There are many hurdles you will encounter when learning how to cook. But one thing I didn’t expect was the jargon and terms being thrown around in recipes.
Most of you will recall reading things like gently grasp the “back of the knife”; or tap it with the “butt of the knife”; or comfortably place two fingers in “front of the shoulder”. I mean what’s the difference between the back and the butt? Or the tip and the point? And don’t get me started about the belly, rivets, or the scales!
I was always a slow chopper. I would clumsily struggle through prep while watching my heroes on TV wiz through everything like the ninja world champions of culinary excellence that they are.
Then when I started to learn the terms describing the various parts of my kitchen knife my world changed.
All of a sudden, I began cutting faster with more efficiency and much less strain and effort.
No longer was I trying to cut bones with the tip of my knife, or smash garlic cloves with the butt. I began to learn how to properly hold and use my knife just like the pros.
And it’s ok to be a slow chopper. What’s the rush?
The main benefit here is learning what type of features you want in your kitchen knives. Knives are the most important part of your success and comfort while working in the kitchen and they can be expensive. So it’s smart to know what you’re looking for before you shop so you won’t regret it later.
Learning basic knife skills and terms will make buying a new chef knife an exciting thing to look forward to and a pleasure to use.
Here is an overview of the anatomy of your kitchen knife.
The sharpest part of the blade and furthest away from you where the Cutting Edge and the Spine meet. Not all blades have a Tip, some are rounded or flat. The Point is used for piercing and scoring and getting into hard to reach areas.
The Tip of a chef knife can be curved, flat or pointed. It’s often used for precision work like carving and cutting pieces of small and delicate food. This part of the blade is also used as a pivot point for mincing and other chopping methods.
As you can guess, this is the sharpened part of the blade that will do all of the cutting, chopping, and slicing. It primarily consists of the Tip and the Belly, and sometimes (but not always) includes a Bolster or a Heel. You must be careful to protect this edge and maintain it’s sharpness.
The is the thick and flat edge located opposite of the thin, sharp cutting edge. It is designed to be easier for you to grip and steady with the heel of your palm. The flat edge also allows you to put pressure on the knife. Having a thin to thick design for the blade also produces less resistance along with better balance while cutting. Use the back of the knife for scraping ingredients from your cutting board (never use the Cutting Edge to scrape, you will ruin your knife), scaling fish, and fun things like cracking open coconuts.
The curvy wide part of the blade between the Tip and the Bolster. This area of the blade is used for heavy cutting and chopping. The bigger the curve in the Belly, the better the rocking motion you can get out of the knife for smooth cutting and chopping motions. When laid on its side this wide part of the blade can also be used as a tool to quickly help smash things like garlic.
As the blade nears the handle, the metal will fare out wider. This is designed to prevent the items you are chopping from sliding back onto the handle as they pile up on the cutting board. Helping keep your knife hand clean and unobstructed.
Located where the handle joins the blade, the Bolster strengthens the knife, adds durability, and serves as a counter-balance to the blade. The Bolster can also help prevent your hand from slipping forward. Not all knives have them and may instead have a heel or nothing at all. Most professional knives will have a Bolster, but be aware that they can make some knives more difficult to sharpen.
These are little metal rods that are used to hold the Scales (or handle) onto the blade. They are visible on some, but not all, knives.
Some modern-day knives are now made of one solid piece of metal or have a separate piece of plastic molded as the handle. But most classic chefs knives have two little pieces that sit on either side of the metal handle (that little metal handle part is officially called the Tang). Scales are most often made of wood or some other composite material and are mainly designed for comfort and handling while holding and using the knife.
Also known as the pommel, this is the part of the knife handle closest to you while cutting. In classic kitchen knife designs, there will be a flare or index that is meant to serve as a guide for your fingers to rest. The Butt of a well-made knife can also be used to grind and tenderize.