Knife skills, life skills

Knives are dangerous. Sometimes, parents keep knives from us as children and young adults like they are weapons of mass destruction (which is fair), instead of teaching us how to use them correctly and safely.

As a female writer, in this post I will refrain from making any and all jokes related to knives, husbands, and phrases like “angry woman holding a knife over here!” I’m honestly talking about the functions of a good kitchen knife.

You know how many times I’ve cut myself using kitchen knives? A bunch. Usually when I’m washing them. Using the correct knife when cooking makes a huge difference when it comes to accidents as well. Proper technique is also kind of a necessity, unless you don’t care about losing chunks of your fingertips.

This is a somewhat long article, so as a heads up, I’ll be covering

  • types of knives
  • grip
  • care & safety

What Knives to Use, and When

I have four main knives that I use on a daily or very regular basis: a pairing knife, chef knife, vegetable knife and bread knife. They all have very different uses and while one might think “I’m sure I don’t need all of those, I bet I can get by with just one ‘all purpose’ knife.” Ehhhhhhh. You can certainly get by with an “all purpose” type knife if you are learning to cook or don’t cook often; but I would recommend buying a diverse set of knives if you plan to cook a lot.

While my set of knives would never be found in a Michelin star rated restaurant, they work well for what I’m using them for & also my budget.

Pairing Knife

A pairing knife is smaller and shorter than other kitchen knives, usually about a 3.5 inch blade, making it a great knife for cutting up cheese or small pieces of fruits & vegetables. I call this my snack knife, since I typically use it to cut up chunks of cheese, strawberries, apple slices, etc.  These are very common, affordable knives than can be found under $10 wherever you might be shopping for kitchen items. I purchased my pairing knife from IKEA for $4.99 several years ago, and it is still in excellent condition.

pairing knife the novice kitchen

Pairing Knife 3 inch blade

Vegetable “Utility” Knife

This knife would be the knife I would choose if I could only afford one knife. It’s bigger than a pairing knife at about 5.5 inches, but shorter than a chef’s knife. It can handle the same tasks as a pairing knife (however, use with caution as the size of this knife would be slightly overkill to cut up small food, like cherry tomatoes), and it can be used to cut almost all fruits and vegetables (not recommended for larger variety like eggplant, watermelon, butternut squash, etc).

If you are just learning your way around the kitchen and just need one good knife for basic tasks until you are ready to take on more complicated dishes, this would be the best choice. I’m positive this was the first knife I bought myself when I moved out on my own. This particular knife is a Calphalon, most likely purchased from Home Goods or Marshall’s in the $20 range.

vegetable knife the novice kitchen

Vegetable “Utility” Knife 5.5  inch blade

Chef Knife

Ah, the chef knife. This is the knife of knives. A chef’s knife is what you’ll see on cooking TV shows. This knife is longer and wider than the vegetable knife, making it perfect for a small job like crushing garlic (almost impossible with a pairing knife) and big jobs like cutting up big vegetables and meat.

A professional chef’s knife can be very expensive, in the triple digits. Again, I purchased mine from IKEA for $10 a few years ago and it has held up very well.

chefs knife the novice kitchen

Chef Knife 6.5 inch blade

Serrated “Bread” Knife

In our house, the bread knife is what has caused the most fingertip damage. The deep, serrated grooves can be extremely dangerous when combined with hungry carelessness. Let’s just say the last time there was an incident with the bread knife in our house, stitches were contemplated and I stopped making bread for a very long time.

Band aids aside, this still a knife you want around.

bread knife the novice kitchen

Big, scary bread knife

How to Hold a Knife

With sharp objects there’s always a right way and a wrong way to hold things.


The first picture shows how a beginner might grip a knife – which doesn’t offer a lot of control when chopping which is very unsafe. The second picture is better in that the fingers are outstretched and actually touching the blade offering a little more stability. The third picture is the most correct way to hold a knife, in a “pinch” grip. Even this particular grip is hard for me to get used to and I often switch to the second grip without even realizing it. A habit I am learning to change; the difference in control and precision is astounding when I’m holding the knife correctly.

Knife Care

In order for knives to be functional, they must be cared for. Here are a few quick tips for keeping your knives in shape:

  1. Do not cut on your counter top. Solid surfaces are too hard for the blade; best to stick to a softer cutting surface like wood or plastic cutting boards
  2. Hand wash, dry, and put away immediately. Knives can get dinged around in the dishwasher and knives sitting in a drying rack can be scratched or bent. Depending on the type of water you have, knives (and any silverware) may be prone to rust if they sit in water for long periods of time.
  3. Sharpen periodically. When a knife struggles to cut through something soft like, a tomato, it’s time to sharpen it! I have a small sharpener from IKEA (yes, I purchased a lot of kitchen items there when I moved out on my own) and it works well. It’s not the BEST sharpener, but it works.

Knife Safety

I feel like I need to put this in here considering how many mishaps I’ve had with sharp objects. Most of these I have unfortunately learned by experience.

  1. Obviously, don’t pick up a knife by the blade. Ever. If you put your knife in the dishwasher (shame), put it blade down, so you don’t impale your hand when you go to put it away. (Learned from experience)
  2. When you are hand washing your knife, like a good little chef, point the sharp edge away from you and wash toward the sharp end. (Again, learned from experience)
  3. Also, make sure your hands aren’t covered in soap when you are holding a knife and washing it. (Same)
  4. Don’t store your knives loose in a utensil drawer. Duh. You’ll open the drawer, reach for something and might accidentally grab a sharp blade.


Now that you know the basics of knives – go forth and chop!

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