The Kitchen Knife Safety Guide
We’re all guilty of bad habits – some of which we aren’t even aware of, especially when it comes to working in the kitchen. Not all bad habits are easy to break, but becoming aware of them is a good first step.
Kitchen Knife Safety Rules: Breaking Bad Habits
If you want to stay sharp in the kitchen, then check out these 15 bad habits to break in order to follow the rules of kitchen knife safety.
1. Using Dull Knives
One of the most basic principles of kitchen knife safety is making sure your knives are kept sharp. This seems counterintuitive; isn’t a sharp knife more dangerous? You would think so, but the danger of a dull kitchen knife comes from the way it’s used.
In order to get the same cutting effect as a sharp knife, you need to apply more force and may find yourself using parts of the blade not intended for the job at hand as you try to find a spot sharp enough to cut the ingredients on your board. All this extra force and movement makes it much more likely that your blade will slip and cut something other than food.
Even if you do manage to avoid cutting yourself, dull knives will mash their way through your ingredients, making more work with less attractive results. The easy solution? Keep those knives sharp!
2. Not Holding the Knife Properly
The way you handle sharp kitchen knives is just as important as keeping them sharp in the first place. There are two main knife grips used in the kitchen. The most basic method, known as the handle grip, is exactly what it sounds like: you wrap your hand around the handle of the blade.
The second method, the blade grip or pinch grip, is commonly used by professional cooks and chefs since it offers much more control. With the blade grip, you’re still gripping the knife essentially in a fist with your hand placed far enough forward on the handle so your index finger and thumb pinch the blade at the base of the handle. Simply put: the thumb pinches the blade against the second knuckle of the index finger, allowing for much greater control of the knife. This technique is most commonly used with the chef’s knife.
3. Not Using Your Guide Hand Properly
If you’ve ever watched professionals slicing and dicing through ingredients, you’ll notice that they keep their fingertips curled under as they push the food toward the knife. This technique, aptly called “the claw”, is an easy way to protect yourself from accidents while cutting with sharp kitchen knives. Keeping the fingers curled under puts the knuckle closest to the blade, which is both higher off the board and harder to cut than your fingertips. The knuckle then serves as a guide for the blade as you cut through ingredients. This technique may feel awkward, but it’s a very important technique to master.
4. Placing Your Finger on the Blade While Cutting
Placing your index finger on the top of the blade is a common mistake, especially if you haven’t mastered the holding your knife with the blade grip technique. Many people think it will give them more control, but it actually lessons your ability to control the knife. If you’re using the blade-grip technique, the index finger is crucial to holding the blade in place, so it’s absolutely essential to keep it folded back instead of resting along the back of the blade. If you find that you’re moving your finger to help you apply more force down the length of the knife, chances are you’re using a dull knife – or the wrong knife for the job. Holding your knife properly is an essential part of safety in the kitchen.
5. Not Handling Your Knife Safely
Have you ever heard the saying “never run with scissors”? Well the same applies to a knife. It’s definitely not a good idea to run with a knife, but the way you handle a knife when moving around in the kitchen is something to keep in mind, too.
When you’re working with others in the kitchen and need to move your knife from one part of the kitchen to another, be sure to hold the knife down by your side with the blade facing behind you and alert others by saying “sharp behind/beside”. When it comes to handing a knife over to someone else, it’s best to place it on the counter so he or she can easily grab the handle. Alternatively, you can hold the knife by the handle and roll it back in your hand so the spine of the blade rests on the web of your hand between your thumb and forefinger so he or she can easily grab it by the handle.
6. Using the Sharp Edge to Scrape Ingredients
Knives are made to cut, not to scrape. The sharp edge of a knife can hold up to vertical pressure because it has the strength of the entire blade behind it, but scraping that edge along your board can actually bend that sharp edge out of alignment, making it much harder to properly sharpen again – and bringing you back to the dangers of prepping ingredients with a dull knife.
7. Using a Glass, Ceramic or Stone Cutting Surface
While ceramic, glass, and stone boards make for pretty presentation platters, they’re not good as cutting surfaces. These surfaces are all too hard and will blunt your knives. In addition, the hard surface makes it difficult to keep your knife in one place as you cut, meaning accidents are more likely. When it comes to choosing the best cutting board for your knives, opt for one made of wood or plastic – and make sure you designate one for raw meats and another for produce to avoid cross-contamination.
8. Using Your Knife for Anything Other than Cutting Food
Just like the bad habit of using the sharp edge of your knife to scrape your board, using a knife to pry open a can, smash open nuts, or any other non-cutting activity can cause irreparable damage. In the worst cases, you may even cause your knife to snap (even Gordon Ramsay has done it!), so reserve your knives for cutting only.
9. Licking Food Off of a Knife
This should be self explanatory, but it’s still an all-too-common mistake. There are a number of reasons why it’s a very bad idea to lick a knife. First of all, they’re sharp! A cut tongue makes it very difficult to enjoy the dishes you’ve spent so much time and effort preparing. Licking a knife, or any kitchen utensil used for preparing raw ingredients, also opens you up to the potential for cross-contamination and food poisoning.
10. Leaving Knives in the Sink
You never want your knives knocking around against metal, glass, ceramic, and other hard surfaces that can blunt or chip the blades, and a kitchen sink full of dishes is a recipe for disaster. Plus, if someone reaches into a sink without knowing the knife is there, they might get a nasty surprise from that sharp blade. Washing your knives separately will protect both them and yourself.
11. Putting Knives Away When Still Wet
Steel rusts. The longer you let your knives stay wet, the more likely they are to start picking up spots of rust that dull and weaken the blade. The best way to care for your knives is to wash them immediately when you’re done using them, give them a quick towel-dry, and put them away properly – as in back in your knife block. More on this next.
12. Storing Knives Loosely in a Drawer
Everyone’s got a drawer for those awkward, oversized utensils that don’t fit neatly anywhere else. Resist the temptation to store your knives there! Not only do you risk damaging the blades when they knock against your potato masher and balloon whisk, you also risk damaging yourself when you reach into the drawer and meet the blade of a knife instead of the handle. For basic safety in the kitchen, make sure you’re storing your knives properly. Knife blocks are often included with kitchen knife sets or are offered as an upgrade (like this magnetic knife block from F.N. Sharp), so that’s something to consider when shopping for a new set. And if you want to get really fancy or simply don’t have the counter space, then you can store your knives in a chef’s roll-up knife kit.
13. Not Washing Knives After Using
Metal is tough when it comes to physical abuse, but throw a little food at it and corrosion is inevitable. Take care to wash your knives as soon as you’re done using them to get rid of any residue and prevent damage to your knives. Clean knives also means you’ll avoid accidental cross-contamination.
14. Leaving Knives Near the Edge of the Counter
In a busy kitchen, there’s a lot of hustle and bustle back and forth. For the same reason you turn the handles of pots and pans away from the walkway, you should keep knives away from the edges of the counter as it is easy to knock them off as you move around the space. Plus, in households with young children, kitchen knife safety means keeping knives where curious little hands can’t reach them.
15. Playing Catch with a Falling Knife
You wouldn’t play catch with a kitchen knife, right? So why would you try to grab it if it’s falling off the counter? Resist the instinct to grab for it and take a step back, then pick it up once it hits the floor.
If you’re guilty of some of these bad kitchen habits, you could be destroying your most important kitchen tools, while also putting your hands and fingers at risk. Overcoming these habits, even if done so one at a time, will get you one step closer to staying sharp in the kitchen.