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Working with knives

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

In 2018 Dan was asked to assist one of Australia's largest beef enterprises with a quick write up on what he thought were the most important tips for working with knives. This article originally appeared in Steak School by Stanbroke but we have shared his answers with you here.

cutting steak with knife

Use the right knife for the task and food you’re cutting

Knives come in all shapes and sizes – some with blades just a few centimetres long, to blades nearly as long as your forearm.

The trick to make life easy, get the best results and use your knives safely, is to pick the right knife for the task at hand. Just like you wouldn’t want to try cutting a steak with a butter knife, it’s not a good idea to use a boning knife for something like slicing bread.

Generally, when it comes to beef, you’ll be looking to use a cook’s knife – the big 15 to 20cm knife – for general meat chopping, a slicing or carving knife for cutting thinner slices of roast, or a boning knife to cut more precisely around bones.

Hold the knife correctly and protect your fingers

When holding a knife, you should always feel like you have a good grip on the knife in a way that allows you control, dexterity and stability. There are different ways to hold different types of knives but again, the key is to find the knife that feels most comfortable in your hand to efficiently and safely get cutting.

Secure the food you are cutting with a ‘guiding hand’ and protect your fingertips by curling them inwards so that you are using your knuckles to guide your knife as you cut.

You’ll find that by holding the knife correctly, you’ll cut accurate and evenly, which means your ingredients will cook at the same rate and result in a dish that is cooked to perfection, with the added benefit of refined presentation.

Always cut on a stable surface

It’s incredibly important to make sure you have a nice stable chopping board before you start using any knife. You always want to be cutting on a surface that is strong, stable and sturdy. One trick chefs often use is to wet a cloth, fold it in half and place it between the chopping board and the bench, pressing the board down firmly. This will stop your board from moving around as you use your knife. The best body position is to stand straight on to the cutting board and when you’re not using your knife leave it at the top of the chopping board with the blade facing away from you.

Store your knives safely

If you look after your knives well, they’ll stay sharp and undamaged. One thing that’s really important, for safety and to keep your knives in good condition, is to store your knives correctly.

There are lots of different knife storage options, from foam to wooden blocks, and this little spiral knife holder which I love. The best thing I’d say however is a magnetic strip that you can easily put your knife on against the wall. With your knives at eye level, you can see exactly how clean they are, what you are grabbing and then you always have them ready to go. If you do store your knives this way, it’s safest to have all the blades facing the same way.

Keep your knives sharp… and sharpen them right!

A blunt knife is a dangerous knife. You’re likely to apply more pressure to your ingredients with a blunt knife, making you more likely to slip and increase the risk of injury to yourself. That being said, it’s important to know how to sharpen your knives and keep them safe to use.

The best way to do this is to firstly research what is the best sharpening tool for your specific knife. Not all sharpening tools are designed for all knives. Before you go to sharpen your knife though, test it first. Attempting to sharpen a blade when it’s not necessary could actually ruin the blade.

When it comes to sharpening tools, I love the diamond stone. It’s a really good sharpening tool – but it’s not for every knife. Find a nice stone that suits your knives – with one side rough and one side smooth to finish (or get two stones – one of each type).

Put the stone in some water for 10 minutes. Keep splashing with water as you sharpen to help the blade glide easily. I usually do 12 times one side of the blade, and 12 times other side so both sides to sharpen evenly – always keeping the blade facing away from you. There is also a little attachment you can buy that helps you to keep the right angle on the stone too, if that helps.

Don’t put your knives in the dishwasher

To keep your knives clean and in top condition, don’t leave your knives submerged in water and don’t put them in a dishwasher. Knives that are put through a dishwasher quickly lose the sharpness of their blade. To keep a knife clean simply wash it with hot soapy water using a cloth and handling it carefully. You should also always try to wipe it dry and put it away straight away, both to maintain its condition and for safety.

Buy good quality knives that suit your skill level

An expensive knife doesn’t make a chef. For most people, all they’ll need is a simple knife set that’s not too expensive and is easy to maintain. For home cooks or basic cooks, I always recommend Victorinox knives. It’s a great choice. They offer great quality at a good price, and as they’re well-known they are easy to find. They have a light handle that is comfortable for most people to use and are easy to maintain.

Another brand that’s great is MAC, which is top quality and also has a covering on the blade that stops food from sticking to it. Wusthof is my favourite – one of the best. It’s a really high-quality knife that’s easy to sharpen, clean and maintain. The boning knife of Wusthof is amazing and probably what I use the most.

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