Flip on a cooking show and you’ll see TV chefs wielding sharp, shiny knives, chopping foods at lightning speed. Knowing good knife skills makes meal prep faster, more enjoyable—and safer. “There’s a good reason why the very first class any culinary student takes is knife work,” says J. Kenji López-Alt, managing culinary director of Serious Eats and author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science (W.W. Norton, 2015). “Cooking without mastering the basic strokes is like trying to run without knowing how to tie your shoes.”

López-Alt offers up the following technique to properly—and safely—slice foods.

  • Create a flat, stable surface for your food to rest on by slicing it in half or slicing off a thin section of its face. Hold the food steady with your non-knife hand, curling your fingers into a claw.
  • Hold the tip of the blade against the cutting board with the knife angled upward, the flat side resting against your knuckles. With the blade tip in constant contact with the cutting board, pull the knife backward slightly until the blade slices into the food.
  • Continue by pressing downward and forward, using the full length of the blade to slice through your food. Repeat, using a circular motion and keeping the blade tip against the board at all times. Use your “clawed” fingers to slowly push the food for each slice.