Avoid the ER: Knife Handling 101The pros advise. Published: October 30, 2018
In I Dropped a Knife on my Foot, we showed you what not to do with a knife. But that’s only half the battle. You need to know how to handle a blade, so we enlisted two bonafide experts: Nancy Campbell, who teaches knife skills at the Brooklyn Brainery, and Cara Mangini, acclaimed chef, restaurateur, and Eataly alum also known as “The Vegetable Butcher.” Read on for their advice on how to avoid bloody lacerations, preserve edge sharpness, and find the best knife for your kitchen.
Campbell learned from experience. She’s gouged out a chunk of her knuckle and trimmed off the tips of her fingers. “Even pros do stupid stuff when we’re busy or tired or hungover,” she says. Taking the time to finesse your knife handling, however, will reduce the risk of serious injury. “Learning how to cook is akin to riding a bike or driving a car: you don’t have to know those things to survive, but life is a hell of a lot better if you do,” she says, offering four tips:
1.Master the pinch grip
That’s where you have control. The knife should feel like a pencil in your hand, like the bow to a violinist. It should be a natural extension of your hand.
2.Cut from the back of the knife
Beginners cut from the front, but that’s a mistake. The back is where your hand is, and where your power comes from.
3.Hone your knife
This practice irons out all the microscopic knicks that create drag and resistance, and it straightens the surface of the blade. The minute you feel any resistance when cutting vegetables, simply run the knife over your honing steel. When honing no longer works, that’s when you should sharpen your knife.
4.Have a sharp knife
You cannot expect ease and speed with a dull knife. One of the most dangerous tools in the kitchen is a dull knife. How often you should sharpen your knife depends on the knife you have and the quality of the steel, but every three months is a good rough guide. It also depends on what you’re cooking with. Winter squashes and root vegetables are going to put a toll on your knife in a way that summer peppers, celery, and lettuce will not.
Mangini—an award-winning cookbook author, nominee for the James Beard Award in Vegetable Cooking, and the founding chef of Little Eater, a produce-inspired restaurant group in Columbus, OH—knows a thing or two about wielding kitchen tools. Here are her top knife handling recommendations:
1.Invest in an 8-inch chef’s knife
It's an all-purpose utility knife that can take on almost all cutting jobs. You don't need a big block of knives! It should be as comfortable to hold as it is to work with, so try to shop for a knife at a kitchen store that will allow you to test the grip and performance of several options. I love the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Classic 8” Chef’s Knife. I use it at home and professionally. For me, the weight and overall balance of the knife is perfect. You can use it for both stubborn winter squashes and for more delicate vegetables like asparagus, zucchini and kale. The feel and fit of a knife is different for everyone, though, which is why it's a good idea to give them a test ride. The MAC Professional Series 8” Chef’s Knife and the Shun Classic 8-in Chef’s Knife are also fantastic knives.
2.Protect the edge
The edge can be damaged easily if it comes in contact with anything besides food and your cutting board. Keep a knife on its side with the blades pointed away from you when not working with it.
3.Wash and store correctly
After you use a knife, immediately wash it with mild soap and hot water. Never put it in the dishwasher! Dry the handle and blade thoroughly. Store it upright using a magnetic knife strip or on its side in a protective sleeve.