sharpening and caring for your kitchen knives

How to Chop an Onion like a Sous Chef

how to chop an onion
Knowing how to chop an onion quickly is one of the most useful kitchen knife skills you’ll ever have the pleasure to know. Onions are the bedrock of so much cooking—from soups, to tomato sauces, to classic turkey stuffing, and the list goes on. So, if you like to cook, please do yourself a favor and be sure you know how to chop an onion the most efficient way. Your chopping doesn’t have to be flashy or as speedy as the Iron Chef, but a little technique will save you tons of time.

How to Chop an Onion — Video*

DULL KNIVES If your kitchen knives are dull and you yearn for some guidance, check out my Kitchen Knife Sharpening Action Plan. And if you’re in need of a new chef knife, make sure to read my article on Best Chef Knives. The Global santoku I use in the video is one of my recommendations (see below).

Global santoku blade

Video Recap

General reminders
Grip the knife correctly. Either use a pinch grip, or a modified version, as in the video. Your fingers should curl around the knife handle at a slight angle.

In your non-knife-holding hand, use “the claw” to protect your fingertips.

Cut into the flower end of the onion and leave the root end intact to hold the onion together.

Steps
1) Slice off the flower end of the onion.

2) Split the onion in half before peeling it. Score the skin, then peel.

3) Make about four horizontal slices into the onion half, making sure not to go all the way through. (It’s this step, specifically, which I find very hard to do with a dullish knife.)

You can apply this skill to dicing shallots. . .or anything else.
4) Slice nine or ten vertical cuts while holding the onion together and keeping your fingers out of the way. (Some people rather do the vertical first, and the horizontal second. Pro: Doing the vertical first, reduces the vertical pressure on the knife when you do the horizontal. Con: But it does give you the added challenge of having to keep those vertical slices together when doing the horizontal.)

5) Make the final vertical crosscuts nice and thin. (You can apply this skill to dicing shallots or garlic or anything else.)

Remember—learning how to chop an onion with a sharp knife can make all the difference. Without a sharp blade, it can be a struggle and you run the risk of endangering your fingers when none of that’s necessary. This is what sharp kitchen knives were made for!
 

* Extra credit point: Find the KKG mispronunciation gaff in the How to Chop an Onion video!
11 Comments
  1. Awesome KKG! You are the best! Clearest instructional I’ve seen about this.

  2. I’ve been cooking for 20 years and I never knew to keep the root in tact, great tip KKG, the video was the best way to illustrate. So when’s your cooking show??? Well done.

  3. WoW…..another marvelous tip…Already tried this..Not perfectly done..Maybe I have to try this 2/3 times more..
    BTW Thanks KKG :)

  4. I wanted to say how well-organized and informative I have found your website to be. My fiancée will probably not be as thankful as she put a moratorium on my asking for kitchen equipment this past Christmas and you have certainly inspired many items to be added to my wish list :)

    I really appreciate how you source your information and clarify what is opinion, making everything easy to digest and incorporate into my own thinking. I’ve been reading many of your pages, all on my phone, and it’s very readable and surf-able on this device (I know you put a premium on well-designed websites, so you should appreciate that feedback).

    And since no one has claimed the extra-credit point yet—santoku is pronounced sahn-toe-koo, not sahn-too-koo as you say in your video.

    Cheers!
    Charles

    • Hi Charles,
      Ha-ha! You claimed the extra-credit point! Congratulations. . .and thanks for paying such close attention.

      This may sound corny, but it warms my heart to hear you’re finding KKG so rewarding. I’ve spent many, many hours researching and writing articles and posts, so it’s always nice to receive positive reinforcement.

      Best, KKG

      P.S. How would you know I put a premium on well-designed websites? Are you just concluding this because of KKG’s design? Just curious. . . :)

      • In your reviews of sharpening services, you make several mentions of the website design—so it’s something you pay attention to. I realize, in the end, what matters most is the service and how well a sharpener treats your knives. But, all things being equal, a website that makes things easier—such as providing easily printable order sheets and calculating your costs—would be providing better service. Details matter.

        Again, thank you for providing the information you do in a well written and organized site.

        P.S. I’m going to be getting a new chef knife for myself soon. I’m looking at the Mac Pro series. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of granton edges. I got the HB-70 as a Christmas gift for my MIL this past year after cooking in her kitchen and using her knife with both a broken blade and broken handle. I’m debating between the MBK-85, 95, and 110. I’ll make my decision after playing with several knives I can borrow from the chef at the brew-pub where I work. Of course, my dream would be a custom Kramer chef knife and a Blood Root paring knife as my main knives. But, you know, luck of the lottery and lack of money are preventing that currently. I’d also love an end-grain topped Boos kitchen cart someday as well. Combine all that with a Primo XL and I’ll have my dream kitchen setup!

        Cheers!

        • Good luck with your chef knife shopping! If you’re a serious home cook (which it sounds like you are), you can’t go wrong with the MAC Pro series. The only thing I might mention is that, with an 11-inch blade, the MAC MBK-110 is a pretty unwieldy blade. It could come in handy for big jobs like carving up watermelons and pumpkins, but for everyday work might feel quite cumbersome.

          All the best, KKG

          • Yeah, I’m definitely leaning towards the 85 or 95 instead, it’s just on my list because I plan to also get my fiancée a chef’s knife of her choice. If she gets an 8″ then I don’t want to get an 8″ as well. Slowly over time, we’ll build up a set of nice knives covering a range of lengths. But if she gets like a 7″ santoku then the 85 would be fine.

            That said, I do regularly cut up melons. Even in the winter when they’re not their best, I just have to have some watermelon sometimes and it’s not worth the money to buy pre-cut melon.

          • Ah-ha! So you eat a lot of watermelon :)

            Other knives you might want to consider as you build your collection: a boning knife, a 6-inch chef knife or santoku, and a killer bread knife. Wusthof makes a double-serrated bread knife that is exceptional—see my article on Wusthof Knives.

  5. Yeah, I’ve read that the Mac and the Wusty bread knives are awesome, but I’ve also heard that for a bread knife you really don’t need to drop much coin on it. Just go cheap with a bread knife. We don’t cook a lot of meat, so I’m not going to be breaking down chickens or filleting many fish. That’s one reason I really don’t mind getting the harder steel of a Japanese hybrid, I’m not going to accidentally nick a bone with it. And also why a boning knife is way down my list.

    I am starting to bake more bread, working on a sourdough culture that I’d like to keep alive indefinitely and would really like to bake in the Primo once I get it. So maybe then I’ll look into a nice bread knife if my cheapo doesn’t cut it (pun intended). On occasion we cook some fish for tacos and I’ll smoke a Boston butt once I have the Primo a few times a year.

    Instead getting a Boos block, my boss is going to be making his own chopping blocks for the brewpub, so I’m going to piggyback on that project and make my own at home, cheaper and at least as nice.

    P.S. I’ve read pretty much every article on your site, except for the recipes and sale notices. . . certainly every article in the dropdown menu.

    • You’re absolutely right about spending on a bread knife being a lower priority in general. But if you eat baguettes, ciabatta loaves, etc. fairly often—heck, any baked goods with crisp, tough crusts and softer centers—you will really appreciate a nice-feeling and quick-slicing bread knife.

      In the meanwhile, considering how much of KKG you have absorbed, I might need to make you my honorary deputy. . . :)

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An Edge in the Kitchen
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