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What are these 'knife skills' of which you speak?

I can chop stuff.

Given a good knife I can cut wafer thin slices of stuff, and 2mm dice of stuff.

Do I have 'knife skills'?

oops - prolly should have posted in 'not about food' - I evidently lack 'posting about knife skills' skills.

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  1. Generally speaking, "knife skills" refers to a combination of ability, precision, and speed, with a soup├žon of safety thrown in for good measure. In a serious restaurant kitchen it's necessary not just to be able to cut wafer thin slices and dice, but to do so with consistency at a pace that ensures the diners aren't kept waiting.

    There are also more specialized knife skills like butterflying a leg of lamb, filleting a fish, or deboning a chicken without removing the skin. And beyond that, sculpting vegetables and fruits into artistic creations. Lots of things a well-trained chef can do with a good knife.

    9 Replies
    1. re: BobB

      Hmmm. I can fillet various shapes of fish, and can carve vegetables and fruit into quite frankly pointless pretty shapes - but I've never filleted meat, (nor cooked meat with bones, come to that).
      As for speed - it's never been a goal of mine to win a speed-chopping contest.
      And as for the terminology (ref manachef's comment below) - uh, knife, blade, handle, slice, dice, ouch, bandaid. Is there more?

      1. re: Peg

        Funny; but yes. Plenty more terms, and you do need to know what they mean so that when your chef tells you she wants a salad with basil chiffonade, I don't hand her a plate with minced basil atop. :)

        1. re: mamachef

          I know 'chiffonade' - but anything involving bones are outside my sphere of knowledge (or interest).
          Are 'knife skills' mainly about handling animal proteins?

          1. re: Peg

            You know, I kinda make a separation there. You can have great knife skills and not be skilled in butchery or fishmongering. Not a great qualifier for a chef, but true all the same. To me, the bones and cuts all speak to butchering; knife skills, IMO, is less about piecing an animal out than what you do with a cutting board and a vegetable or two. But that's just me. :) And then there's tourneeing, which is kinda the same thing only on a smaller, finer scale.

        2. re: Peg

          Hmm, you've never cooked a whole chicken? Chicken legs? Or grilled a porterhouse steak? Or cooked beef short ribs? Pork ribs?

            1. re: BobB

              Could be, but then that means she has never cooked a whole fish either, nor any cross-sectional cuts of fish. I guess Peg will have to clarify, if she chooses to.

              1. re: huiray

                I am indeed pescetarian. I have fileted fish, but I've not dealt with bones bigger than a large salmon has.

                1. re: Peg

                  Aha. Thanks for the response.

      2. If you are reasonably fast and know the terminology behind the cuts and can turn out precisely-cut food in the size required, you have knife skills. Some people value speed over end result, but that does not denote skills with a knife.

        4 Replies
        1. re: mamachef

          OTOH, if two people can produce the same quality of cut/chopped stuff (size, accuracy, uniformity, etc.), but one does it 50% quicker, that person has better "knife skills", no?

          1. re: aqn

            YES, I hire people based on their knife skills and speed. If someone can prouce the same quality but in half the time...you bet I am going to hire them over the other. I pay my cooks to do a lot of prep and if I have someone that can do all of their prep in 4 hours vs 8 hours. That is about $50 less that I have to pay per day. We do prep 5 days a week, so that saves me $250 a week, $1000 a month, 12,000 a year...it adds up.

            1. re: aqn

              Definitely faster knife skills. And if I ran into a situation where I needed to hire somebody and still pay attention to the overhead, I'd want the person you're talking about, as long as the end result was the same.
              My perspective is definitely influenced by having worked in some restaurants where precision was valued way more highly than speed - some of the garnishes were absolutely impossible to do quickly re: placement and presentation. When you're working w/ tweezers, you're working pretty slow.

              1. re: mamachef

                Yes, I agree...it is all about quality. If the quality isn't there then the speed does not matter at all.

          2. It all depends on what you aspire to. At home, it probably doesn't matter, as long as you get the result you want. I have a friend who dices onions with a butter knife, and it drives me crazy to watch it, and when I suggest she use a proper knife, she uses a steak knife instead. But her food tastes pretty good (until she tries to slip a fat-free recipe past me).

            But in a professional kitchen all this stuff does matter, because you need to turn out a consistent predictable product, quickly and safely.

            I'm quite proud of my knife skills, actually. They're quite flawless. So flawless that two months ago, I ended up in the Emergency Room. The tech nearly passed out when she saw all the blood, staggered out of the treatment room and summoned the surgeon on call. When he arrived, his only comment was, "Wow, you must have some sharp knives." Ten stitches.

            1 Reply
            1. re: acgold7

              that's the catch-22 of killer-sharp knives. You won't cut yourself nearly as often, but when you do, it's a doozy.

            2. If it's raining, it's prolly folly to go outside without a brolly.

              But getting back on base, there's a well reviewed book on just this topic: Mastering Knife Skills by Norm Weinstein. It comes with a 30-minute DVD. This has been on my "to get" list for a while. I have adequate knife skills, but I'm sure I could pick up some pointers.


              Available from Amazon in the UK as well.

              1. The only knife skills that matter are the ones you actually use. If you are handy in cutting what needs to be cut, then you have knife skills. You may not have as many as someone else, but that really doesn't matter.

                1. 'Knife skills' covers a lot of ground. There's the functional ability of being able to use a knife in a basic sense without damaging yourself or making a mess of your food. Sounds like you have that. There's also knowing how to efficiently cut juliennes or batonnets or a brunoise or even tournes. And using your off-hand effectively to hold the food and control and guide the cut - usually in the 'claw' grip.

                  Then there's precision, efficiency, speed. You may not aspire to be fast with a knife, but it tends to come as a natural result of using good technique and lots of practice - in other words, you don't get fast so much because you want to be fast but because you have good knife skills.

                  There are also a few thousand food-specific techniques. From filleting fish and dicing onion to more esoteric stuff like this Japanese cut for daikon:

                  Plenty to learn. Saying something like 'he's got knife skills' almost begs the question, 'which ones?'

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    I don't know what batonnets or a brunoise or tournes mean (without Google'ing). Is it still possible for me to have good knife skills? :)

                    1. re: aqn

                      Neither would most sushi chefs, even though many of them have wonderful knife skills. Terminology isn't very important. But if you don't know, say, how to efficiently cut produce into nice, even, neat little cubes, there's something for you to go learn right there. Google away and then practice.

                      'Good' is a relative term. It's not a club where you're either in or out.

                  2. Yeah, what everyone else said.

                    But if you're curious about what all the snobs are talking about, ask YouTube about it. There seem to be plenty of videos of people showing you how to use a knife.

                    ETA: By "snobs" I don't mean my fellow CH posters, of course. I mean other snobs ;)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: guilty

                      I'm not a snob. I'm an elitist. There's a difference. ;-)

                    2. Take out your food processor. Run a stick of carrot through it.

                      Now take out your favorite knife and try to create the same pile of shredded carrots that your food processor spit out.

                      If your pile is as uniform as what your Kitchen-Aid created, then you've got "potential".

                      To see if you have real uber knife skills, grab one of your buddies, and have him/her drop the carrot in the food processor while you try and race against the machine to see if you can beat it in shredding up the carrots.

                      If you win? You've got skills, Peg. You've got mad skills ...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        To be fair, you also have to count the time needed to clean up the knife & chopping board versus to clean up the food processor.

                        For me, chopping/slicing/dicing for a meal for two means a knife wins, every time.

                        I only break out the food processor if I'm making, say, filling for 250 spring rolls.

                      2. If you are happy with the way your food turns out after it is cooked (thickness of things you cut cooked evenly and have nice visual and mouth feel) and it did not take you all day to prep your food, then you have good knife skills for a home cook. Do you have knife skills to cook in a professional setting? Probably not. Those are pretty much learned in class or on the job with a lot of time invested.

                        1. There are two more components of 'knife skills' that I don't think have been mentioned. First, the knowledge that a good knife is a sharp knife. Second, having the confidence in yourself and the knife to do what needs to be done WITHOUT fear of injury or mishap. I know way too many people who are (a) scared of their knives and consequently (b) prefer to keep their knives dull because they think they're safer that way.

                          1. Knife skills requires, knowledge of the names of knifes, purpose of each one, knife safety, when to cut on a board, and rock like a french knife, how to wipe the knife away from the blade, when to use a paring knife and cut towards yourself,like the round and round method for peeling an apple. How to store knives blades down, and sharp ones in Knife sleeves, cutting board selection, wood for veges. nonabsorbent for meat products . Takes practice, how to curl your fingers under as you move ahead on a quick chop. Keep the band aides handy for a beginner, and learning to hone and sharpen is N.B. too, Really a lot to learn in the Knife skills category.I was a salad girl in a resort kitchen in my late teens, and my skills came from the Chef, which lead to a career as a teacher , food science, junior hi, and hi school

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: BH.

                              Two things to keep in your knife kit... Knives and Super glue.. There's no place in the kitchen for bandaids....

                              1. re: davepotwin

                                and a couple of latex gloves for those times when you just have to have a bandaid. The glove goes over the injured hand and keeps the wound protected from the food (onion juice in a cut ow ow ow) and vice versa.

                            2. What a great thread, loaded with experience. For those without experience but the desire to learn, just a couple of other things. Use a very sharp knife and face the blade away from you when you set it down. Practice slowly, focusing on your task, in other words, don't look away to talk, or react to someone else when cutting. Skills of any kind take time to master, so, take your time.

                              1. The key to having "knife skills" is understanding the importance of the left ( or non-dominant) hand. Position your material correctly and keep your darned fingertips out of the way...

                                Everything else is just maintaining a sharp knife and knowing that it makes straight cuts.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: koan

                                  What about lefties? Most of the Japanese sashimi knives are one-sided, only for right-handers.

                                  1. re: tdl1501

                                    You gotta get yourself a left handed yanagiba, then.

                                2. I was all proud of myself -- was gifted a cooking class at the Ritz and was complimented on my knife skills by the instructor. Was also really surprised at how clumsy most of the others in the class were with a knife.

                                  I totally agree that knife skills are highly undervalued and should be offered at every knife retailer out there -- everything from buying a knife to proper use -- at a minimum, how to use an 8" chef's and a good paring knife. Everything after that is gravy, but those two are the key to everything.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Those and a utility knife are my lifelong companions. I basically use only those three knives.

                                    1. re: mamachef

                                      Sort-of ditto, My 8-inch chef's knife, paring knife and - occasionally - my all-steel honkin' big Chinese cleaver are the knives I use 99.9% of the time. In fact, I often use my chef's knife for paring/peeling small veggies, rather than the paring knife.

                                      1. re: huiray

                                        Yep, me too. It's very rare I need something beyond those three knives.

                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                      As a BTW, I myself dislike serrated or wavy-edged knives. I find them hard to use to get even cuts, amongst other things. I prefer straight-edge knives.

                                      1. re: huiray

                                        I use a good serrated knife for bread only. Wavy-edged knives freak me out, and I've made amazing messes while working w/ herbs when circumstance forced me to employ one of those knives. Gah. And I do use a cleaver, which I forgot to mention.
                                        Worst of all are those knives w/ little teeny teeth on them. Sharp but impossible to work with.

                                        1. re: mamachef

                                          I use and enjoy two types of serrated knives - a good long bread knife, and a set of steak knives. Though the latter may not count in this discussion as they're not usually used for food prep. (I say usually since I have been known to use them to slice sandwiches in half).

                                          1. re: BobB

                                            I have a couple of serrated bread knives, but -- and this is just me -- I *hate* serrated steak knives. They just tear and rip at the steak rather than just slicing cleanly through it. I know I'm at a crappy Steak House when they give me one of those big canoe paddles with a serrated edge rather than a sleek narrow pointy proper steak knife that glides through my rib eye without effort. Took me a while to find a nice set of non-serrated steak knives for the house, but now I have two sets -- one from Chicago Cutlery and one from Wusthof. I taught my kids how to hone them before and after every use and they live in an in-drawer knife block.

                                          2. re: mamachef

                                            Yeah, those micro-teeth knives are bizarre. Sometimes I'll be forced to use one in a friend's kitchen and they go off in directions all on their own. You can't slice or chop straight up and down with them -- to you must use them like a saw and they veer all over the place. Scary.

                                            1. re: acgold7

                                              Micro-teeth. Use your fingernails and slide them from the spine (back) of the knife, past the teeth. If they hook your nails, they are bent, hence, the directional movement. Usually microteeth are used on steak knives because although the teeth are sacrificed, they stay sharp in between. Also, they continue to tear, so technically they still cut when they are going dull. For me, a thin, smooth edge, is best for control, using a ceramic steel only when the edge is rolled to maintain it.

                                          3. re: huiray

                                            I have a long bread knife (the knife itself is long AND I use it on long bread ;) ) -- but I also came into a Wusthof tomato knife somewhere along the way -- it's fantastic for very thin loaves of bread, and for (surprise) tomatoes -- it's nice for super-thin slices.

                                            It went missing, and I actually replaced it because I liked having it on hand.

                                        2. Perhaps I'm not the right person to ask. Today I cut my arm on a dull light switch trying to grab a towel from the bathroom to throw in the laundry! Everyone's right on the correct knife, good knives, and sharp knives. At cooking school we started with two, and 8" or 10" chef, and a 3" or 4" paring. I worked hard to find the knives to fit my hands, which is Henckels four-star professional (10" and 4"). My santoku knives are Henkels for everything, and a Kyocera ceramic blade for specialty. Boning knives, inexpensive one for meat and a flexible one for fish.

                                          Competing against the seven others on a daily basis on onion, celery and carrot made me fast back then. I've only boned out a leg of lamb about four times so it would probably take me 20 minutes to bone and butterfly that. Oh, the forearm is OK, I had to go to the back of the car to a first aid kit for a bandage to fit. Gonna be a heck of a bruise in a few days. But note, if I cut myself chopping, there's a mini bandage kit right upstairs and full first aid kit in the car, both about 20 feet away. That's responsible knife skills.

                                          1. Knife skills for professional kitchens such as restaurants need to be faster and more consistent--and there are situations (such as sushi/sashimi) where the cuts are a measurement of the skill of the chef. For those of us cooking at home, knife skills give us the ability to do a better job of slicing, dicing, butchering and more. That can mean better dishes, but in some cases that may only be visual. I am happy to say I rarely cut myself; I attribute that to well sharpened knives (my husband does it) and careful knife work.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: escondido123

                                              Correct! Sharpen at home if you can, hone often. Chef's, Granton edge Santoku and ceramic Santoku have to be sent out.

                                              1. re: tdl1501

                                                You can sharpen a granton edge santoku at home. Just like sharpening any other double beveled Japanese knife (though individual variations apply). You can certainly sharpen a chefs knife at home too.

                                                Technically you can sharpen a ceramic knife at home as well (using diamond abrasives) but it's slow, a bit tricky, and for most people it's more of a hassle than it's worth.

                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                  I'd rather a professional for those, including my 10" chef. My father-in-law, a rancher and former butcher, could do it but I don't want to take them on a plane. So I guess you don't get to Park City UT often. Kyocera says you have to send it back to the factory. Most of my sharpening gear is in storage a half country away. With every cookbook.

                                                  1. re: tdl1501

                                                    You can choose whatever works best for you - professional sharpening is a fine option. I'm just saying there's nothing about those particular knives that would stop someone who normally sharpens at home from sharpening those as well.

                                                    As for the Kyocera - it seems you're right: sharpening at home voids the warranty (though if you did a good job of it, they wouldn't be able to tell that you had sharpened it). I was just pointing out that even that is possible. I still don't recommend it, though I don't really recommend ceramic knives in general either.

                                            2. A few words about accidental cuts. #1 PAY ATTENTION, and you will have less. Chefs in pro kitchens can be rushed by the situation and others, but in our home kitchens, why would we hurry when we can enjoy what we are doing carefully. That said, there are products out there for minor cuts, 'New Skin', will close a shallow cut, and lasts a couple of days so you can take a shower and get your hands wet. Super glue, is thicker, holds a little better than new skin but it comes off as well. Band aids, if you cover them with a 'finger cot, or finger cone' can be kept clean and dry. The sharper the knife, all cuts comparatively the same, the sooner the cut heals. Back to the top, don't be in a hurry, and focus. Last night my wife cut herself using my sons semi dull knife, it slid off the onion she was trying to cut, but it was sharp enough to cut off part of her finger nail, thankfully, no bleeding.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: solaegui

                                                Worst cut I ever had was from a serrated knite. I made a burger or something on the range and had to cut a bun and took off the top of my middle finger on the right hand (I'm a leftie). Tried to hold it up with paper towels then finally called a former Army Ranger and in less than a minute he had his dining table set up for whatever was needed. Started with green tea bags to stop the bleeding. He did well, thank goodness. But I still had to run my Jeep and shift gears with the hurt hand and it took swimming in salty Greek waters to finally heal. Thank you, Army Rangers! Thank you, Mike. It't been over 10 years and I've been using sharp knives for many more years and have never cut myself like that. Hope your wife is OK. It was funny that Mike's wife, a great friend for many years, sat in the office with her back to us and talked to us but couldn't watch as he patched me up. Thanks, D

                                              2. I've been cooking for 15 years and consider myself a solid home chef. But I still can't do the darn onion thing. I've probably chopped 1000 onions and I've probably cut 'em up 1000 different ways. Every onion is an enigma to me and I've seen videos of how folks chop them, but it's always dangerous when I try it. My hands look like I've been mauled by cats.

                                                I used to use Henckles, but recently have some Ken Onions and I've probably cut myself 5x on the Ken Onions, so clearly I need these 'knife skills' of which you speak. Now I'll consider taking a class to finally figure it out.

                                                I just always had the attitude, it doesn't matter at home, just get the size you want, however you want.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: vivaldi1

                                                  Lots of community colleges that offer a culinary program will do a knife skills class at night.

                                                2. I have limited knife skills. Even after 15 years of cooking regularly, I am sooooo slow. I frustrate myself when I cook. I keep thinking,"Eventually I'll get faster at this," but I never do. I have good knives, I know which knives to use for what, and can chop very evenly and consistently, but so slow it's beyond belief.