp knife is a fast knife, and a dull knife is an accident waiting to happen. Dull knives are dangerous because a dull blade requires more force to do the job, so has a higher chance of slipping and missing the mark.
Even the best knives will dull over time with regular use, so here’s how to stay on top of keeping an edge.
1. Know How to Check for Sharpness
To determine if your knife needs sharpening, put it to the paper test. Hold a folded, but not creased, sheet of newspaper by one end. Lay the blade against the top edge at an angle and slice outward.
If the knife fails to slice cleanly, try steeling it as instructed next.
2. Have a Sharpening Steel on Hand
A sharpening steel, sometimes called a honing rod, doesn’t really sharpen a knife. Instead, it extends the lifespan of a sharpened blade by realigning all the little metal teeth that make up a blade—these get all mixed up each time you use a knife.
To safely use a sharpening steel, hold it vertically with the tip firmly planted on the counter. Place the heel of the blade against the tip of the steel at a 20-degree angle, with the knife tip pointed slightly upwards.
Maintain light pressure and your original angle as you slide the blade down the length of the steel rod in a sweeping motion. As you slide downward, also pull the knife towards your body so that, by the time your knife reaches the middle of the steel, it’s touching halfway down the blade.
By the time your blade reaches the bottom of the sharpening steel, it should be touching with the knife tip. Repeat this motion on the other side, giving each side four or five passes as you alternate between left and right.
While honing can keep your blades in good shape, it’s not a replacement for sharpening your knife! Once your cutlery is quite dull, it’s time to redefine the blade’s edge.
3. When to Use a Knife Sharpener
Sharpening a knife blade actually whittles away a fine layer of its metal, giving it a completely new edge that’s ideally set at an angle that will allow you to cut thinly, quickly, and easily.
To restore a dull blade, you have three choices: You can send it to a professional, a service which is often available at your local grocery store. You can use a whetstone, which is tricky for anyone who hasn’t practiced doing so.
Or, the most convenient option, is that you can use an electric or manual sharpener. Manual models are available for as little as $20, while electronic ones can be found starting at $60.
Once sharpened, a well-set edge will last several weeks to several months, depending on how much you use your knife, how well you take care of it, and what material it’s made of.
What’s the Best Way to Store Your New Kitchen Cutlery?
No matter how great your new kitchen knives feel in your hand, you’ll need to put them away eventually. (Unless you really want to scare the neighbors.)
Since we’ve taken such a strong stance against buying sets of kitchen cutlery that come in a wooden block, you’re probably wondering “Where on earth should I store my new knives?”
There are several storage options available. Which you choose depends on your knives, your available counter space, and just how badly you want to show off your beautiful new cutlery.
1. Magnetic Knife Strips
If you value immediate accessibility—and the chance to display your cutlery collection—consider a magnetic knife strip that mounts onto your wall or backsplash.
Despite the exposing the edge of your blades, magnetic knife strips are perfectly safe in most households. However, should be avoided if you share a home with inquisitive children or pets.
Finally, there’s a slight trick to using a magnetic knife strip: Place the spine down first, then roll the blade into position when placing your cutlery on the magnet for storage. Reverse the steps when removing, and you’ll avoid dulling your knife’s edge.
- Best for those who want immediate access and to display their cutlery.
- Skip this storage option if you have young children or pets that might jump on the counter.
- Remember to roll a knife spine-first when placing the blade on your storage strip.
2. Knife Racks and Blocks
If you’d prefer to minimize the visibility of kitchen tools on display, there are several types of knife racks and blocks available for cutlery storage.
Flat knife blocks that mount to the underside of your cabinets often feature mechanisms that swivel handles out of view when your knives aren’t in use. Look for one that features magnetic strips in each knife slot to help prevent your blades from tumbling out if the holder is opened too exuberantly.
This is the most costly option due to the number of moving parts required to create a secure block – expect to pay upwards of $100 for an under-cabinet cutlery holder.
For those that are intent on staying away from power tools, countertop cutlery blocks are available in a range of materials from stainless steel ($9.79-49.99) to bamboo ($12.99-29.99).
These are outfitted with universally sized slots and allow you to enjoy easy access to your cutlery. Just be sure that there’s at least one slot for a large chef knife that can also accommodate width so that your rack will be sure to fit any future purchases.
It’s preferable if your countertop rack also has space for a honing rod, and kitchen shears to keep all your tools in one place.
While using a countertop rack or block does save you from screwing into your kitchen wall, it does eat up a little extra counter space. Thankfully, blocks and racks are available for as little as three knives. Buying your block separately also allows you to better match your counter space and collection.
- Best for those who want to control countertop clutter.
- Skip this storage option if you plan on purchasing extra-long, specialty blades.
- Remember to look for blocks with slots that go through to the back, allowing for air circulation to prevent bacteria growth.
3. Knife Sheaths Are a Must for In-Drawer Storage
If you only plan on purchasing one or two knives and would like to keep costs to a minimum, in-drawer trays can help to keep your cutlery organized. However, individual sheaths and edge protectors—from slip-on silicone edge guards to clamshell-type enclosures—can help keep your knife blades and fingers safe.
Sheaths aren’t a perfect solution, though. They can trap grit and moisture next to your blade, dulling the edge and encouraging rust spots to appear. Despite those drawbacks, they’re still a better option than placing your kitchen cutlery into a drawer unprotected.
Using and Caring for Your Kitchen Cutlery Doesn’t Require Specialized Knowledge
We’re experiencing a home-cooking renaissance, shaking off the perception that prepping meals is a drudgery, and now are embracing making and sharing food as something that’s fun to do.
And, now that cooking is cool again, kitchen gear is even cooler. Those who want to perfect their craft demand top-notch tools. But remember, it’s not enough to buy high-quality kitchen cutlery—you have to practice using and caring for them too.
Thankfully, doing so doesn’t take any specialized knowledge – good knife skills are simply a matter of patience and practice. Sure, your first attempt at a bâtonnet or chiffonade might not be perfect, but it’ll only get better with each swipe.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, check out additional kitchen knife guides:
- Kitchen Knife Buying Guide: How to Choose a Great Knife
- The 6 Most Important Kitchen Knives You’ll Ever Need & Their Uses