Using knives can be dangerous, whether they’re incredibly sharp or downright dull. With very sharp blades, you can easily cut skin if you are not paying attention, and dull blades can slip if you force it too much, putting you at risk for losing control and getting cut.
Do you remember that day when you accidentally cut yourself? You probably don’t want to, I know. But almost anyone who uses knives daily has at least one or two accidents in their lifetime. More than 350,000 people in 2012 (according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission) had a kitchen accident happen that was knife related.
For me, my first accident was on my very first day as a head chef. I was super nervous. Even though I knew what I was supposed to do, I was just worried that I might do something wrong.
Surprisingly, in the beginning, everything was going well, until one point. This one kid asked for a hamburger. Our meats are prepared and frozen beforehand for later use. We freeze them on top of each other with a piece of paper between them to make it easier to separate them later. So I go to the freezer and get the meat. Instead of taking a paring knife or any small knife to pry apart the frozen meat, I was panicking, and my nerves got the best of me, the restaurant had started to get really full, and I just jumped on the first knife I saw…a 12-inch chef knife. I stuck the knife in between two frozen meat, and I pushed hard on it, and it slipped. As a result, it penetrated the palm of my hand.
I am going to spare you the rest of the details, but the ambulance came, I got some stitches and had to stay at home for two months. And this is how my first day as a chef started, great start, right? So from that day on, safety with knives became very important to me.
In this guide, you will have all the info you need to make sure you avoid any type of accident and also receive some safety tips.
There are so many knives out there, so it’s impossible to go through all of them. However, I will try to go through those I think are essential to any kitchen and are commonly used by home cooks. But, before I do, there are some other points that we need to discuss.
The importance of choosing the right knife.
I feel I cannot emphasize enough the importance of choosing the right knife. I have discussed this many times in other articles and will repeat it here. Always use the proper knife for the right task. You are not supposed to be carving with a chef knife or peeling with a carving knife, there is a difference between them, and there is a good reason for that. And using the wrong knife will lead to accidents, you can be sure of that. If you are trying to cut a hard surface with a blade that bends really quickly, you’d need to put a lot of pressure to get the cut, it will slip, and the result may be catastrophic like you might cut a nerve. I know I may sound dramatic, but I am talking from my own experience. So lets always use the right knife for the right task.
How to choose the right knife.
Most of us know more or less what knife one should use for which occasion but here are the things to consider before choosing your knife:
Flexibility: Some tasks demand a flexible blade, while others need a steady one. To give you an example, you’d need a steady (or not bendable) knife to cut potatoes but would require a bendable one to remove scales from a fish.
Blade size: Pick a knife that is proportional to the ingredients you’re cutting. Let’s take a small paring knife as an example. It will be extremely difficult for butchering a large piece of meat, so you’d use a cleaver for this task instead.
Blade edge: As you know, depending on the knife, some edge can be different. Take the serrated knife, they are excellent for cutting through foods with tender centers, while Granton blades should be used for wet foods like cheese and salmon.
What is the very first rule of knife safety?
Firs rule of knife safety: You always cut away from your body or cut away from another person. If you cut towards you (or towards another person), you might end up cutting yourself. There are numerous stories you can read online about people cutting themselves or even stabbing themselves because they did not apply this one rule! I have discussed in detail about this topic in this article, in case you wish to know more, but you have the short version for you here. The same rule should be observed when sharpening your knife.
All types of knives safety guide.
An absolute must-have is the 8 to 10-inch chef’s knife. This knife is going to be your number one item in your kitchen. Rounded towards its tip, it is perfect for rock chopping and is straight at its edge, making it ideal for tap chopping.
How to hold a chef knife:
The best grip will be the one you feel the most comfortable with. But there are several techniques. The favored by many cooking pros is the choking up grip. It may sound and feel a little scary, but it’s really not risky. With some practice, you’ll find that this grip offers control and a good balance of dexterity and stability.
How to use a chef knife correctly:
Now we know how to hold the chef knife, now its the turn to your guiding hand, which is your non-knife hand. Its job is to hold the ingredients to keep it from moving around on the cutting board. It’s straightforward, you make a claw shape with your hand, as shown below, and hold the ingredient this way. Your blade should rest against the first knuckle of the guiding hand, helping keep the blade perpendicular to the cutting board. And which each circle motion cut, you need to move your knuckle a little further, keeping the knife rested against it at all times.
How to not hold a chef knife:
As seen in the video below, do not push with your index finger on the knife, it’s not stable, and it’s also very stressful for your arm if you do it for a long time.
Here is a video with an explanation:
Small paring knife.
The paring knife is one that we all use and probably use the first. Do not confuse it with the peeling knife; it’s different, but most people just use the paring knife for peeling. This knife is ideal for making garnishes and such and will probably be your second most used knife in the kitchen since it is considered a very versatile knife.
How to hold a paring knife:
With this knife, you want to hold it in a way that gives you total control, Whether you’re slicing, peeling or trimming. Your grip should feel comfortable, and you want the knife to feel stable and secure in your hand. Go at your own pace. A good paring knife won’t slip, even if you’re cutting in hand or on a cutting board.
How to use a paring knife:
Using a paring knife is straightforward. As shown in the video below, you just need to make sure to use the knife slowly and safely if you choose to peel an apple. But if you choose to slice something, it is very similar to the chef knife as in technique, making sure your guiding hand is in the claw position.
How to not use the paring knife:
A very common mistake I see is the knife is used to cut something in the palm of your hand. You are basically using your hand as a cutting board. You might think since the knife is small, anyway, it should be ok, but this is the number one knife that causes the most accidents because of this reason. So if you wish to slice something, use a cutting board.
Here is a video with an explanation:
Bread knife (serrated knife).
The long, serrated blade known as the bread knife is another knife that is a must-have in any kitchen. Compared to other knives, this knife stays sharp for a long time, so you don’t need to do much to maintain it.
How to hold a bread (serrated) knife:
The easiest and best way to hold a serrated knife is to use the choking grip on the knife. You hold the handle until your thumb and index finger grip the blade just past the handle. Your hand should be position on top of the knife and not below the sharp edge of the blade.
How to use bread (serrated) knife:
You can cut bread effortlessly by merely gliding it across the bread, and the blade will do the rest for you. To know what foods serrated knife should be cutting, it’s not that hard. Anything ingredient that is hard on the outside but soft on the inside like tomatoes is ideal.
How to not use a bread (serrated) knife:
The serrated knife is not made to cut cheese or meat; you’d tear them apart and end up with very uneven pieces and ruin the meat in the process.
Here is a video with an explanation:
The carving knife is not a knife that everyone uses in their kitchen, but I can assure you once you have it, you would not want to work without it. Its the knife you would use during thanksgiving when cutting the huge turkey for your guests. Or when you wish to carve a nice and even a thick slice of beef.
How to hold a carving knife:
Its grip is the same grip you would use with a paring knife or serrated knife. There is no special holding technique needed for this knife.
How to use a carving knife:
This knife is slightly thinner than the chef knife, and thus, its use is very similar in use. There is only one thing you need to keep in mind, and that’s the ingredient you are cutting must be shorter than your blade, which produces effortless cutting. Therefore it is advised to buying a long carving knife.
How to not use a carving knife:
Instead of a carving knife, you might think you can do the same with a chef knife, but the results with a chef knife will most likely not as good with a carving knife. Coming to how not to use a carving knife, this knife is not made for delicate and thin cuts and garnishes.
Here is a video with an example:
Out of all the different kitchen knife types, the boning knife is easy to find once you know what to look for. With its narrow and thin, semi-flexible blade, the boning knife can be used for a variety of tasks around the kitchen. However, because most people buy their meat already bones separated, this knife is not commonly found in most kitchens.
How to hold a boning knife:
Ideally, for a boning knife, you would want to use the pinch grip this means you wrap your 3 fingers around the handle, and then you pinch the blade with your thumb and then place the index finger on top of the blade.
How to use a boning knife:
The boning knife is flexible, and therefore, can reach places other knives cannot. The flexibility and shape of its blade also allow you to maneuver in tight areas, and its thin tip can slice away the cartilage in joints.
How to not use a boning knife:
Yes, it is called a boning knife, but it’s not used to cut through bones. Instead, it’s used for separating meat from the bones.
Here is a video with an example:
A cleaver is mostly used as a butcher knife to cut through bone or large pieces of meat. But the knife’s broadside can also be used to crush ingredients like onion or garlic.
Compared to many different knives, the meat cleaver has a tough edge. It means that it can resist repeated hits directly into thick meat, thick cartilage, especially bone.
How to hold a cleaver:
The best way to hold a cleaver is to wrap your fingers around the handle the same way as you would shake hands with it. For better balance and power or guidance, you can put your thumb on the spine of the knife though this requires a little extra hand strength.
How to use a cleaver:
An easy way to use the cleaver is to angle it, so it is facing horizontally to the meat and cutting board. Make sure to stabilize the meat with your guiding or also called your free hand. Keeping the cleaver horizontal, slice through the meat paying close attention to avoid cutting into the hand holding the meat. If you are cutting through bones with a cleaver, put the knife horizontally on the meat cut a little in it. Use your guiding hand to give a big push to cut through the bone or anything with a hard surface.
How to not use a cleaver:
You may have seen butchers using the claver so easily and probably think you can do it with the same eas. Well, I would strongly suggest being very, very careful when trying the same as the butcher. You can quickly lose a finger if you are not careful. So use it with caution, especially when trying the same as you see those butchers doing.
Here is a video with an example:
The utility knife is one that falls in between the chef knife and the paring knife. When the paring blade is too short, and the chef’s knife is too heavy or thick. You probably would want to go for this knife. However, I do not think this knife is something that one should buy because I believe you can do everything with just five essentials knives in your kitchen.
How to hold a utility knife:
Because of the similarity to a chef knife, holding the pinch grip is the best way to hold this knife. So the same with your 3 fingers wrapped around the handle.
How to use the utility knife:
Best uses for the utility knife can be things like scoring in unions to mince them or cutting limes in half. You can also split small peppers with it or even cut the cheese (depending on the size) with it.
How to not use the utility knife:
Although it might be called the vegetable knife, its utility is limited due to its size. They call it the dwarf (4-inch knife), among other knives, so therefor can only be used for cutting small things. So using this knife for cutting ingredients larger than 4-inch, you probably will end up having an accident.
Here is a video with an example:
The filleting knife is used for, yes, filleting, of course. There is some confusion with this knife and the boning knife. So to give a short and clear explanation, the fillet knife usually is thinner than a boning knife. It is also more flexible, and its thinness helps for more precise cutting, which is required for more delicate meats, like fish. Fillet knives are perfect for fish because the shape and thinness of the blade allow for better mobility for removing the skin.
How to hold a filleting knife:
Like all others, the same story with this knife, the pinch grip is still the best way to hold this knife. Depending on the task at hand, you might want to use your index finger to push on the spine to put more pressure on it. However, be careful with too much pressure as it may lead to accidents.
How to use a filleting knife:
Outside of filleting a fish, you can do other things with this knife. For example, you can remove the skin of a tomato (video below) or anything that has skin that can be removed. Or if you do not have a carving knife nearby, you can use this knife to slice some thin meat slices.
How to not use a filleting knife:
If your filleting knife is not sharp enough, you might end up using too much pressure to get the cut or remove the skin from fish. So it is (as it is with all knives) imperative to have it always sharp.
Here is a video with an example:
Most common mistakes and accidents with a kitchen knife.
Here is a list of the most common types of mistakes and accidents happening in the kitchen with a knife:
- Cutting bagels: For those who are in love with bagels. Cutting bagels should be done on a table where you can easily cut through on its side. You can do this by merely putting your hand flat on top of the bagel so you can hold it down, and you slowly cut in the middle. What you should not do is, holding it in your hand and slice in the middle like many people are doing.
- Utensil drawer cuts: Proper storing is not only crucial for the longevity of your knife, but it’s also for your health. By placing a razor-sharp blade in a drawer, if you are not facing toward the back, you might accidentally grab the sharp edge.
- Dull knives: Something that has been said many, many times. A dull blade requires more pressure to get the cut, which leads to accidents. It might slip off the ingredient right to your holding hand.
- Catching a falling knife: I know, it’s a reflex. But falling knives is something that happens so often that even though you’d think you would never catch a falling knife eventually, it will happen. A tip to avoid this is simply not putting your knife at the edge of the table.
- Falling knife on foot: very similar to the one above. If you hopefully did not try to catch the knife, then there is a possibility that it falls on your feet. Again the same solution as previously, just try avoiding the edge of the table.
- Slippery Cutting Boards: There is a big chance for you to lose control of your knife when the cutting board slides away. But this neat trick that is commonly used by chefs is ideal for solving this particular problem. You hold the board in place by placing a slightly wet paper towel or kitchen towel between the board and your counter, and that’s it! Same thing when it comes to cutting large fruits like squash or melons. Trimming one round side, and you have a flat surface to put on. This way, it won’t roll and slip when you cut.
- Using a knife for other purposes: There are so many things I see people do that should be never be done with a kitchen knife. Usually, the injuries happen because you’re using the knife for an unintended purpose. For example, they were using it to open packages, sticks of lip balm, or bags of chicken, or to pry apart frozen hamburgers (yep that was me). I have also seen people trying to open cans of icing, boxes, wine bottles.
- Slicing a union on your hand: Slicing an onion without a cutting board, it looks like something that has is practiced a lot these days. But not without injuries, of course. This is also another widespread mistake that happens almost daily. So, please use the proper tool to cut your unions.
- Distraction while cutting: I think this one should be the first on my list. I know I have cut myself because I did not pay attention or something distracted you. It’s very dangerous, and it can happen really fast. So always stay focused when cutting no matter what the situation is. One would even say that this is the most important aspect of knife skills: focus.
- Slice away from you always: If you slice towards you, there is a chance that you cut yourself if the knife slips, but not if you slice away from you, so you can easily avoid this.
- Licking or eating food Off of a Knife: You have some sauce on your knife, and you just can’t resist licking it off. Well, there a few reasons why it’s a terrible idea to lick a knife. Firstly, they are sharp, so you can cut yourself (duh)! Second, if you cut your tongue, you are going to have a hard time enjoying the food you just prepared. But you also have the risk of potential cross-contamination and food poisoning. Why? You are working with raw ingredients with these tools, so you are not supposed to eat or lick it off.
Safety tips when using kitchen knives.
Keeping knives sharp always:
This was something I mentioned a few times in this article, as you may have noticed. Keeping your knives sharp is something that you probably would want to do anyway. So you can get better cuts and work much more enjoyable and faster. But when it comes to safety, working with a dull knife is the most dangerous thing to do. It can slip, and you may end up in the hospital. So, always keep them sharp!
Keep your knives clean:
Contamination is something not to take lightly, so with each use cleaning your knife the right way is essential. This means you cannot leave your knife on your cutting board in the sink for a prolonged time. It doesn’t matter even if it’s in soapy water. This kind of behavior creates the ideal opportunity for contamination or, even worse, injuries. Leaving food residue on the knife not only is bad for your knife, but this is also why kitchen knives rust. But if the handle is also not clean, it might make your knife slippery, and this is dangerous, so be sure to keep clean for the most secure grip.
Cutting board safety.
A slipping cutting board can be equally dangerous as cutting with a dull knife. So you want to have a cutting board that is flat and steady on a surface. There are cutting boards that have an antislip system build in so they won’t ever slip. But most just don’t have it. So if you have one that is moving, use a wet piece of cloth can be a kitchen towel, for example, and place it under the board, and it won’t budge one bit.
Using the right cutting board for the right knife is also an important point. Because your knife can get dull faster if you are using the wrong cutting board for your knife, it will eventually lead to you working with a dulling knife. We all know what it means to work with a dull knife. So, once you have bought your knife, check if the type of cutting board you are currently using is the right one.
Wear cut-resistant gloves where possible.
I know this may sound a little overreacting, but why not be safe if you can be? In fact, if you look at most butchers (if not all), they are wearing these cut-resistant gloves because they are constantly working with sharp knives. If you feel confident and think you don’t need to wear it, then fine, but what you can do is, use it in the beginning and get yourself used to work with a very sharp knife, and eventually, you can work without the glove.
Carrying a knife correctly: If you are carrying a knife while working because you have to move a lot. It is essential to make sure you always keep your blade to your side with the point down and cutting side away from you.
Passing a knife to someone: In case you need to pass the knife to someone else. It is advised to put the knife down on a clean workplace and let the other party pick it up, never try to pass the knife from hand to hand.
Do not let your children alone with knives:
When it’s busy in the kitchen, and you are hustling back and forth. You might not have the time to think about the kids because they are so focussed on finishing this meal prep. But without you noticing it if the knife is in reach where the kids can grab it, we don’t want to know what might happen. So make sure to keep your knives where curious little hands can’t reach them. An easy solution is, with each use cleaning your knife and putting it back on a magnetic strip on the wall.