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Whether you are just learning how to cook or are looking for ways boost your skills and get things done faster, efficient chopping is one of the most effective ways that you can save time in the kitchen. But for some people, using a sharp knife is one of the most intimidating parts of cooking, so I wanted to share information that will give you confidence, save you time, and keep you safer when it comes to chopping.
How to Use a Kitchen Knife
There are a couple of tips that will help you to feel more in control and safe when you are chopping up food.
Get to Flat
No matter what food you are chopping, whenever possible make the first step in your chopping journey be to create a flat side. Once you have that flat side you will be able to keep the food much more stable, which will make everything go more smoothly.
Whenever you are holding food in place and moving the knife down the food towards your fingers, keep your fingertips tucked under and hold the food with a “claw grip.” This will protect your fingertips and give you more control.
Use a Proper Grip
When holding your knife, make sure that your whole hand is on the handle, behind the bolster (that’s the part of the knife where the blade ends and the handle begins). This is called the handle grip.
Once you get more comfortable, you can also choose to use a blade grip, which is when your thumb goes on one side of the blade and your tucked in index finger goes on the other side and touches the bolster. The blade grip will give you a bit more control, but should only be used once you feel confident.
What Do Different Chopping Terms Mean?
It can be confusing knowing the sometimes-subtle differences between chopped, finely chopped, diced, and minced. The chopping definitions, in order of size of the final product go this way:
Rough Chop: This is the largest and most forgiving of chopping styles. The pieces don’t need to be very consistent, it is mostly about just taking the larger item and turning it into smaller pieces.
Chop: This means things just need to be made smaller but not necessarily perfectly even. Usually about 1/4-1/3 inch across.
Dice: Try to make the pieces more uniform and smaller than a chop, usually between 1/8-1/4 inch across.
Finely Dice: This is between dicing and mincing, so pretty small.
Mince: This is when you chop or grate into tiny pieces.
Tips for Faster Chopping
Here are some other suggestions that might make your knife work go a little more quickly:
Make sure you have good quality knives
There are two factors to take into account when determining if your knife is a good quality knife: 1) does it feel balanced and comfortable in your hand when you are chopping and 2) does it keep its edge well (i.e., does it stay sharp for a week or more of regular chopping).
If the answer either of these questions is no, then it is time to think about buying some better knives and I recommend that you check out my list of the four knives I think everyone should have in their kitchen or at least to take a peak at my absolute favorite knife (affiliate), which I have used for 20 years and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. In addition, a good pair of kitchen shears (affiliate), like these ones which I really love, can also make easier work of cutting herbs, scallions and other delicate foods.
Make sure your knives are sharp
There are two reasons to make sure your knives are sharp: efficiency and safety. A sharp knife will cut through food more efficiently because you won’t need to go back and re-cut and you won’t need to position everything as carefully to get a solid cut in the first place. In addition, a dull knife is much more dangerous because it is more likely to roll out and cut you.
To see if your knife is sharp, turn it blade-side up and see if any light reflects off the blade. Wherever you see light reflect back is a spot where there is a chink in the metal that needs to be sharpened out.
But how do you sharpen knives? First, I recommend that you take your knives to be sharpened by a professional at least once a year. Most hardware stores offer this service as do some craft stores, such as Joann Fabrics. In between those professional sharpenings, after trying many, many different sharpening tools, I found that this one (affiliate) was the easiest to use and most effective. I use mine every week or two, just to keep my knives in tip-top shape.
Use a cutting board
Cutting on a counter top or plate is terrible for your knives, but also easier to contain and transport your piles of chopped food when they are on a cutting board. While you can use plastic cutting boards, the wood or bamboo (affiliates) ones are easier on your knives and also more sanitary (yucky bacteria is less likely to get trapped in the microcuts a knife will naturally leave on the cutting board).
A bonus tip: If you find that the cutting board slides easily on your counter, put a dishtowel underneath to stabilize it.
Try to make your chopping efficient by cutting through multiple vegetables or layers at once
This may sound daunting if you are just becoming more comfortable with chopping, but if you take the time to line things up, you will find that chopping does much faster. For example, lining up carrots or green beans side-by-side, and stacking onion slices so you can cut through several at once will save you precious minutes as you race to get dinner on the table.
When chopping smaller vegetables, garlic, and herbs, keep the tip of your chef’s knife in contact with the cutting board and keep your hand on the top dull edge of the knife to direct it.
Using the food processor is NOT cheating
For big fine dicing or mincing jobs, you might want to consider using a food processor as it can whiz right through vegetables in seconds flat (if you are in need of a good food processor, I’ve been using my Cuisinart (affiliate) for 20 years and its still going strong!)
Check out our Library of How Tos
We’ve created (and are always adding to) our collection of demo videos of how to chop many common ingredients such as onions, garlic, belle peppers, avocados, and more in the most efficient ways possible.
Using pre-prepped ingredients isn’t cheating
For example, using minced garlic and pre-shredded carrots and cheeses can save you time and effort. It’s a trade off between the value of your time vs. money.
Take a class
If you really want to up your chopping game, you might also consider taking a knife skills class at a local cooking school if you’re feeling the need for more guidance. The skills you learn will pay off nightly in your kitchen.
Watch the video to learn the 3 knives you REALLY need, how to use them to cut onions, tomatoes and other vegetables efficiently and safely, and how to sharpen them in seconds:
I hope this guidance will help make your dinner preparation even speedier, and please let me know below or on The Scramble Facebook page if you have any other questions or suggestions. If you want additional help with meal preparation, sign up for The Scramble’s family-friendly meal plans so you can see how simple planning, easy cooking, and joyful eating can be!