Tips & Techniques

6 Knife Mistakes We’re Never, Ever Making Again

Because a countertop does not equal a cutting board.

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March 25, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.

We’re teaming up with Shun Cutlery to celebrate the launch of their brand-new Premier Grey Knife Collection, which has all the slicers and dicers you need to tackle any kitchen task. Here, we’re sharing the knife mistakes we’ve made—and learned from—over the years, so you can keep your own blades in tip-top shape.


My cramped galley kitchen is filled to the brim with all sorts of cookware, tools, storage containers, pantry goods, and gadgets. Some of those things I reach for on the daily (nonstick skillet and electric kettle: check and check), while a couple I’m ashamed to say I’ve used just a handful of times. (Vegetable spiralizer, it was fun while it lasted.)

But of all the stuff that lives in my kitchen, there are few items as precious to me as my kitchen knives—a collection that includes a super-sharp chef’s knife, a utility knife, two paring knives, and a bread knife. Over the past few years (and after many a YouTube tutorial), I’ve learned how to properly care for and use my knives, but there are a couple of errors any new kitchen-knife owner is bound to make—myself included.

Here are 6 common knife mistakes, plus top tips and tricks from the Food52 team to help you avoid ‘em the next time you get cooking. Your knives—and your fingers—will thank you.

1. Holding the Knife Incorrectly

When I got my very first chef’s knife in college and started cooking for myself regularly, my knife skills were definitely far from perfect. I made a few rookie mistakes back then, like holding the knife only at the base and ignoring what was going on with my non-dominant left hand.

Thanks to useful tutorials—like this must-watch knife-skills class with legendary chef Jacques Pépin—I eventually got the hang of things. Now you can catch me looking like I almost know what I’m doing in the kitchen, holding the knife where the base meets the blade and letting my left hand guide the knife. It took a bit of time and lots of practice, but these techniques have noticeably improved the quality of my cooking (and prevented any trips to the emergency room).

2. Using a Knife That Hasn’t Been Sharpened in, Well, Forever

A good-quality knife that isn’t sharp is about as useful as a car without gas. Dull edges not only prevent you from making precise cuts, but they can be dangerous, leading to dicey slips and slides on the cutting board.

“In my opinion, the biggest disservice anyone can do to their knives is to use them every day and never sharpen them—or even wait more than a few months,” says Rebecca Firkser, our assigning editor and an expert recipe developer. I’ve been guilty of letting my knives go for up to a year without hitting the whetstone, but nowadays I keep them on a regular sharpening schedule, which makes a huge difference.

“I personally think that if you use a chef's knife more than three times a week, you should try to sharpen it every couple months,” adds Rebecca. “While I know some people prefer to take their blades to a professional, it's honestly so easy to do at home.” Not sure how to get started? Check out our handy guide to sharpening your knives here.

3. Skipping the Honing Steel

If you purchased your knives as a set, you probably also got a honing steel—a stainless steel rod that's used to gently realign the blade's edge. It’s most often used after sharpening, but you can (and should!) use it regularly, according to our food stylist, Anna Billingskog.

“I always thought the honing steel was your last stop after an occasional arduous knife-sharpening session,” says Anna. “But after years of assisting professional chefs on set, I watched as they honed their blade each time before getting to work. I now use mine almost daily to keep a maintenance on my knife’s edge—and keep my cuts crisp and photo-ready.”

4. Picking the Wrong Blade for the Task

For virtually every kitchen task—paring oranges, deboning a chicken, julienning carrots, the list goes on—there’s a specific knife made just for the job. While most people (myself included) don’t have every style of blade in their kitchen arsenal, it’s helpful to know which knife to use, and when. Just ask our copy editor, CB Owens:

“Knives and I have not always been friends,” he told me. “I used to dread slicing things like tomatoes (which would explode), cheese (which would stick), and even bread (which would just collapse and squish down).”

“Now I know it was my fault all along,” he says. “What else did I expect, using the same dull blade for all three tasks? These days, I have a razor-sharp chef’s knife for tomatoes, a devoted santoku for cheese, and a long serrated guy for bread. And—whaddya know—everything cuts just as it should, every time."

If you want to stock up on the bare essentials, a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife would be a great place to start. If you really want to make a thorough collection, you might want to consider a few of these beauties, too:

5. Slicing, Dicing, Etc. on Something That Isn’t a Cutting Board

Fine, I’ll admit it: When cutting something small, like a single lemon wedge or a slice of tomato for a sandwich, I have sometimes used the countertop as my work surface. Why shouldn’t you follow my example? Because hard surfaces like countertops, stoneware plates, and (shudder) glass cutting boards can quickly dull the edge of your knife blade.

A wood cutting board is your all-around best choice—it’s durable enough to withstand tons of slicing and dicing, yet forgiving enough to not damage your blades. A cutting board made from hinoki, a type of Japanese cypress, is an especially great option: Not only does it have a medium-soft firmness that won't dull your knives, but it's also stain-resistant and has natural antibacterial properties.

6. Putting ‘Em in the Dishwasher

If you want your knives to last and last, there’s one golden rule our home editor, Arati Menon, follows: Never, ever put them in the dishwasher. I’ve seen this rule broken before (I won’t name names) and it doesn’t end well.

“I’m pretty sparing when it comes to the things I allow myself to put in my dishwasher,” Arati says. “If it’s fragile, sharp, or expensive, I prefer to just wash it by hand—so I definitely wouldn’t subject my expensive knives to all that heat and humidity, or abrasive detergents.”

Over time, too many trips to the dishwasher can ruin a knife’s blade and handle. Plus, it could damage the interior of the dishwasher as it moves around during the cycle. Another thing you’ll keep safe by washing your knives by hand? Your fingers. The last thing you want to do is cut yourself on a super-sharp edge while unloading your fresh-and-clean dishes.


What are your top kitchen-safety tips? Tell us in the comments!

Our partner Shun Cutlery's new Premier Grey Knife Collection is lookin' sharp. To celebrate the launch, we're giving away a set of the knives, plus a snazzy Hedley and Bennett apron, to one lucky duo—enter here to win by April 15.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Erin Alexander is the Brand Partnerships Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.

2 Comments

Smaug March 25, 2021
Butcher block counter tops aren't that uncommon- I've lived with them and would recommend against (there's really no good way to finish them, and you need to be very careful about moisture), but you can cut anywhere. Interestingly, when I've seen Jacques Pepin on TV his knife technique has always struck me as unique and sort of terrifying, as he doesn't use his left hand to guide the knife at all. He's incredibly fast and accurate with it, but I wouldn't care to try to duplicate it.
 
Smaug March 25, 2021
I believe you can cut on Corian counters too- it won't hurt your knife, at any rate.