Beginner’s Guide

to Using and Caring for Chef’s Knives

This article will outline a couple of basic points for those who are unfamiliar with the world of chef’s knives and those who simply want to take better care of their knives. Let’s face it, if you are on this website reading my product reviews, chances are that you are not going out to buy some cheap $20 knife set which will rust and break within a year. You are probably looking for something a little more expensive and a little higher-quality. If that is the case, you will probably want to properly care for your investment.

If you are going to be working with knives it can be very helpful to know a little about how to properly use them and how to properly care for them. I understand that, as an adult, you may think these are two very straightforward concepts. It may seem like all you really need to know is “Don’t cut yourself” and “Wash your knife”.

Of course, those are definitely two pieces of excellent advice. However, it can be helpful to know a little bit more about your particular type of knife. Different types of knives can be used in different ways. Depending upon how your knife has been constructed, it may require different care.

Sharper is Safer

You may think that a dull knife is less likely to hurt you, but that is simply not the case, especially where chef’s knives are concerned. The cutting techniques people employ when using a chef’s knife require the knife to be adequately sharp. Some techniques require you to push down on the knife with two hands, leaving nothing to hold your piece of food in place. A sharp knife will cut through the food with ease. A dull knife, on the other hand, may slide to one side or another, making it much more difficult to control the direction in which it is moving.

Do not be fooled – a dull knife may have some difficulties in cutting through your food, but it will have no problem slicing through your flesh. Keeping your knife sharp allows you to control it much better and actually reduces the chances of getting hurt in the kitchen.

The Rolling Technique

I thought it may be nice to include a very simple technique in this guide. What good is all this knowledge about chef’s knives if you have no idea how to use one? Here, we will discuss the rolling technique.

The rolling technique is a basic technique used by most beginners. It is one of the first techniques chefs learn when they are introduced to a chef’s knife. I suggest practicing this technique with a long, thin piece of food which is easy to control, such as a piece of celery or a carrot. For the purposes of this explanation, I will assume that you are using a piece of celery.

To practice the rolling technique, hold the food with the fingertips of your non-dominant hand near where you intend to cut and place your palm so that it is cupping the rest of the celery. Holding the knife with your dominant hand, place its tip against you cutting board. Line up your knife so that it will come down across the celery in a straight line and will not hit your fingers (see below for an explanation of how to hold your fingers safely).

Lift the back part of the knife and pull in slightly toward you so that it is so that the middle part is hovering above your celery. Leave its tip against the cutting board throughout this entire process. Bring your knife down and push it forward simultaneously as you slice through the celery. Repeat the process. With practice, you should be able to complete this type of cut rather quickly and will find yourself slicing up celery, carrots, and cucumbers in seconds.

Protect Your Fingertips

It is extremely important to protect your hands when working with anything sharp. It is very important to hide your fingertips when performing the rolling technique or any other similar technique which requires you to place your fingertips near your cutting area. In order to properly protect your fingertips, roll them beneath your small knuckles.

The best way I can explain this is to have you imagine a sock puppet. When you make your sock puppet talk, your fingers are often pointed forward and your fingertips are exposed. This is not how you want to hold your food while you are cutting. I understand that it may be tempting to hold your food that way since it is probably similar to the way you hold a pen or a fork, but it will not be safe in this instance.

Returning to the sock puppet analogy, imagine if someone came along and tried to put something in your sock puppet’s mouth and you wanted to pretend that your puppet did not want to eat whatever the person was trying to shove in its mouth. Since sock puppets do not have hands you cannot make it push the food away. Instead, you must make it clamp its mouth shut by curling your fingers. Similarly, when working with a chef’s knife, you will want to curl your fingers so that the small knuckle of your fingers protrudes further than your fingertips.

This technique will not completely protect your fingers. You may still slice into your knuckles if you aren’t paying attention. However, if you do not lift your knife higher than your knuckles, you can actually use them as a barrier. The flat side of the knife will run along them, keeping the blade from gaining access to your fingertips.

Selecting a Cutting Board

A cutting board is very important when using a chef’s knife. Chopping, slicing, dicing, and mincing all require pressure and can easily cut through certain surfaces. Using a cutting board isn’t just about protecting your countertops, though. It is also about protecting your knives. Certain surfaces (such as ceramic and glass) can actually wear down your blades much faster than other surfaces (such as plastic and wood). Therefore, it is suggested that you work atop a plastic or wooden cutting board to protect your countertop and your knives.

What about your health? You may not realize it, but the type of cutting surface you use can also impact your wellbeing. Certain surfaces hold bacteria better than others. You may have noticed that soft plastic or wooden cutting boards have slice marks on them. It can be very difficult to wash bacteria out of those grooves. Unfortunately, those bacteria can make their way onto your food and into your body.

Since a plastic or wooden cutting board is best for your knives, I suggest finding one that is rather hard and difficult to scratch. My top suggestion is a bamboo cutting board. These boards will protect your countertops and your knives but are very difficult to cut into, making it easy to wipe away bacteria. Additionally, bamboo cutting boards can be rather stylish and are often designed to match an array of different kitchen interiors.

Proper Chef’s Knife Storage

Although a lot can be said about how to properly care for any knife, I will only spend a short time reviewing proper knife care in this article. The purpose of this section is to give you a few basic pointers about knife care to help your knife last longer.

As with any knives, you will not want your chef’s knife banging around loosely in a drawer. Of course, this can be a safety hazard if you reach in to grab something and grab your knife’s blade instead. Also, unsheathed knives wear down quickly as they rub and bang against other metal objects in your drawer. Not only will the knife grow dull quicker, it may also become damaged and form pits in its cutting surface. Therefore, I recommend housing it inside a plastic sheath, using plastic blade protectors, or keeping it out of a drawer altogether by placing it in an appropriately-sized knife block.

Cleaning Your Chef’s Knife

When it comes to washing your knife, I suggest handwashing, regardless of the materials your knife is constructed from and regardless of whatever its packaging may say. As a general rule, stainless steel knives are advertised as dishwasher safe. Even high-carbon stainless steel (a mixture of high-carbon steel and stainless steel) is also often advertised as dishwasher safe.

I suggest handwashing because it is gentler. If you are spending decent money on a good product and want it to last a long time, the best way to achieve that goal is to be gentle with it. Secondly, rust can still form on a rust-free knife, especially in areas where blades and handles are attached to one another, because the water can pool in those areas if left to air dry in a dishwasher.