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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research,
he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.
Knife skills are an often-overlooked area of expertise for at-home cooks. Anyone can cut a potato or slice the skin off a piece of salmon, but if you want to elevate your dishes to the next level, improving the way you handle your kitchen knives is a great idea.
Working on your knife skills can also improve your kitchen’s safety and reduce accidental injury risk. From choosing the right knife for the job to using a cutting mat, here are five easy tips on how to improve knife skills in the kitchen.
Get to Know the Knives
One way to start improving your knife skills is to familiarize yourself with the purpose of each knife. Knives come in different shapes and sizes, and each one is designed for a specific use. Although any knife might do the job, using the right knife will do the job more quickly and efficiently. Knife kits usually contain the following types of knives.
1. Chef Knife
A chef knife is used for chopping, dicing, and mincing. It is great for most foods and is probably the most used knife in the kitchen.
2. Utility Knife
A utility knife is similar to a chef knife but has a shorter, more slender blade. It is used for the same purposes but better for smaller foods that need more precise cuts.
3. Paring Knife
A paring knife is similar to a utility knife but is mostly used for peeling, trimming, and turning fruits and vegetables.
4. Bread Knife
A bread knife has a serrated edge and is longer than other knives. It is ideal for cutting bread without tearing and flattening it.
A cleaver is used for heavy-duty tasks and breaking down big cuts of meat. It is usually used to butcher large, bone-in cuts of meat, such as a whole chicken. It is also great for large fruits, such as watermelons or cantaloupes.
6. Boning Knife
A boning knife is great for trimming pieces of meat like pork chops or bone-in steaks. It can cut through cartilage and is designed to trim off the fat without destroying the tissue of the meat itself.
Pick Exciting Meals to Prepare
One way to push yourself to improve your knife skills is to browse through new and exciting recipes to incorporate different ingredients into your preparation routine.
Choose recipes that call for breaking down a whole chicken so you can use your cleaver. Try out a recipe for fresh-baked bread. Once you take it out of the oven and let it cool, use your bread knife to cut the loaf into slices. Challenge yourself to use a boning knife to trim up a piece of pork for your next fancy meal. Widening your recipe repertoire allows you to try each kind of knife to improve your skills.
Get the Right Grip
Proper knife handling is essential, not just to improving knife skills but to safety in the kitchen. The best way to practice the proper grip is on a chef knife.
While keeping the knife pointed away from you, hold the knife by the handle with your dominant hand for the best control. Keep your middle, ring, and pinky fingers around the handle. Place your thumb against one side of the blade of the knife and your pointer finger against the other side of the blade. This ensures full control over the knife as you cut.
Your free hand should be used to secure the food you are working with. Make sure to curl your fingers under your palm and tuck your thumb behind them, supporting the ingredient with your fingertips. Your knuckles act as a safety barrier for your fingers and help guide the knife for more consistent cuts.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The third tip on how to improve knife skills is to keep practicing. To learn or improve any skill set, practice makes perfect. However, if you don’t work in a restaurant, getting tons of practice may be difficult. You may only use your knives a few times a week. To get in more practice, try to do the following.
1. Cook every day
If you’re serious about learning how to improve knife skills, try to prepare at least one meal every day. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be peeling a piece of fruit or chopping herbs for a dressing.
2. Use cheap foods
To build up speed and dexterity, use cheap food, like an onion, to practice on. You can get the feel of your chef knife while improving your technique and speed without wasting expensive produce if you make a mistake.
3. Prep ahead
Get practice with your knives by meal prepping. This is great if you can’t cook every day. Not only will you have meals ready to go during the week, but you will also put in a quality chunk of time using your knives on different foods all in one sitting.
Buy Good Quality Knives
One last tip on how to improve knife skills is to purchase a quality knife set. It is a smart investment and can up your game in the kitchen. Practicing with poor quality knives means that they may not work properly or become dull after just a few uses. Substandard knives are also dangerous. They may break during use, causing injury and food contamination.
You should also purchase a sharpening kit with your knives. A dull knife is dangerous and harder to handle. Hone your blade before preparing every meal for optimal edge retention.
Bonus Tip: Use a Cutting Mat
One bonus tip to improve knife skills is to use a cutting mat underneath your cutting board. This doesn’t directly influence your skill with a knife, but it is a safe practice in the kitchen. Using a cutting mat ensures stability and lessens the chances of ruined food prep or injury.
These five tips on how to improve your knife skills are a great starting point to get in the kitchen and pull those knives out of the butcher block. Just remember to get to know your knives, expand your culinary horizon, and practice every day. You’ll be slicing, dicing, and chopping like a pro in no time.