Tracy Lee Karner

The Chef's Knife: 7 Steps to Proper Technique

Tracy Lee Karner
Proper knife technique

Proper use of a chef’s knife requires proper technique.

Proper use of a professional kitchen knife is also as relaxing as any recreation. I <3 my chef’s knife!
Here’s how to get into the slicing zone:

Tracy Lee Karner
Cradle the knife handle for control and balance.

1) Hold your knife correctly.

  • The top of the blade (the non-cutting edge) faces the palm.
  • Cradle the handle in your palm and wrap the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers around it.
  • Grip the blade between your thumb and  index finger, this gives you control and balance.
Tracy Lee Karner
DO NOT hold the knife like this!

2) Steady the blade.

There’s no way to keep the knife from tipping from side to side if you don’t squeeze the blade between your forefinger and thumb–and a tipsy blade makes accidents more likely.

Tracy Lee Karner
Chef knife with large hand.

Tracy Lee Karner
10-inch chef’s knife with large hand, thumb view.

3) Size your knife to your hand.

For quite a while, I tried unsuccessfully to imitate how my chef, Ken, holds the knife. Then I figured out why I couldn’t do it–his hands are the size of country hams, and mine are, in comparison, like a thin slice of bacon.  I cannot wrap my hand around, or control a 10-inch knife. That’s why I have my own chef’s knife with an 8-inch blade.

Tracy Lee Karner
8-inch chef’s knife, small hand, knuckle-side view

–my fingers are so tiny and pointed that I feel out-of-control when I’m handling a big knife.
Tracy Lee Karner
8-inch chef’s knife, small hands, gripping the blade between thumb and forefinger.

4) Pay attention to your form.

Slicing is a contact sport–without good form, someone’s gonna get hurt.

  • After you’ve got proper hold of the knife, make sure you get a firm grasp (literally) on whatever you’re going to be cutting.
  • And speaking of body-mind connection, don’t think “chop,” think “slice.” Don’t hack at the board unless you want to whack off a finger.

(Using a chef’s knife is a mind-body sport, like Pilates–you have to think about what your body, in this case your hand, is doing).

Tracy Lee Karner
Hold ON to your onion!

6) Keep your fingers out of harm’s way.

Use your fingers of your holding hand like claws, curl them under–this keeps them away from the blade.

Tracy Lee Karner
With the finger curled under, a knuckle rests against the flat of the blade and acts like a stop-guard.

7) Rock and Roll!

  • The blade tip rests on the cutting board–always!
  • The cutting happens not by moving the blade up and down like a guillotine, but by rocking it: from tip to handle to tip.
  • When your fore-knuckle is resting against the blade, and your fingers are curled under, there’s no physically possible way to cut your fingers. A chef’s knife is designed wider near the handle specifically to help facilitate this safe, and cool, maneuver.

Tracy Lee Karner
Rock that blade! Let it roll….

After you get into the habit of holding a knife properly, you’ll groove.
Have fun with your chef’s knife. But let me remind you to please,
cut responsibly. 
Concentrate on the mind-body connection–pay attention to where your fingers are whenever you’re cutting.
How do you groove? 

28 thoughts on “The Chef's Knife: 7 Steps to Proper Technique”

  1. I like to groove by listening to music, dancing and drawing. I enjoy writing, I am not as big a cook as I was as a mother and babysitter. Once I got back into the ‘real’ world I tended to find a lot of short cuts. I enjoyed this post, made me think of my son, who loves to cook and chop up vegetables, too!

  2. I think I learned how to hold the item I am cutting from watching The Galloping Gourmet back in the day – fingers curled under. However, I will have to practise the correct way to hold my knife. This was a really good lesson. Now I need to get out some fruit and vegies and give it a try!

  3. I think I learned how to hold the item I am cutting from watching The Galloping Gourmet back in the day – fingers curled under. However, I will have to practise the correct way to hold my knife. This was a really good lesson. Now I need to get out some fruit and vegies and give it a try!

    1. He was really good, wasn’t he — the Galloping Gourmet!!
      There really are only two things to remember: curl the fingers under, and cradle the knife between the thumb and first-finger knuckle.
      Go out, and get your fruits and veggies, girl!! Slice, slice!

    1. Maybe I’ve saved you the cost of the lessons? It just takes conscious practice. It feels awkward at first, but if you place the knife correctly in your cutting hand, over and over, it becomes second-nature. (They’ll only tell you what I’ve told you; and if they tell you anything differently–they’re wrong!) 🙂

  4. You may have saved a few of my digits with this post Tracy. 🙂 Just the other night, I almost cut off the tip of my index finger while cutting baby carrots. I might print this!
    Enjoy the holidays! xo

    1. My friend who owns a restaurant recently cut off the tip of her index finger. It happens to the most professional–because even the professionals aren’t always given the knife tips.
      I was blessed to live with a knife-vigilante — he watched, and corrected, and reminded me. Curl those digits UNDER! And I did it, until it became second nature.

  5. Excellent, Tracy, but for a reason you probably don’t expect.
    Today I began editing a mini-mystery story, and the murder weapon is–drum roll, please–a chef’s knife!!! I’m sending you link to the writer and suggesting he read #3 and #6 and tweak the story. 😉

  6. Nicely done. I might point out that #6 is the bane of my existence and I have a supply of band-aids to prove it. Perhaps it’s due to a general lack of dexterity (you should see my handwriting and would surely laugh at my typing skills) or maybe it has something to do with that glass of wine or beer that seems to be perched on the counter while I’m cooking 🙂

    1. I’m really good with a knife now, even when there’s wine or beer present, but it took quite a bit of sober practice (over many months!), with a chef leaning over my shoulder like a drill sergeant, barking, “curl those fingers!”
      I think he witnessed a nasty accident once….
      It’s not a natural position, not even for the dextrous. 🙂

  7. Love my chef’s knife too. I learned the same techniques at a cooking class. But they didn’t cover sharpening. Any tips? We have a sharpener fro Lee Valley Tools, but not sure it’s the best. My Dad used a steel, but i never could really grasp the technique

  8. I’m always fascinated when I watch the TV chefs chopping their ingredients. A friend who used to work in the catering industry has shown me how it’s done but it all goes pear-shaped when I have a go, not least because I’m left handed and knives are generally built for right-handers. Well anyway, that’s my excuse😉

    1. TV chefs are jokers.
      Seriously– they’re all about “the show.” 🙂
      And you’re totally correct about the manufacturing of knives; they are entirely biased agains left-handers.
      That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 😉

  9. I enjoyed this tutorial. When I’m chopping all the mirepoix for the stuffing tomorrow (Christmas dinner with my kids and the little ones is Tuesday evening), I’m going to double check that I’m holding the knife properly. I think I’ve got it down, but it’s good to be sure! I’m getting over a dumb cut from a tin can lid a few days ago, so I don’t want any more nicks during this busy cooking season (yes, the lid was sticking up and I reached for something behind it … I don’t need to tell you the rest — not a bad cut, but mighty inconvenient!). Safe chopping!

  10. I just “butchered” a pineapple with a chef’s knife. I need more training! But the real problem was a dull knife. I solved it with a steel, but I’m tempted by that gizmo.
    Good post, Tracy.

    1. Thanks, Shirley. I did forget to mention the importance of a SHARP knife.
      I really do like our gizmo. The steel always intimidates me — I feel like I never do get the rhythm right, as if I’m trying to dance to foreign music I don’t really understand.

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