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Proper Pinch Grip

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

I'm sure this has been discussed but I couldn't find a thread on this topic so yeah.

 

I've read a on this forum that a proper pinch grip for a chef's knife puts the knife in a straight line with the forearm. Ever since I got serious (or more serious than I used to be) about cooking, I've used a pinch grip. I simply pinch the blade and wrap my hand and 3 other fingers around the handle. My palm and fingers make complete contact with the handle, and my fingers wrap entirely around the bottom of the handle, and start to curve up toward my thumb. When I relax my arm and wrist, the knife rests at about a 140° angle with my arm (40° off from where I think it should be). This hasn't caused any problems but as I learn knife skills I'd like to know I'm using the most efficient grip possible. Obviously I can bend my wrist to make the blade parallel to my forearm, but it feels awkward and I doubt it would be comfortable after an hour of chopping. I have experimented with other grips that put the knife more or less in alignment with my arm, but they just don't feel right!

 

For example, one grip I've tried involves resting the pads of my fingers on the bottom of the handle. The top of the handle touches the lower palm of my hand.  This feels less natural and less secure because my fingers and palm are mostly lifted off the handle. I'm sure I could get used to this grip, though. Is it okay to have limited contact between your palm/fingers and the handle?

 

I've also tried a grip that's pretty much the same as the above one except I grip the blade with my index and middle fingers instead of just my index. This feels a bit more secure and gives me more control but that might be because I'm effectively making the knife shorter. I know this isn't conventional but can it be considered correct? How much variation is there among "correct" knife grips? What exactly do you do for your grip?

 

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your responses!

 

Malch

post #2 of 25

Hi Malch,

 

It seems I've been making your life miserable.  Sorry about that.

 

You actually got the right answer, but before getting to that it might be helpful to have some perspective. 

 

I'm sharing what I learned when I came up in an old school kitchen.  Chef was an Austrian who'd served in die [unprintable expletive] Werhmacht during WWII and cooked for the High Command in Paris.  At the Blue Fox (where we worked, and now long gone) he ran a brigade which  owed everything to Escoffier's London system -- itself a product of Escoffier's military experience in the Franco-Prussian war.  "Du gott dat horensohn kollitch boy?"

 

Schtrikt... pardon me... strict was not the word.  We're talking absolutely-no-heterodoxy-permitted Church of Doing Everything THE One Right Way.  However, the more I cooked the clearer it became that there are a lot of right ways.  If it doesn't work for you young padwan, remember you're not stuck with Escoffier's way, the German Army way, or my way.  His own way a Kitchen Jedi he must make. 

 

Anyway, you wrote:

 

[One] grip I've tried involves resting the pads of my fingers on the bottom of the handle. The top of the handle touches the lower palm of my hand.  This feels less natural and less secure because my fingers and palm are mostly lifted off the handle. I'm sure I could get used to this grip, though. Is it okay to have limited contact between your palm/fingers and the handle?

 

Yes.  That's right.  Your back three fingers need to keep the knife from falling out of your hand and not much more.  A tight grip will fight your accuracy and speed.  You don't need the leverage which comes from a firm grip to cut most things, as long as your blade is sharp.

 

Soft hands work best for any responsive tool.  Darn near anything at all responsive for that matter.  It's the same thing with carpentry.  If you've ever done that, you know a tight grip on the saw will steer it and make straight cuts impossible.  It's even the same in boxing -- where you don't squeeze your fist until the punch is almost there because a tight fist steals speed.

 

In the kitchen, sharp beats weight.  Sharp beats strong.  The soft grip technique is for a sharp knife.  A soft grip promotes speed and accuracy.  Soft is good.  Sharp is good.  Speed is good.  Precision is good.  Can I get a hallelujah? 

 

Yes there are exceptions.  For instance, if you're cutting a tough squash, your knife may "wedge" and you may actually be cracking the vegetable more than cutting it.  The more force you need, the more you firm your girp.  Chopping mirepoix is not an exception.

 

The basic grip -- or at least as we holy hierarchs teach it in the Temple of the Basic Pinch Grip -- is very soft.  Almost all skilled cutters use a soft grip for chopping -- probably about as universal as your going to get when you talk knife or other cooking skills.

 

The pinch grip alone is probably very different than how you've been holding a knife your entire life.  It is not intuitive, and will feel awkward for awhile.  As long as your knife is sharp you can get used to this grip in less than a week in a professional kitchen, or a couple of months at home.  Don't know how long in dog years, so don't ask.

 

You know I stress sharpness to the point where I think sharpening is a Basic Knife Skill.  What you can do with a soft grip and can't do without one are big parts of why.  

 

Please let me know how this progresses.

 

Trust the fork,

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/1/10 at 8:44am
post #3 of 25

Yes.  That's right.  Your back three fingers need to keep the knife from falling out of your hand and not much more. 

 

Which is one of the reasons it's easier to teach knifework via demonstration than by verbal description. Somethow, this part of the equation always seems to get left out.

 

Virtually everyone I know who learned pinch grip by reading about it does it incorrectly, in that they think the back fingers and hands hold tightly to the knife---which, of course, is both tiring and leads to a loss of control. Anybody I know who learned it by seeing it done knows that the three back fingers are merely tucked under the handle to get them out of the way. The handle should be resting on, but not be gripped by, those fingers.

 

When I relax my arm and wrist, the knife rests at about a 140° angle with my arm (40° off from where I think it should be).

 

Malch, I'm having trouble envisioning what you're saying. If the knife is at 140 degree angle that means the tip would be pointing back at you.

 

In a relaxed position, your hand will be bent away from your forearm when in the pinch-grip position. If you're right handed it will angle off to the left. Part of this is the knife not being lined up exactly with your forearm, and part of it is that your arm wants to cross in front of you, from the elbow. Straightening the arm and wrist is, initially, uncomfortable. But once you get used to it, it's actually the most efficient grip, and you'll do it automatically.

 

It helps, too, as you develop knife skills, to adjust your stance so you're at an angle to the board. That is, left foot forward, feet (or upper body) skewed slightly to the right. This lines you and the knife perpendicular to the edge of the cutting board. There's a thread, "Your Thoughts On The Most Important Knife Skills," currently running in which the importance of stance is discussed in greater detail.

 

How much variation is there among "correct" knife grips?

 

Among professionals not as much as you might think. But keep in mind that, as a home cook, you do not, necessarily, need the same degree of speed and control that professionals do. Within the framwork of safety, the most "correct" grip for a home cook is one that is both comfortable and which gets the job done efficiently.

 

Keep in mind, too, that you develop better knife skills the same way you get to Carnagie Hall: Practice, practice, practice.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #4 of 25

Oh yeah.  Keeping the point on a line with your wrist and elbow.  Glad KY remembered.

 

If your body's angled correctly -- right foot back, left foot forward for a righty -- you'll maintain the line pretty easily.  The idea is not to cock your wrist to the left or the right to accomodate the way you put the food on the board.  Alas, MOST PEOPLE DO. 

 

Another example of not holding the line is being able to see the handle pointing out from under wrist to the left or right.  In that case, it's not the wrist, but the pinch.  Everyone does that sometimes, but you want to teach yourself to do it as little as possible.

 

The idea is to get the knife's point to go where your eyes go, without adjusting your grip. 

 

Make a loose fist and stick a finger straight out (not that finger).  Now look at something close enough and poke it with your finger.  See how you didn't have to think about aiming?  It just happened. 

 

Now curve your finger, look at something, and with your brain still disengaged try to poke it with the tip of your curved finger (without thinking too much about it).  See how that so does not work intuitively?

 

This makes a difference when you're doing tip work, which includes, among other things, everyone's show off favorite, speed chopping cucumbers into coins.  But it also includes chopping (and lyonnaising) onions, thin-slicing garlic, brunois-ing shallots and a bunch of other every day stuff.  Back to the onions.  If you like to cook you'll end up chopping tons and tons of onions.  Probably the single thing that makes cooking easier, more productive, and a helluva lot funner, is taking the drama out of onions.  

 

BDL

post #5 of 25
Thread Starter 

It's good to know I'm on the right track, especially when it's so easy to mess up. Thanks, guys!

 

BDL, I totally get what you're saying about keeping a soft grip. Being tense is never a good thing if you can help it. It's just like in running, good form is characterized by staying relaxed. Tight fists and scrunched shoulders can only bring pain and pessimism.

 

Malch, I'm having trouble envisioning what you're saying. If the knife is at 140 degree angle that means the tip would be pointing back at you.

 

What I meant to say is, the knife forms a 140° angle with my forearm. I'm a lefty and the knife points 40° to the right of where it should be. Well, it did. It doesn't anymore. ^^

 

I've been experimenting with putting one foot forward to make my knife perpendicular to the counter. I'm nowhere near the point where it feels natural but practice makes perfect as KY said. I think BDL's knife skills thread is where I read about the pinch grip thing that started this thread. I'll definitely have to read more of that.

 

Thanks again. This is just what I needed.

 

Malch

post #6 of 25

why don't one of you gurus just make us a video?...it would be much mo betta for us pea brained folks who seem to learn by watching...thanks

joey

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #7 of 25

You don't need a video.  It's all about how for your hand and body, anyone else's positions will be slightly wrong for you.

 

Pinch grip;

You pinch the blade in front of the bolster between the pads of your thumb and forefinger.  Your forefinger should be in contact with the spine of the knife, but not press too hard on it.  Hold the handle with your back three fingers only.  Among other things this will have the effect of rotating your knuckles to the side, so they will not hit the board when you chop. 

 

Soft Pinch Grip: 

Same, same, but softer (surprised?).  Pinch just strong enough to control the knife.  The back three fingers are very soft at all times, no more pressure and contact than required to keep from dropping the knife.  You don't need much more than fingertips. 

 

When you put your knife's edge on the board, your three back fingers should NOT touch the board.  Makes the knife a lot more agile and easier to control.  The knife will naturally cut straight. Takes a lot of stress out of cutting.

 

Straighten your wrist:

When you're chopping, the knife stays straight with the tip and handle in line with your handle.  Allows you to place the point very accurately with your eyes.  If you do lots of tip-work, you'll be speed chopping before you realize.  A good visual test of straightness is whether the handle is under your forearm or peeking out the side of your wrist.

 

Stance:

If you're right handed, left foot forward, right foot back.  How much?  Keep putting your right foot back until your cutting arm lines up comfortably with your counter and board.

 

Bringing it Home:

The rest is explanation and encouragement.  I'll leave you with three nuggets. 

 

First.  If a soft grip won't work for you, you're knife is probably dull;  

 

B.  This will feel awkward at first.  You'll find yourself reverting, and will have to force yourself to relearn your grip and  how you stand.  I guarantee it won't work if you don't give it both a chance and an honest effort; and

 

3.  This isn't for everything.  It's for using a chef's knife (or reasonable facsimile thereof) to do run of the mill prep, making the "classic cuts" and all that stuff.  If you're splitting calabash, or even watermelon, you're going to need a strong grip. Be reasonable. 

 

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/3/10 at 11:31am
post #8 of 25

well, color me stupid, but i just learn better with a demonstration....you can tell me over and over and over all day long how to do it and i may or may not 'get it", but show me a hands on demo, and i'm there!!! same with skiing...learning how to ski moguls..makes absolutely no possible sense whatsoever when explained, but when you see it done...then its pure magic!! come on grasshopper...double dare you!!!! or kyh

joey

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #9 of 25

Not stupid, just...  endearing.

 

Knife:

IMG00074.jpg

 

A little advance notice on the grip pictures:  It's just barely possible that my hands are bigger than yours.  Since you can't change your hands to adapt to the grip you may have to -- or have the luxury of -- doing things a little differently than me, and still have a soft pinch grip. 

 

Speaking of which, a soft pinch grip isn't going to get you into heaven.  It's one of several good ways to hold a knife.  I like it because it's easy to learn and works for just about everyone. 

 

Neither of the two best cutters I know uses a straight pinch grip.  They both hold the knife very softly, but with their thumbs and forefingers pinching the handle rather than the blade.  But they use wa-handled knives with really long handles.  Another excellent Japanese cutter I know, keeps his index finger along the top of the spine, and pinches with his middle finger and thumb.  

 

What matters is making it work not doing it "right."  There is no right. 


Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/3/10 at 11:04am
post #10 of 25

Left handed pinch grip from above and from the right:

IMG00075.jpg

 

IMG00076.jpg

 

You can see, paranthetically, that I've relieved the spine of the knife (by chamfering) so that there are no edges to press into my index finger to cut off the blood flow to the finger and make it numb or cramp, or create a knife callus.


Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/3/10 at 10:49am
post #11 of 25

From underneath, showing last three fingers in a soft grip on handle.  Note, I'm not exaggerating this, it's really how I do it; not that I'm a paragon.  Also, see how far my fingers are up the grip, even though I have very large paws.

IMG00078.jpg

 

One more paranthetical profiling point:  In the picture you can see that the finger guard has been ground down and flattened to keep its bottom even with the edge.  It's something you do every year or so with frequently used knives. 

 

Knife guys get upset if they see a notch develop -- which is a product of not trimming the finger guard; but cutters are more upset if they can't get the edge at the heel all the way down on the board. 

 

Either way, if you own knives with full finger guards, it pays to have a grinder, belt sander or a friend for this sort of stuff.  I use a "coarse India" benchstone which is very coarse, but takes a little time.  Don't make yourself nuts by trying to be too neat, just do it and be done with it.


Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/3/10 at 11:35am
post #12 of 25

Edit - Nothing to see here. 

post #13 of 25

Now a straight wrist:

IMG00077.jpg


Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/3/10 at 11:38am
post #14 of 25

Once you figure out how to hold the knife, you need to find something to cut.  Here's one of the places I get fish.

IMG00021.jpg

 

The room in the back and the back wall have tanks of live fish.  There's not enough light to take good pictures.  Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of the live shellfish on ice.  Plenty of it.

 

IMG00023_2.jpg

 

Fresh fish should look surprised, but that red snapper on the righ looks positively outraged. 

 

The amazing thing about this market is that with all the fish on display, the place does not smell in the slightest.  Another amazing thing is that as good as this place is -- as well as a couple of other Asian oriented stores in the area -- I've got a commercial supplier who is even better.  Jealous?

 

Happy cutting,

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/3/10 at 11:37am
post #15 of 25

well chef, bdl 

first off, thank you for your kindness in doing the demo.....i trust your knowledge and i trust you...and kyh as well...happy to report that now not only am i doing moguls, but i can do 360's and ski backwards as well!!!!   again, thanks, grasshopper!...one question though....where excactly was the camera? like in your mouth? and the fish at the market, were they true prices?...holy cow!!! $4.99/lb for whole snapper...geezy peezy...how great for you to live there...thanks ever so much for that share..i did go to work and look at my hand grip.....sameness mostly...just have to keep my edges sharper...it gets tough when dicing proscuitto.....namaste...

joey

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #16 of 25

My initial reaction, Joey. Then I figured there must be an assumed additional 1 on the far left.

 

Even then, $14.99 is a good deal, based on local prices.

 

So, BDL, what gives?

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #17 of 25

$4.99 for those snapper (could also be red tilefish from the China Sea) is right.  Unfortunately, it's probably $4.99 a pound, but maybe $4.99 a fish.  That market isn't full of Asians because it's expensive.  

 

I love that place -- and not just for the fish.  Not quite worth a trip from Colorado or Kentucky, They're located in El Monte, on El Monte Blvd, were formerly Vien Dong Superfood Warehouse No. III, but recently changed ownership and changed their name to Thuan Phat.  If English is your only language, it's problematic but doable.  While there are always plenty of checkers and guys at the fish and meat counters, it can be hard to find an employee to help decipher the other stuff.  Many of the other customers will be help; or better still, are equally lost. 

 

I'm sure I've written about it as Superfood Warehouse.

 

BDL

post #18 of 25

good morning kyh,

 in the first photo, you can see that the prices are also really cheap...i could see an L next to the price in the second photo, albeit it small, so assumed that to mean by the pound...bdl, how do customers get their fish? do they pick their own or are there 'helpers'...i didn't see any one with gloves on and fish are slippery!!!! i don't need to speak asian..i got a shnozz, eyes and hands...do they let you touch the fish or pick it up?....where do all those fish come from, and everyday? holy cow!

to kyh and bdl, just got a cookbook, which i never really buy anymore, cuz why bother?, but it was so insanely cheap $3.99 or something...'101 classic recipes everyone should know' by raymond sokolov...any thoughts? my husband asks, 'don't you know how to cook yet?'....actually, i do like italian cookbooks cuz they got lots of nice pictures...usually family gatherings with lots of wine drinking and laughing as well as little stories about this dish or that cousin to go along with the recipes....happy labor day weekend....americans at play ain't always pretty!

joey

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #19 of 25

 you can see that the prices are also really cheap...i could see an L next to the price in the second photo, albeit it small, so assumed that to mean by the pound...

 

That's precisely what I'm saying, Joey. If fish was that inexpensive around here we'd have it three or four times a week.

 

It's so bad that shellfish---even little ones like steamers and little neck clams---are sold by the each. Last time I noticed red snapper it was on sale at $12.79/lb. Depending which store you choose, swordfish typically runs $14-19/lb. And Chilean Sea Bass, well, you better qualify for a second mortgage.

 

U-8 shrimp----which they call "grilling shrimp"---are $24.95. At that price I could almost afford having Nan ship me spotted prawns.

 

So, yeah, BDL. Just a little green eyed.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #20 of 25

Fish is self serve.  They supply plastic bags, and there's a sink to wash up after.  If you want, the guys behind the counter will break fish down as far as fillets.  They can be brutal, let them clean it if you don't like doing that yourself (who doesn't?), but if you can do fish at all, you're better off doing the rest yourself.  

 

I wasn't suggesting you needed mad language skilz for the fish, meat or produce.  It's the packaged, bottled, canned, and deli stuff that will drive you nuts.  

 

BDL 

post #21 of 25
Thread Starter 

BDL, I was confused when in another thread you said fish was one of your favorite inexpensive meals. Now I know. o_o

post #22 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

Fish is self serve.  They supply plastic bags, and there's a sink to wash up after.  If you want, the guys behind the counter will break fish down as far as fillets.  They can be brutal, let them clean it if you don't like doing that yourself (who doesn't?), but if you can do fish at all, you're better off doing the rest yourself.  

 

I wasn't suggesting you needed mad language skilz for the fish, meat or produce.  It's the packaged, bottled, canned, and deli stuff that will drive you nuts.  

 

BDL 

so there's produce as well? how does that work with people picking up the really fresh, really cheap fish and then picking through the produce? hmmmmm...as for the label language, i say let it be a surprise...they usually have pictures on the labels of whatever insect guts are inside the can....and usually the stuff is so cheap that really, how bad of a mistake can you make?  this i know though, asians eat everything! bugs, worms, larvae, you name it...yes, and i, like kyh am envious of your store....i don't eat red meat(bacon doesn't count, does it?), so mostly eat seafood for my protein....i would be a kid in a candy store there, for sure...is it in downtown l.a.? i will google it... kyh, i pay enormous prices wholesale for fish...halibut @16.00 this week, sea scallops the same price as well, and salmon is also climbing the charts....then i get to pass that down to the customer...somehow they pay and rarely ask the price, but sometimes i don't buy seafood if i don't think i can get what i need to out of it.....soo bdl, where are they getting these fish everyday? probably shouldn't even ask if they are sustainable huh? 

joey

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #23 of 25

forgot to mention that the cookbook title is a cook's canon...101 recipes etc...just figuring since you are both foodwriters, you may or may not be interested...do you still do cookbook reviews kyh? and thanks for the google info....lambs to the slaughter tonight...baa, baa, baa.....ciao

joey

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #24 of 25

do you still do cookbook reviews kyh?

 

Sure 'nuff! Right here at Cheftalk every month.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #25 of 25

Joey, 

 

I'm sending you a PM with the information, as it's limited "to the trade."

 

BDL

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