The easiest way to injure yourself in the kitchen is to jump in without learning the knife handling basics, says cooking enthusiast Howard Michael Gowen. It’s also the fastest way to mangle your ingredients and end up with unevenly cooked food. Prepare ahead of time by studying up and you’ll be amazed at how much more professional and tasty your food is!

Howard Michael Gowen Discusses How to Improve Your Knife Skills in the Kitchen

Learn and Practice the Basic Cuts Advises Howard Michael Gowen

Cooking, as does any field, has its own jargon and techniques that must be mastered before you can advance to the next level, says Howard Michael Gowen. For instance, chop, dice, and mince all mean different things when they refer to ingredients–and mixing them up can make a huge difference in your finished dish!

When an ingredient calls for chopping, it means the pieces should be roughly the same size. Dicing is smaller and more regular–you should aim for a ¼ inch cube, says Howard Michael Gowen. Mincing means chopping the ingredient as finely as possible.

Then there are more advanced knife cuts like the julienne. When a recipe calls for a julienne cut, you should create long, thing, matchstick-like pieces that are as close to one another in size as possible.

Practice your cuts while you mise en place (put everything in order) before you start cooking. Take your time chopping and dicing and try to make the pieces as even and regular as possible. This helps ensure that your food cooks evenly and at the same pace. It will also help you develop the muscle memory you need to become a master of the kitchen knife!

Keep Your Blades Sharp

It is vital that you sharpen your kitchen knives regularly, says Howard Michael Gowen. Many beginners make the mistake of fearing sharp blades because they are afraid of slicing into their fingers. But the truth is, you’re much more likely to injure yourself with a dull blade than with a sharp one.

This is because you have to apply more force to a dull knife to properly slice through your ingredients. If you’re applying excess force and your knife slips or bounces off the ingredient, all of that force is going directly into slicing your finger or hand. Properly sharpened blades are much less likely to glance off the food and onto your hand.

You can tell if a knife is sharpened correctly by performing the tomato test, says Howard Michael Gowen. After sharpening, lay your blade very softly over a tomato. If the knife slides right through the skin like butter, your blade is sharp enough! If the blade slides over the skin, you need to keep sharpening or invest in a better knife.