Chopping, cutting, slicing … getting your prep work part done right when cooking can mean the difference between a good meal or a great meal. This is something every chef trains extensively to perfect, and with good reason. Consistent cuts (where all the pieces of one ingredient are the same size) doesn’t just mean your ingredients will look nicer on the plate. It also means your dish will cook more evenly, letting you avoid turning out a mishmash of underdone and overdone pieces of food.
Luckily, there are a number of tools professional chefs use when cutting fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients that make the prep process go smoothly and be precise in your cuts. But before you go out and buy every gadget in the kitchen supply store near you, be warned – there are a TON of cooking tools on the market (especially ones billed to make your life easier in the kitchen) that are simply wastes of money and space in your kitchen. These are items that looks fancy and innovative, but can be difficult to clean and store. And ultimately, who wants a one-use tool whose task could easily be completed by actual kitchen multitaskers?
Want to know what the real deal in chopping, slicing, and dicing is? It’s these four chef-preferred items:
You can’t play a song with this kind of mandoline, but it may just become your new best friend in the kitchen. A plastic or wooden plank with a V-shaped blade in the middle, the mandoline is all about creating perfectly sized slices of produce, from apples to cucumbers to potatoes. This tool has very inexpensive models on the market, and there’s usually the option to adjust the width of the cut, which makes it very versatile.
The most important thing to remember about a mandoline is that it is very sharp and therefore, can very easily cut your fingers If you aren’t paying attention. Most mandolines come with a hand guard, but you can also find affordable cut-resistant gloves (recommended while using your kitchen knives, too).
Most home cooks probably mostly associate the box grater with cheese. But it’s far more versatile than you think. You can also use it to shred garlic, onion, zucchini, potato, and other veggies. This is perfect for when you need to get the vegetable broken down for fritters or latkes, but can also be used for other dishes where consistent size is more important than absolutely precise and pretty knife cuts.
Just keep in mind that if you have a lot of ingredients you need to break down, it might be worth getting the food processor out to help avoid a long time prepping and sore arms. Just be wary about our motorized friend: a food processor does not give you nearly as much control as a manual box grater, particularly if you don’t have a wide variety of attachments at your disposal.
Kitchen shears can be used for a plethora of cooking tasks, especially ones you don’t want to risk your actual knives on. When taking apart a chicken, for example, cutting through joints or the ribcage is definitely a job for the shears. You get the strength of a butcher knife with more precision and less likelihood of damaging the rest of the bird.
Snipping with the shears is also an easier way to de-skin individual pieces of chicken, not to mention cutting open packages, trimming fat, snipping herbs, and slicing open shrimp shells before you peel them. Many kitchen shears come with grippers in between the handles that can also be used to crack open nuts and seafood alike. Make sure to wash them as frequently as any other tool, however. Don’t just throw them back in the drawer.
While the previous three tools are handy, your kitchen knives in themselves are multitaskers! The chef’s knife dices, chops, and slices. The boning knife (as the name suggests) helps debone fish and meat (and helps remove fat and silver skin). The paring knife helps with peeling, trimming, or slicing smaller produce. Even bread knives can double as handy tomato slicers.
Understandably, it might take a while for you to get comfortable and confident using your kitchen knives. Practice makes perfect, so try to use your knives on a regular basis making weekday meals – that way, by the time you’re cooking for guests, your knife skills will be up to par.
Don’t forget to keep those knives sharpened – sharp knives don’t just make more consistent cuts and slices, but they also reduce muscle strain if maintained properly. And take your time when chopping, not just for safety’s sake (watch those fingertips!) but to ensure that every cut is deliberate and not haphazard. It will make for a much prettier plate, and many more ooos and ahhhs at the table!
Want some tips and tricks to keeping your kitchen knives sharp?