A Primer on Knife Techniques (or: Peas on the Plate Culinary Academy, Lesson 1)

Knives from Ikea
My knives. It’s a starter kit that I haven’t augmented since my parents gave it to me in my junior year of college.

Thanksgiving is upon us. If you’re one of the chosen few entrusted with the sacred task of bringing a dish, it’s possible you’ll be doing a lot of stuff with knives. One recipe calls for chopped onion, another for minced garlic- what does it all mean?! Don’t sink into an abyss of despair. Here are a few tutorials from around the Interwebz and some tips from yours truly on how to chop away without getting an early start on your ritual bloodletting.

“Pro” (lolz) tips:

  • Make everything as evenly sized as possible- especially meat. You don’t want to have mostly thin strips and then worry about that one big, fat piece giving its fated consumer a stomach ache because it was undercooked.
  • CURL YOUR FINGERS TO MAKE “THE CLAW.” (Detailed below.) For real. Fingers bleed a lot and it’s horrible.
  • Make sure your cutting board has decent grip. It’s pretty awful to be slicing on a slippery cutting board- and not very safe, either.
  • There’s no one-size-fits-all chopping, slicing, dicing, mincing etc method. It’s dependent on the size and shape of what you’re cutting… but it never hurts to know the basics. Fun fact: at some point in your life, you’ll probably need to cut an onion. Better be prepared!
  • If knife sizes and thickness seem confusing to you (I mean, why can’t a huge knife work for everything?), don’t worry. Practice and you’ll start instinctively knowing which one works best for each task.

And now… some things I’ve collected that are helpful.

Here’s a great five-minute video rundown of knife basics (including the proper way to hold one) from the Kitchn. The original is here, along with a written step-by-step.

This awesome and bizarrely calming GIF is from this knife technique post by Chris Schonberger on First We Feast. There are several GIFs (including lessons on what not to do) that are awesome because if you don’t quite catch it the first time, you don’t have to click back to watch it again. Includes tips on cutting up garlic, onions, avocados, lemons, and limes.

Henry Molina shows First We Feast how it’s done.

In this one-minute video, Cooking Light shows us the difference between chopping, dicing, and mincing.

And there you have it: ways to run through the basics in less than ten minutes. Now go grab that getting-quite-old potato and sacrifice it to the gods of amateur cooking! Happy chopping!

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