7 Basic Knife Skills Every Home Cook Should Master

Master these seven knife cuts, and there won’t be any recipe you can’t conquer.

If thinking about all the different ways you can cut food has your head spinning, you've come to the right place. We've got your back with this handy guide to all of the basic knife cuts for cooking. So sharpen that knife, grab your cutting board, and prepare to hone your meal prep knowledge and skills. We get it: These cooking terms can be confusing. But incorporating the proper size and shape of ingredients for the recipe will make a big difference in the final product. Plus, having uniformly cut items ensures that each piece of that ingredient cooks at the same rate.

Read on to discover how to chop, cube, dice, julienne, mince, slice, and wedge. We'll teach you how to make the cut—and make dinner quicker and easier than ever.

7 Basic Knife Cuts Every Home Cook Should Master

A classic chef's knife ($90, Target) should do the trick for any of these classic cuts, but we find a knife set comes in handy for cutting tasks of all kinds, much like these other essential kitchen tools.

Before we dive into minced vs. chopped vs. diced and beyond, let's review a couple of best practices for knife safety:

  • To maximize your control over the tool, hold the chef's knife with the palm of your hand against the handle. Use your thumb and index finger to grip the top of the blade on opposite sides of the knife.
  • The "bear claw" is the safest position for the other hand—the one that's holding the ingredient. Curl your fingertips at roughly a 90° angle, with the fingertips pressing straight down to hold the food in place while the bent knuckles "spot" the blade of the knife.
  • Move the hand that's holding the knife forward to cut the food, leaving the tip of the knife in contact with the cutting board the entire time. Use the hand that's holding the ingredients to carefully move the ingredient forward to ensure even cuts.
Dicing red pepper with chef’s knife
Blaine Moats

How to Chop

Many of us think of "chopping" as a catchall term for cutting up food any which way, but it's actually a specific method. To chop, cut the item into small, medium, or large irregular pieces as directed in your recipe. Our Test Kitchen defines "chopped" as ½-inch pieces. It's just an estimate; no exact measuring is required. We define "finely chopped" as ¼-inch pieces.

Test Kitchen Tip: Curious about how to chop quickly or whether any of these knife cuts work in a speedier way? It's all about practice. We suggest taking your time at first; you'll naturally pick up speed with more experience.

Cutting food into cubes
Blaine Moats

How to Cube

Cubing is pretty self-explanatory: just cut your food into cubes that are equal size on all sides, like a pair of dice. What differentiates cubing from dicing? Cubing is a larger square cut. To cube, use a chef's knife to slice ingredients into uniform pieces that are about ½ inch (or another size specified in your recipe) on all sides. Cheese cubes are probably the first thing that comes to mind, but it's also pretty common to cube large veggies like butternut squash before roasting or bread to make bread cubes.

Dicing ham with a chef’s knife on a wooden cutting board
Jay Wilde

How to Dice

Once you master the perfect dice, you'll be able to make vegetable-packed dishes like stir-fry recipes and home fries with ease. To dice, cut food into slices, then cut evenly and squarely into ⅛- to ¼-inch cubes. When you're dicing, you might want to start by julienning your food, which will make it easier to dice everything into uniform squares.

Julienne slicing carrots with knife on cutting board
Blaine Moats

How to Julienne

It might sound fancy, but we'll walk you through how easy this versatile knife cut can be. To julienne, first cut food into long slices, then stack a couple slices at a time and cut into ⅛- to ¼-inch-wide strips. The end result should be matchstick-size strips about 2¼ inches long.

To julienne rounded items like carrots and zucchini, take a slice off the bottom (to flatten) so the food doesn't move as you cut. Usually you julienne veggies to add to sandwiches, salads, or wraps, but you can also sauté them in a stir-fry or pasta toss.

Test Kitchen Tip: While it's not a super-common technique for home cooks, "brunoise" is a cut that will transform julienne pieces of a sturdy food into small cubes to be cooked in butter and added to soups and sauces for flavor. To brunoise, take a julienned ingredient, rotate it a quarter-turn so it's perpendicular on the cutting board and cut the sticks into approximately ⅛-inch cubes.

Mincing garlic with a knife
Blaine Moats

How to Mince

Mincing is about as tiny as you can get when it comes to cutting food. Here's how to mince: Finely chop your ingredient into very small pieces using the chopping technique, then just keep going until food pieces are about ⅛ inch.

This technique is often called for to make garnishes or sautés, when ingredients should almost disappear as they melt into a sauce. (You'll probably find yourself mincing garlic the most often, but you might also come across recipes that call for minced onion or minced root veggies.)

slicing potatoes
Blaine Moats

How to Slice

To make slices of food, cut crosswise through the ingredient to your desired thickness. If you see "slice" in the instructions, you certainly can use a knife to cut evenly thick pieces. But we are partial to tagging in a mandoline slicer ($19, Target) for the job, especially when very thin slices are needed, as in scalloped potatoes; here's how to use this quick-cutting kitchen tool. For tomatoes or other delicate foods, a serrated knife works best for making slices.

Cutting apple into wedges with chef’s knife
Blaine Moats

How to Cut Food into Wedges

Wedges are one of the easiest, fastest, and most forgiving of all knife cuts. Many recipes call for sturdy foods like apples, sweet and regular potatoes, and onions cut into wedges. Cut round foods in half before you start cutting them into thin, half-moon-shape wedges. Then cut your food at an angle with the flat side down on a cutting board. Use this technique to make fruits like apples and peaches easier to snack on or to cut onions for adding to soups, roasts, and braises.

Now that you're a pro at all of the basic knife cuts, you'll be ready to tackle a wide variety of homemade meals, especially all of these healthy salad recipes. For your next knife skills lesson, learn how to chiffonade, a handy technique if you cook with a lot of fresh basil.

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