Whether you’re a home cook or a seasoned professional, you probably have a chef knife or are planning to get one very soon. Either way, chefs across the globe will unanimously agree that a chef’s knife is indeed the most crucial kitchen tool.
However, this only holds when you know how to operate the knife the right way. Before you understand the other nuances of the knife, you need to know its basic anatomy and the proper way to use it. In addition, you also need to learn the best ways to slice, chop, and mince using the knife.
This article will cover all these areas (and more), giving you a complete insight into how to use a chef knife. So, if you’re planning to make the most of your chef’s knife, here are a couple of guidelines you might want to consider.
What is a Chef Knife and What is it Used For?
The chef’s knife is a versatile and multipurpose knife used for a variety of functions. It features a sharp, broad blade. Its solid and slightly curved body perfectly complements that. These knives range between six to 12 inches are ideal for various functions, including (but not limited to) chopping, slicing, or mincing meat and vegetables, getting disjointed cuts of meat and vegetables, thinly slicing herbs, julienning vegetables and herbs, and dicing nuts.
The defining element of these knives is their sharp edges that often feature are a sloped and curved design. The curve is especially relevant because it allows chefs to execute the perfect rocking movement while chopping or slicing meat, veggies, or nuts.
To use the knife correctly, you first need to place the object at the center and then slice or chop it employing the cutting motion. It would help if you rocked the knife from its first tip right up to the heel, all while piercing through the flesh of the object (which may be meat, vegetables, fruits, and/or nuts).
Even though you can slice and chop almost anything using a chef’s knife, we do not recommend using this knife while trying to cleave meat bones or carve an extremely dense chunk of meat. We do not recommend this knife on bread either because you have other dedicated knives for that task.
In the following few sections, we will look at the chef’s knife and learn more about its anatomy and the many different techniques to use it.
The Parts of a Chef Knife
Like everything else, the Chef’s knife has specific anatomy, and in this section, we will discuss all it. Below is a summary of each part of the Chef’s knife.
Point: This part is primarily used to pierce through the flesh of meat, vegetables, and fruit. It is the knife part that serves as a shared area for the knife’s tip and spine.
Blade: The Chef’s knife usually comes with a wide and sharp blade. The blade is thus the most crucial area of the knife. That means, while choosing a chef’s knife, you need to focus on the blade’s size, structure, and material.
Tip: This is the upper edge of the knife or, more commonly, the tip. You might want to use your Chef’s knife’s tip to pierce through delicate parts of meat or make tiny juliennes of herbs.
Edge: The edge is what renders sharpness to the blade, and it stretches from the tip to the heel.
Heel: The easiest way to identify the heel is by locating the widest area of your Chef’s knife’s edge. This area is also deemed sturdiest, and thus, you might want to use it while chopping hard ingredients like sweet potatoes, pineapples, carrots, or cauliflowers.
Spine: The spine renders stability to the blade, and it is located just opposite the edge. The spine is typically thick, and while investing in a chef’s knife, you would want to check the thickness of the spine.
Handle: As evident from the name, this is the part of the knife that you hold. Typically, chef knives have sturdy handles that give you excellent grip.
Other equally crucial areas of the Chef’s knife is the bolster (the area in the middle of the handle and the edge), rivets (the circular parts along with your knife’s handle), the tang (your knife’s metal part that stretches up to the handle), and the butt (which is the knife’s posterior area).
How to Hold a Chef's Knife Properly
Now that you are familiar with the basic anatomy of a Chef’s knife, you might be wondering how to hold it properly. The rule of thumb here is to pinch your knife’s blade and maneuver it with your thumb. Use a forefinger for support and place it in proximity to the bolster, imitating a claw-like grip. As you do this, make sure your three other fingers are curled, giving a solid grip while holding the handle tight.
Additionally, you would want to follow the below guidelines for greater maneuverability with the iconic chef’s knife.
- Grip the blade slightly below the handle with your thumb and the first finger. Once you do this, you will be left with a knife-length extension to help you slice and chop more precisely and efficiently.
- If you’re looking to mincing meat and veggies, hold the handle with your knife hand and place the non-knife hand on the blunt part of the blade. This will help you execute the rocking motion and mince veggies/meat better.
- Always curl your unused fingers to protect the tips and make sure other fingers cover your thumb and little finger.
- Make sure the tip directly touches the cutting board. Continue the rocking motion with the blade and until you get your ingredients in the right size.
- If you do not want your veggies or fruits to slip away, it’s best first to cut them in a smaller chunk, even before you proceed with your desired cut. This offers you a perfect anchor and also ensures you do not accidentally cut your fingers.
How to Slice with a Chef Knife
Slicing with a chef’s knife is easier than you thought. Typically, you would want to slice your bigger vegetables like onions and tomatoes and moderately sized fruits like apples or pears. To slice with a chef knife, you first need to select your ingredient and place it at the center of the chopping board.
If it is round or has an odd shape, you first need to chunk it in half or make a slice at the upper or lower part. This way, the fruit/vegetable will be completely flat on the chopping board. Finally, to get the slice, keep your knife’s tip fully against the surface of the chopping board and slightly forward to the object you are chopping.
Now angle the knife towards the cutting point and use it to make slices of your desired thickness. To achieve the right slices, you would need to pressurize the knife in a rocking motion so that it pierces through the object and gives you the slice.
Make sure the knife tip is always on the chopping board, and the motion is rocking and almost circular.
How to Chop with a Chef Knife
If you wonder how to use a chef knife to chop, you’re at the right place!
Chopping is the ideal option when you’re looking for smaller chunks of the ingredient. Typically, we would define chopping as a blanket term because it involves several sub-techniques like dicing, mincing, and julienning, among many. Either way, the ideal here would be to shift most of the weight to the knife’s heel as you slowly use the knife to chop your tough or soft ingredients like carrot, meat, cabbages, nuts, or apples.
The motion of chopping is the exact opposite of slicing. It would help if you made sure the knife was held with a solid grip as your hand was close to the knife’s bolster and heel. Now, use the thicker part of the blade to chop away your ingredients.
Stabilize the ingredient on the chopping board, make sure the blade’s edge is completely parallel to the board’s direction. Finally, chop your ingredient with downward pressure while moving your knife slightly ahead while you do this. Follow the claw grip as you chop your ingredients with maximum uniformity.
How to Mince with a Chef Knife
Drawing its roots from the basic chopping styles, you would want to use your chef’s knife to mince various ingredients like coriander, parsley, garlic, ginger, nuts, chives, spring onions, and other similar herbs and plants. The key idea behind mincing is to create the smallest possible version of the ingredient. It may not start uniform, but you will reach uniformity after a point, especially when the ingredients are chopped small enough.
Because most chef’s knives come with a curved design, it is often easier to maneuver the knife to your liking and use it to mince the ingredients. To mince your ingredients efficiently, first gather them on the chopping board. Next, anchor your knife’s tip against your board’s surface. Following this guideline will offer you a point of pivot that will let you rock the knife efficiently, piercing the ingredients. Make sure your non-knife hand is flat and holds the spine of your knife as you gradually move it in an up-down or left-right style to create minced chunks of the ingredients.
Once you have your first set of mince, you would want to use the knife again following the previous motion to get a second and third round of mince for finer chunks. Do not scrape ingredients with the edge and instead use the rocking motion to pierce through the ingredients. Because scraping can affect the blade, it is not recommended.
How to Maintain Your Chef Knife
Now that you know all about the techniques of using a chef’s knife efficiently and have an answer to the question ‘how to use a chef knife,’ you might be wondering what strategies to employ when it comes to cleaning and maintaining these knives. Luckily, both are quite easy if you follow the right guidelines, and here’s how you need to start.
1. How to Keep Clean
When it comes to cleaning knives, the rule of thumb is to wash your knives thoroughly after every use. This keeps it clean and prevents ingredients from drying up along the blade, thus potentially dulling it.
While cleaning your knives, you might want to use any safe dishwasher to clean the blades properly. For best results, clean the blades with a cotton cloth or sponge as you scrub away the dirt and filth. Finally, please give it a shallow soak under running water for two to three minutes.
Avoid washing your chef’s knife in the dishwasher as it might potentially damage the blades.
2. How to Sharpen
While sharpening your chef’s knife, you might want to consider the structure of the knife and the angle at which you sharpen it. The angle is particularly important here because incorrect angles might end up dulling your blades.
For best results, please do not attempt to sharpen your chef’s knife individually and leave it to the professionals. This will ensure that the quality of your knives isn’t compromised, and you will get to make the most from your knives in the long run.
While certain kitchen knives come with a specific purpose, others like the Chef’s knife are versatile and can be used for almost everything. Available in all shapes, structures, designs, and styles, choosing the right knife often gets quite overwhelming. However, once you follow our guidelines and emphasize the quality of the blade, you’ll soon be left with a perfect chef’s knife that can be used to succeed in any complex cooking challenge.
We hope that our detailed guide about using a chef knife clarified many of your doubts about operating a chef’s knife for the first time. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or are using a chef’s knife for the first time, we are certain that our guidelines will help you master the many techniques, allowing you to use the knife more efficiently. So, wait no longer and try our strategies while prepping your next meal with the Chef’s knife. Until then, happy cooking!