Anthony Bourdain's Advice For Safely Slicing Onions

The late and great chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain taught us many lessons about food, travel, and life. Whether it was a travel tip to navigate to the best street food or tips for slicing onions, Bourdain was certainly a straight shooter. Bourdain had the unique ability to talk to you like a no-BS friend. And friends don't let friends have poor knife skills.


In a demonstration of slicing onions on Travel Channel, Bourdain cuts right to the chase. He shows us how to slice and dice an onion safely, and the technique is a classic one, still used by chefs today. First and foremost, do not worry about speed. That will come with practice and may be unnecessary for a home kitchen. Second, a sharp knife is a safe knife. So go ahead and sharpen your knives before beginning. And lastly, get a stable cutting board. If your board slips or wobbles, put a damp paper towel under it to secure it. Now, the stage is set. 

Tuck your fingers

Begin by peeling your onion, cutting off the ends, and slicing it in half. With the onion ready, Bourdain demonstrates holding it at a 45-degree angle. You do not want your thumb perpendicular to the blade because, with one misstep, you could slice right through it. Instead, you want your fingers tucked in against the blade, with your first knuckles the only part of the hand making contact with the knife. 


"When you're like this the tips of your fingers are tucked in like this so the worst thing you can do to yourself is shave off a little flap [of skin] there," Bourdain explains in the video, showing off the so-called "bear claw" hand position. "It's a hell of a lot better than a thumb injury."

With the half onion securely in place, slice horizontally, while keeping the end of the onion uncut. It helps keep the onion together. Then, make vertical cuts for a fine dice. Repeat the process with the other half of the onion. The key is keeping your fingers secure and tucked in.

Chefs around the world use this safety technique for slicing and dicing. You can cut any vegetable with your fingers tucked in, letting your knife do the work. Bourdain says this way the worst damage you can do to your hand is a nick to the knuckle, which is way better than lopping off a thumb.


Practice, practice, practice

Remember the scene in the 2009 movie "Julie and Julia" in which Meryl Streep (playing Julia Child) wildly slices through a giant pile of onions to perfect her knife skills? We're not asking for that level of madness, but close. Any great chef, including Bourdain, will tell you the more you practice slicing with this technique, the faster and safer you will get with your knife.


"Buy a bunch of cheap onions and turnips," Bourdain says in his Travel Channel demonstration. "And then keep cutting, cut yourself, put a band-aid on, wait a couple of days, try again."

An onion is a great vegetable to practice on because of its many layers, which act as natural cuts that can be diced quickly. And if you're practicing on a big batch, freeze chopped onions for later. After onions, try your hand at different textures of vegetables like carrots, cucumber, cabbage, and butternut squash. You'll notice that different amounts of pressure will need to be applied to different textured foods.

Just like any muscle training, knife skills come with practice. Your hand will quickly adapt to the safety technique of tucking in your fingers, and the hand with the knife will move with ease and efficiency.