How to Use a Chef Knife Properly

The Chef’s knife is the captain of the kitchen. Versatile, agile, and highly capable, this knife can be used to slice, dice, mince and chop food items both large and small.

Yet despite its frequency of use, its not uncommon for cooks to experience difficulty when handling the blade. Many of us have developed ‘bad habits’ over the years, leading to an increased risk of injury, hand fatigue, reduced performance and an inferior result.

From novice to budding professional, if you use a chef’s knife regularly (and we bet you do), you’ll likely find this guide helpful. And perhaps, someday it might even save your fingers from an unfortunate exit off your hand.

How to Hold Your Chef’s Knife

Before you wield that razor-sharp blade around, we need to make sure you know how to properly hold a chef’s knife. We know its basic, but as with any skill, starting with a solid foundation of the fundamentals is key to getting it right.

Positioning Your Knife Hand

Your knife-hand is the hand holding the handle of the chef’s knife.

  1. Pick up the knife
  2. Position your index finger and thumb on opposing sides of the blade’s bolster, with your index finger curled down and backwards towards the handle. The bolster (if your blade has one) is the thickest part of the non-sharpened side of the blade, at the point where it joins with the handle.
  3. Your remaining three digits should grip the handle firmly but gently (not too tight or you’ll cramp up)

In this position, use your thumb and forefinger to apply the majority of necessary pressure to hold the knife in place.

Positioning Your Guiding Hand

Your guiding hand is the hand you’ll use to hold food items in place, feed food items towards the blade, and push these items away from the blade when cut. It is also the hand that is used to apply additional force or pressure to the spine of the knife when chopping dense or tough items.

Given this hand’s proximity to the sharp end of the blade, mastering the ‘claw grip’ is critical to reducing the risk of accidents.

  1. Place your guiding hand over the food to be sliced
  2. Curl your fingers down and inward towards your palm, using your fingernails to grip the food item while keeping your digits facing away from the blade edge
  3. Rest the knuckle of your index, middle finger, or both on your guiding hand against the side of the knife blade (but never towards the edge). In this position your knuckles aid in adding a bit of stabilization, helping to keep the knife blade perpendicular to the cutting surface.

How to Make Cuts with Your Chef’s Knife

Now that you know how to hold the knife, let’s cover some of the basic moves. Keep in mind, the higher the quality of your blade, the better cuts and performance you can expect and it’s well worth the investment into a Vertoku chef knife set that will bring you decades of joy in the kitchen.

Cutting With a Chef Knife

Using the grips mentioned above, make each cut with a gentle, smooth, downward rocking motion that begins at the tip of the blade and culminates at the end of the rocking towards the handle.

While maintaining a claw grip with your guiding hand, you can adjust the blade towards or away from the food items, effectively measuring each slice.

Tips on How to Use Your Your Chef’s Knife

  • Never use a “see-sawing” or “back and forth” motion.
  • Always maintain the contact between the knife tip and the cutting board as you make each slice
  • Need to use extra leverage? Consider placing a cloth over the top. Place your hand in the familiar position over the top of the knife’s spine. The added surface area of the cloth aids in improving downward force as you make your cut.
  • Don’t try to be Speed Racer here. Take your time and learn the proper techniques and what feels comfortable to you.
  • Mincing or chopping can be a challenge. For these tasks is its acceptable to hold the knife in one hand, while placing the other atop the spine (unsharpened part) of the knife to aid with the motion.
  • Always cut awkward food items (such as rounded vegetables prone to rolling or sliding) in half before slicing. This stabilizes them on your cutting board and reduces the risk of injury and improves the consistency of each slice.
  • In a pinch, the flat end side of the blade may be used to smash certain food items such as garlic cloves (but don’t try this with hard-shelled nuts as you could damage the blade).
  • Always make sure your cutting board is secure and anchored to prevent slipping during use.

Final Thoughts from Vertoku Knives, a Leader in High-Performance Chef Knives

A chef’s knife is more than just a utensil, it’s an essential tool that helps cooks from novice to top tier chefs get more done, faster, safer and more reliably. Known as the ‘workhorse’ of the kitchen, chef knives are versatile and capable, but only when wielded correctly.

 

Understanding the basics of how to use this fantastic knife ensures you’ll have a solid foundation to build on and a knife that will act as a natural extension of your own hand, leading to reduced hand fatigue and better cuts no matter what you’re preparing.