While everyone agrees that knife skills are essential for chefs at any level, there’s no consensus on what the two-word phrase really means. Sure, you need to know how to slice fruit, veggies, herbs and meat, but does that also require expertise in the kinds of metal blades available around the world? How about dicing and mincing — are those fundamental to knife skills or is that level of knowledge for obsessives only?
We watched dozens of videos on food sites and across all social media — and identified the ones that are worth watching. So now, in addition to not slicing off your thumb, you’ll learn how to sharpen a knife, stabilize a cutting board, and even contribute to a conversation about the cult of Japanese knives.
Which Knives Do You Need?
If you can only have one nice knife, it should be a “chef’s knife” — the silhouette is iconic and it can do more than any other type of blade: It can “slice and dice most vegetables, chop a mound of herbs, and handle simple meat cuts like cubing beef or slicing chicken into strips,” according to Wirecutter, which recommends a few knives that cost between $48 and $200.
The fairly comprehensive list of knives below comes from Kitchen Ambition, where you can learn more about each one.
- Chef’s Knife
- Paring Knife
- Santoku Knife
- Utility Knife
- Bread Knife
- Butter Knife
- Carving Knife
- Slicing Knife
- Boning Knife
- Filet Knife
- Steak Knife
- Cheese Knives
- Kitchen Shears
Kitchen Knives 101
To narrow down the list of possible knives, we like how chef Billy Parisi walks us through the five staples he thinks you need to consider — and he includes lengths, costs and brands.
Carbon vs Stainless Steel
At Epicurious, knifemaker Will Griffin of W.A. Griffin Bladeworks demonstrates how to choose the best chef’s knife for your culinary needs — starting with the fundamental difference between carbon and stainless steel knives.
Carbon steel: The blade reacts with the environment (it can and will rust) but the patina is considered desirable by some. It’s also easy to re-sharpen.
Stainless steel: Never rusts.
Harder metals: Keeps a cutting edge longer but is brittle.
Softer metals: Don’t retain an edge as long but won’t chip.
Why Some Japanese Knives Cost $900 to $7,000
For a quick look at how some legendary Japanese knives are made (and why they can cost more than a good used car), watch this short video from Insider. There’s an incredible display of craftsmanship and you will not want to miss seeing how thin a tomato slice can get.
How to Hold a Chef’s Knife
Once you see how Jon-Paul Hutchins, a chef at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, explains how to hold a chef’s knife, you’ll never use your pointer finger again (that’s the one way you should never hold a knife, apparently).
Chopping vs Dicing vs Mincing vs Julienne
Jessica Pulliam, at A Culinary Reaction, offers many no-nonsense tips while demonstrating how to cut vegetables (onions, peppers, carrots), herbs and garlic.
Standout tip: Place two wet paper towels under the cutting board to prevent it from moving while you chop. Who knew?
How to Chop Garlic and Onions
While Jamie Oliver offers a slick minute-long tutorial on slicing garlic, he doesn’t tell the whole story. We like how Copper Colander culinary instructor chef Cynthia Ware starts from the real beginning (a round thing you have to cut) and includes sly tips along the way, including the fact that sliding a knife sideways across a cutting board will dull the knife quickly.
How to Chop Herbs Like Basil, Cilantro and Parsely
Rachael Ray tackles a ton of tips in this three-minute video. Not just chopping but when to tear an herb (to avoid bruising), what to do with stems, and how you can even avoid knives altogether by bundling a bunch of herbs and throwing that in the pan. “Invest in kitchen twine,” she opines.
How to Chop Carrots and Celery
There’s an appealing combination of logic and safety coursing through this video by Dave Beaulieu. Carrots and celery are long and roundish; start by making them flat and slicing them in half. You’ll cut your time down immensely thereafter.
How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives Like a Pro
For a ridiculously in-depth look at hardcore knife sharpening, Joshua Weissman visited Josh Donald at Bernal Cutlery in San Francisco to get expert advice on Japanese wet stones (coarse, medium and fine grit), the ideal angle created when the blade touches the stone (two quarters high), and how to sharpen with a strop. If you like the 12-minute-long video, Donald has a book too. If you want more minutiae, watch Adam Ragusea’s magnum opus on the subject (24 minutes!).
For a more accessible demonstration of knife sharpening, consider watching Justine Schofield (from @everydaygourmettv) and her three-minute-long video; she is one of the rare chefs to cover whetstone, steel, and 3-stage water sharpeners.