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Every year, thousands of people end up in emergency rooms with injuries they receive by using kitchen knives. But with a few cutting-edge tips, you can avoid the biggest danger of kitchen work. Here’s how:

Use a sharp knife

A dull blade is actually more dangerous to use than one that is sharp. Here’s why: A dull blade requires more pressure to cut, increasing the chance that the knife will slip with great force behind it. A sharp knife “bites” the surface more readily.

Halve what You Cut

When chopping or dicing curved foods, such as eggplant or zucchini, start by cutting the object in half, to create a flat, stable end. Place the flat surface against the cutting board, and work from there.

Hold On to What You Are Cutting

Chefs learn a special holding technique that protects their fingertips. To use this technique, bend your fingers under and press against the food with the tips of your fingers. Let your knuckles guide the knife.

Use the right cutting surface

Cutting on a metal stovetop, on a plate, or on a tile or Formica counter dulls your blades. It’s best to use a plastic or wood cutting board.

Flip a pepper

To safely cut a bell pepper, cut it in half first, and then slice or chop it with the meaty side up. This decreases the problem of cutting through its waxy skin.

Palm that bagel

It’s easy to cut yourself when halving a bagel — if you try to hold the bagel in your hand. Here’s the trick: Place the bagel flat on a cutting board, put your palm on top to steady it, then slice parallel to the cutting board. Cut about halfway through the bagel. Finish either by rotating the bagel with the knife in place, or stand the bagel on end and “saw” through to the end.

How to choose the proper blade

Knives are tools, and it’s best to use the right one for the job. A good knife will have a carbon or carbon and stainless steel blade that runs all the way through the knife handle. It should feel balanced and comfortable in your hand. Here’s a look at the cutlery of a well-stocked kitchen:

Chef’s knife

With its 8- to 12-inch blade, this knife is good for slicing tomatoes and dicing carrots. It’s also adept at cutting roasts and other large, thick meats.

Paring knife

With a thin, sharp, 3- to 4-inch blade, this knife is small enough for peeling apples, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables.

Serrated knife

Perfect for cutting crusty bread, or anything with a hard exterior and soft interior. But don’t use it to cut meat. Its saw-toothed edge will shred the flesh.

Boning knife

With an extremely sharp and very thin blade that ends almost in a point, this knife is good for delicate cutting jobs, like boning chicken and filleting flounder.

Utility knife

Similar to a chef’s knife, but about half the size, this knife can handle almost all but the most delicate jobs. Keep it handy for when your other knives are unavailable.

Medical Reviewer:

Beth Holloway, RN, M.Ed.

As one of our editors likes to say, a chef’s knife “is like a dance partner.” A knife that feels comfortable and graceful in your hand might feel klutzy to someone else. When you start shopping for that perfect chef’s knife—one that will make slicing, dicing, chopping, and mincing more pleasurable, precise, and effortless—it’s important to identify your personal preferences, and to realize that there isn’t one knife that’s right for everyone. Finding your ideal knife might take a little time, but you’ll know it when you’ve found it.

Where to meet your match

The first step to finding a chef’s knife that works for you is to search out a cutlery or cookware store (rather than an online or mail-order source) with a wide selection of sample knives that you can hold or, even better, maneuver on a cutting surface. “You can’t buy a knife off a peg board. You need to feel it and talk to someone who can guide you,” says Jacob Maurer, a cutlery buyer for Sur La Table, which lets customers chop food with their knife samples. Seek out salespeople who can lead you to a knife that fits; don’t fall prey to those who tell you which knife to buy.

Another shopping tip: Have an open mind. Richard Von Husen, owner of Warren Kitchen and Cutlery in Rhinebeck, New York, has customers “play” with a range of knives without looking at price to determine the size, shape, and weight of knife that they prefer. Then he helps narrow the choices down to those within the customer’s budget.

Wherever you buy your knife, ask if you can return it if it feels dull or isn’t the right fit after a short test drive at home (just don’t ding it or wear down the blade). For ideas on what tasks will best help you to evaluate a knife, see “How to test,” below.

How to test

In choosing some of our favorite knives (below), the Fine Cooking test kitchen ran more than two dozen models through this battery of tasks. If possible, try using your favorite few knives to:

  • Mince parsley
  • Dice an onion
  • Slice winter squash
  • Cut carrots into thin strips
  • Carve a melon
What to look for in a knife

Once you’ve got a knife in your hand (see photo above for proper grip) you should immediately get a sense of its fit. It should feel comfortable, like a natural extension of your hand. It should inspire confidence, not instill fear. If it feels wrong, move on. If it feels pretty good, start chopping (or mock chopping), noting how you respond to the knife’s physical characteristics.