Cooking Essentials: Basic Knife Skills

Cooking Essentials: Basic Knife Skills

This is part 4 in a new series: College Cooking Crash Course. This series is written by Kyle, a student at Princeton University, and is designed for college students looking to learn the basics of making healthy, cost-effective, and delicious meals. Today, Kyle will be discussing the ins and outs of basic knife skills and how to make fresh Pico de Gallo using those knife skills.

A chef is only as good as their knives. Knives are absolutely essential to cooking! So today, I want to walk you through what I have learned about working with knives in the kitchen.

There are three kinds of knives that are must-haves for any college student: the cook’s knife, the serrated knife, and the paring knife.

The three basic kinds of knives (from top to bottom): the cook’s knife, the serrated knife, and the paring knife.

Before we go through each kind of knife, here are a few quick safety tips:

1) Buy sharp knives and keep them that way. Believe it or not, a sharp knife is far more safer than a dull knife. The sharper your knife is, the less likely it is to get caught or slip.

So when it comes to buying kitchen supplies, a good set of knives is one area where you don’t want to skimp out on, even if you’re a college student. In the long run, buying a set of high-quality knives, such as Wüsthof knives, will be more than worth the cost.

It’s almost important to keep your knives sharp, since they will begin to dull over time. You can do this by regularly honing your knife (once every couple of weeks or so), as well as sharpening your knives 1-2 times a year (we recently bought the Professional Sharpening Station 130 by Chef’s Choice and it’s worked wonders so far).

2) Hold the knife properly by using a “pinch” grip. Use your lower three fingers to grip the handle of the knife, and then pinch the blade with your thumb and index finger. This will give you maximum control over your knife.

3) Protect your guide hand using the “claw” grip. Curl up your fingers slightly so that your fingertips stay out of harm’s way and cut alongside your guide hand so that the blade gently touches your knuckles as you cut. Do this right and you’ll never have to worry about accidentally cutting one of your fingers.


Use the “pinch” and “claw” grips to keep your fingers safe.

Ok, now back to the different kinds of knives:

The cook’s knife is the knife you’ll use most often. It’s very versatile and will definitely be your go-to knife in most situations. For example, it’s perfect for dicing an onion.

To dice an onion, first use your cook’s knife to chop off the stem end of the onion. Then cut the onion in half, slicing through the root. Do not cut the root off! If you do, the onion will bleed and release a gas that will cause you to cry uncontrollably.

Peel off the outer skin of the onion. Then cut the onion horizontally, up to (but not through the root).

After that, make tightly spaced vertical cuts up to (but again not through!) the root.

Finally, turn the onion 90˚ and make another series of vertical cuts perpendicular to the cuts you just made. And voila! Perfectly diced onions.

The cook’s knife is also great for dicing other fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes:

It is even great for finely mincing herbs, such as garlic:

While the cook’s knife is great for cutting most things, you’ll want to pick up your serrated knife when slicing foods with tough surfaces. For instance, a serrated knife is perfect for slicing tomatoes. Unlike most knives, the serrated knife has “teeth” that can easily pierce the skin of a tomato. This allows the knife to cut straight through the tomato smoothly, rather than squishing the tomato and splattering juice everywhere.

Lastly, the paring knife is great for handling small, tight cuts, such as cutting out the core of a tomato or dicing up jalepeño peppers.

Once you’ve gotten a handle on using these three kinds of knives, you can easily cut anything and make all sorts of things. One great recipe to try your knife skills on is fresh Pico de Gallo. It’s an incredibly simple salsa to make, with only a few ingredients, but it is also a surefire way to test the full range of your basic knife skills, from mincing an onion, to dicing a tomato, to chopping up a jalepeño pepper. Check out my recipe below and let me know in the comments what you’d like me to show you next!

If you like this College Cooking Crash Course post on Basic Knife Skills, be sure to check out my other College Cooking Crash Course blog posts:

How To Make An Omelet

Low Budget Cooking: Living on $6/Day

Shabbat Dinner: Hummus, Pita and Schug

Pico de Gallo

Fresh salsa that you can whip up in minutes. Serve with chips!


  • 2 tomatoes (diced)
  • 1 yellow onion (diced)
  • 1/3 cup cilantro (finely chopped)
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper (diced)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
Read the whole recipe on Jeanette's Healthy Living