What Type of Knife Do You Use for Onions?

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 | 0 Comments
what type of knife do you use for onions
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Wondering what type of knife do you use for onions? Cutlery types and varieties are plentiful, with many options for slicing and dicing your way to deliciousness. For whatever ingredients you are dealing with in your kitchen, there is the perfect tool that makes cooking easier and more enjoyable. All of this, of course, leads to more time to appreciate your endeavors with family and guests. 

Onions, which are a staple in most recipes, will be something you find yourself dealing with quite often in the kitchen. Finding the perfect type of knife to use for onions is incredibly important. With a little research, practice and the right tool, you will get a perfect cut each and every time. While varieties and types of kitchen knives are vast, we’ve rounded up a few recommendations for cutting flawless onions, including some of the best kitchen knives to use and how to expertly use them.


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What Type of Knife Do You Use for Onions?

While not the hardest or most course of vegetables you will find in the kitchen, onions are one of the most popular root vegetables and one that you will find yourself using quite regularly in most recipes. They are also one of the stinkiest, with their mix of chemicals, notably propanethiol s-oxide, produced through a series of reactions and released into the air during the cutting process. This can mean teary eyes and irritation that make swift and safe use of the knife a necessity. By choosing the right type of knife to use for onions, you can minimize the stinkiness and maximize your efficiency at chopping.

Most professional chefs, as well as this handy knife guide, will advise that you use one of the best chef's knives to chop, dice or slice an onion. Size can vary according to your own preferences and grip, but typically an ideal knife will be around 8 to 10 inches and made out of stainless steel. Many knives like this Zwilling Professional S Chef’s Knife come in several sizes. If you have a smaller grip, the 6-inch Miyabi Kaizen II Chef's Knife may be a great option instead.

Zwilling Professional S Chef’s Knife
via Zwilling

The best knives are not too heavy on either end — the blade or handle — and will balance perfectly if laid in your palm. Look for stainless steel blades that also do not retain debris as you slice, providing a clean cut. Wooden handles are often best and prevent slipping even when your hands are damp, as with this Steelport 8-Inch Carbon Steel Chef Knife

Sharpness is important, so regular maintenance of cutlery is important and will not only result in better knife cuts, but sharper tools are safer to use and do not require as much pressure. The best knives do most of the work for you, without too much effort, so the sharper the better. Because you are working with limited time before the chemicals in the onion become overwhelming, the best type of knives used for onions cut them easily and result in less crushing, which can release those chemicals in more abundance. 

Steelport 8-Inch Carbon Steel Chef Knife
via Steelport

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While there is really no alternative to a good chef’s knife when it comes to kitchen implements appropriate for onions, other popular tools for dealing with onions in the kitchen are smaller paring knives, which can help you remove the skin and outer layers of the onions, or manual or electric choppers, like the Cuisinart Elite Collection 4-Cup Chopper/Grinder. Many chefs, when asked about their favorite knife to use for onions, also swear by two-handled choppers, particularly for mincing, like this Fante's Mamma Maria's 9.5” Rocking Chopper Knife.

Cuisinart Elite Collection 4-Cup Chopper Grinder
via Cuinsinart

Tips and Safety for Cutting Onions

Choose the right onion

Onions come in a few different varieties, including white, yellow, red and sweet onions like Vidalias. Yellow onions are typically the go-to for most chefs, occupying most savory dishes. Red onions, which are slightly sweeter and less bitter, are perfect for salads, sandwiches and uncooked uses. White onions, while more bitter in flavor, can usually be substituted for yellow onions in a pinch or used atop burgers, in pasta salads, stir-frys and more. 

via Canva

Prepare the onion

Whatever the type of knife you use for onions, you may also want to consider prepping the onion for cutting. Many suggest that the onions are easier to work with, resulting in less stinkiness and tears, if you chill them before slicing them in the fridge or the freezer right before use. Long-term storage of onions is best in cool dry places, but refrigeration for too long can result in diminished flavor over time, so it's best to do this right before use. Once they are cut, you can rinse or soak them in water to eliminate strong odors and flavors, which works particularly well for uncooked uses like salads and sandwiches.

Choose the right cut 

There are several ways to cut an onion depending on need. Some recipes require diced onions or the cutting of the onion into small pieces. Minced onions require even smaller pieces that give a lot of flavor but are less textural in the finished dish. Sliced onions are perfect on salads, sandwiches or onion rings, which can be cut in full circles or half rounds.

For slices, you will make lateral cuts at the desired thickness with a forward and down movement from end to end, ideally allowing the knife to do most of the work for you. The type of knife you use for onions, as well as its sharpness will dictate the ease of your slicing. For dicing, first, make several horizontal cuts through the ion and then make vertical slices, creating cubed bits of onion. For many recipes, the more uniform the diced pieces are the better.

diced red onion with paring knife
via Canva

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Holding the onion

Whatever the type of knife you use for onions, the easiest way to carve an onion is to begin by cutting it in half and placing the flat side down on the cutting surface. This not only grants stability but will lessen the scent while you work (the more of the onion inside the skin out in the air, the more the pungent aroma can escape).

Begin by cutting off the end of the onion at the root and removing the skin. If you are making full round cuts for salads or onion rings, you can keep the onion intact, but slice a flat area on one side that will rest against the board and keep it from rolling before you start cutting. When cutting, hold the onion with your fingers slightly bent inward and nails against the surface to avoid accidental cuts. 

Holding the knife  

Many chefs have a preference for how to hold their large knives, including a fist wrapped fully around the handle. Others prefer to hold their knives with a thumb or finger at the top of the blade just above the handle for more control over the downward motion, with the remaining three fingers around the handle, which results in faster speed and greater control. The size and type of knife used for onions will determine which feels best to you.

knife grip
via Canva

Avoiding the tears  

Because of the chemicals released during the cutting, length of exposure is sometimes the best thing to minimize. After slicing your onion, place it away from your working surface or in the fridge temporarily while you prepare other ingredients. Leaving the cut onion with the open side down will help minimize the release of the odor. While there is much folk advice on remedying onion tears, including chewing gum or holding a spoon in your mouth as you chop, you can also take the more scientific tactic of wearing goggles that cover the eyes or nose (even if it means you look a little odd in the privacy of your kitchen).

Onions are not only an established star of many dishes, but great additions raw to salads, sandwiches and more. Always flavorful, but sometimes a little stinky and aromatic, finding the best way to cut them is essential. By choosing the correct type of knife to use for onions and ensuring its sharpness, you can also work more efficiently and spend less time crying and more time cooking and eating. 

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