Simple, Step-by-Step Instructions for How to Hold a Knife

Proper knife skills will not only help you slice and dice faster—they'll make your prep work so much safer, too.  

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Ask any chef or culinary professional what their “desert island” cooking tool would be, and I guarantee that 99% of them would say their chef’s knife (sorry, Instant Pot fans). A well-sharpened knife is an absolute essential in the kitchen, made for tackling every type of meal prep task from slicing and dicing delicate veggies to cutting through tough chicken bones.

But whether you’re a novice cook or a professional chef, knives can be intimidating. They require your full attention; make one simple mistake and you could end up with a lot worse than an unevenly cut clove of garlic. In an effort to make your chopping easier and safer, we consulted Chef Ann Kim—the 2019 “Best Chef Midwest” James Beard Award winner, owner of Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza, and Young Joni in Minneapolis—to get her expert intel on the best way to hold a knife. We pulled together these simple step-by-step expert knife skills you’ll want to commit to memory. I promise you’ll have zero intimidation (plus 10 fingers) at the start and finish.

Step 1: With your hand open, allow the knife to balance gently in the palm of your hand.

Step 2: Place the lower three fingers of the hand you use to hold the knife around the handle with the middle finger on the bolster.

Step 3: Use your thumb and index finger to clasp the blade on the left and right.

Simple as that. But now that we have the basics for how to properly hold the knife, let’s break down a few expert cutting techniques. These best-practices—one for each hand—will have you dicing, mincing, and julienning like a pro chef in no time.

The “Pinch Grip”

If you’re holding the knife vertically in the air, your thumb is going to go in front of the bolster with your index finger on the other side, making a pinching motion on the blade.

The reason we hold the blade here is because this is the balance point of the knife. Our fingers will be light around the knife, so we don’t over guide the blade and the knife becomes an extension of your hand.

The “Claw Grip”

Don’t be intimidated by the name. Nothing is clawing at you! Simply use your free hand (i.e. the one without the knife), whether lefty or righty, to hold the ingredient you’re going to cut. Allow your fingertips to face the rear inside of the palm so that you reduce the risk of cutting your fingers (important!). Now, the knife is close against your fingers so that the blade lightly touches them when cutting.

The Best Knife for the Job

“I work a lot with veggies, and always use the Wüsthof Cook’s Knife ($150; Nothing sticks to its blade, so the work goes quick and easy. The knife moves up and down along the fingers, with the tip of the knife always on the cutting board in a rocking movement from front to back,” says Chef Kim. If you’re in the market for a new superstar ‘sous chef,’ Wüsthof won’t disappoint.

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