A Guide to Using Your Chef’s Knife

A good chef's knife is a kitchen workhorse that's more versatile than any other knife in your arsenal.

Published Dec. 5, 2018.

A good chef’s knife is indispensable for all cutting tasks, from precision work such as mincing a shallot to heavy-duty jobs such as breaking down a butternut squash. Here’s how to make sure you use it to its best advantage.

What You’ll Learn:

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Start with a Good Knife

We believe that all kitchen tasks go better and more easily when you use well-designed equipment, and this maxim is especially true of a chef’s knife. It’s imperative to have a good one. Our two favorites merge the knife traditions of the East and the West: curved cutting edges that encourage the rocking motion favored by most Western cooks and slimmer blades like those common on Japanese knives, which can more deftly move through food.

Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8-Inch Chef’s Knife

Our Swiss-made longtime favorite continually beats out the competition with its 15-degree cutting edge (versus the 20-degree angle of classic Western chef’s knives), which slides effortlessly through food yet is sturdy enough to easily cut through hard butternut squash. We also love its good edge retention and textured, secure grip—not to mention its bargain price.

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Best Chef's Knives

One chef’s knife has been a champ in our kitchen for nearly two decades. Can any other blade come close to offering what it does—and at a bargain price?
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Masamoto VG-10 Gyutou, 8.2″

For those willing to fork over more for a chef’s knife, this knife’s asymmetrical cutting edge (21 degrees on one side, 9 degrees on the other) cuts through anything it encounters like a dream, including butternut squash and chicken cartilage. With a blade more curved than those of many Japanese knives, it also assists a rocking motion that cleanly minces herbs. Its edge retention is excellent.

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In Europe, the chef's knife is a sturdy tool that can chop and slice anything. In Japan it's a thin, light precision instrument. What happens when East meets West?
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Why Eight is the Magic Number

Chef’s knives range in length from 8 to 10 inches. We find that 8 inches is long enough to maneuver through a wide roast or a hefty watermelon but short enough to allow good control of the blade.

How to Hold the Knife

The first step to making efficient cuts is holding the knife appropriately.

Pinch Grip: Pinch the blade where it meets the handle with your thumb and forefinger. This grip, our go-to for most cutting tasks, allows you to choke up on the blade to get leverage over the whole length of the knife.

Finger Grip: Rest your thumb on the side of the blade and your forefinger on the spine. This grip is useful for precision tasks in which you’re mainly using the tip of the blade and don’t need to put a lot of force behind it, such as filleting fish.

Handle Grip: Grasp the knife firmly where the handle meets the blade. While this grip can often feel the most secure for inexperienced cooks, it doesn’t offer the control over the tip that is needed to make precision cuts. We recommend using this grip only when honing the blade or when mincing herbs.

The “Claw”: Not a knife grip but the position of your hand holding the food. Curve your fingers into a claw on top of the food, making sure to tuck your thumb behind them and pressing down to hold the food in place. This position allows your knuckles to help guide the side of the blade while your fingertips stay out of harm’s way. With practice, your claw will move back in even increments after each cut, guiding the knife to make even slices.

Three Cuts Every Cook Should Know

The goal when cutting any food is to avoid crushing or bruising it and to create even-size pieces that cook at the same rate and/or ensure even flavor distribution throughout the dish. With practice, executing the proper motions—all of which rely on a pushing or pulling action rather than a straight downward cut—will make your prep work go much more smoothly and quickly.


Create flat, stable surface by cutting food in half or removing thin slice from bottom. Hold food with claw grip.

For small items, keep tip down: Using pinch grip and with tip of knife on cutting board and middle of blade resting on food, push down and forward, using length of blade to cut through food. As you cut, blade follows rocking motion: As heel of knife goes down, knife slices forward; then, blade slides back as heel is lifted up.

For large items, lift blade up: To slice large items such as eggplant, use pinch grip and lift entire blade off board to start each cut. Starting with front part of blade on food, push down and forward. As you cut, blade follows same rocking motion as with small item.

What slicing is used for: Most vegetable and fruit prep


Start by roughly chopping food using pinch grip and slicing cut. Then gather food into small pile. While steadying tip of knife with your nondominant hand and using handle grip, rock knife up and down with slight pivoting motion, without lifting knife tip off board, until food is evenly minced.

What mincing is used for: Herbs, garlic cloves, zest

Tip Cut

This precision cut uses only the knife tip. Using pinch grip, place tip of knife on food and draw it through or across food with gentle downward pressure.

What a tip cut is used for: Cutting meat from around bones or crosshatching fat on meat

Take the Sharpness Test

Hold a sheet of paper by one end and drag your knife, from heel to tip, across it. If the knife snags or fails to cut the paper, it needs to be honed or sharpened.

Keeping Your Chef’s Knife Sharp

A sharp knife is a precise, efficient tool, while a dull knife is an accident waiting to happen. That’s because a dull blade requires more force to do the job and has a higher chance of slipping and missing the mark. The result most often is food that’s crushed or bruised. And it doesn’t take months or weeks for a knife to lose its edge. Even a few minutes of cutting dense or hard foods can dull a blade. To maintain your knife, you should hone it or sharpen it regularly.

Honing versus Sharpening

Honing a knife with a honing steel (also referred to as a sharpening steel—a misnomer) repositions (or “trues”) the edge of a blade that is slightly out of alignment to restore sharpness. Sharpening trims and reshapes the blade by removing metal that is blunted or too far out of alignment for honing to work.

How Often Should You Hone?

A good rule of thumb is to use a honing steel every time you start to cook. If you are doing a lot of heavy cutting work, such as butchering a chicken or slicing a lot of onions, it’s a good idea to also hone while you are working. Regular maintenance will prolong the time between sharpening sessions.

  1. Using handle grip, place tip of honing steel on counter and heel of blade against its top, pointing knife tip slightly upward. Hold blade at consistent angle away from steel (15 to 20 degrees depending on the knife).
  2. Maintaining light pressure and consistent angle, sweep blade down length of steel, pulling knife toward your body so that entire edge of blade makes contact with steel.
  3. Repeat this motion on other side of blade. Four or 5 strokes on each side of blade (total of 8 to 10 alternating passes) should realign edge.

How Often Should You Sharpen?

If you cook often, you should check your knife weekly for sharpness using the sharpness test. If it fails the test, try honing first. If that doesn’t work, run it through a sharpener.

Two Great Sharpeners

The Best Manual Knife Sharpener: Chef’sChoice Pronto Manual Diamond Hone Asian Knife Sharpener

Tall walls hold the knife steady so that a 15-degree blade can be drawn through the chamber with even pressure. The slim body is easily stowed in a drawer.

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The Best Electric Knife Sharpener: Chef’sChoice Trizor XV Knife Sharpener

The aggressive first slot can quickly repair extensive damage and narrow a 20-degree Western knife to a sharper 15-degree edge. Use the fine slot to gently resharpen a slightly dull knife.

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The Best Chef's Knife for Kids

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