10 Basic Knife Skills for Thanksgiving Day Prep

Using a chef's knife to dice an onion on a wooden cutting board

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

For most American cooks, Thanksgiving Day presents the most intense cooking challenge of the year. The sheer number of dishes that need to be prepared and served at the same time is intimidating, but add on heightened expectations, (groundless!) fears of failure, and the inevitable last-minute runs to the grocery store, and the prospect of making the meal can seem terrifying.

But one way to ease your feast-prep anxiety is to brush up on your knife skills. Making a large meal means you’ll need to cut up a large amount of vegetables, and knowing exactly how you want to cut each one will come in handy. Even if you generally know what you’re doing, you may want to take a look at some of the items here—when was the last time you peeled a pearl onion?

This list is limited to vegetables, so if you need a refresher on how to carve your bird, you can check out our guide here. And if you want to really perfect your mise en place, you may want to check out our guide for how to set up a prep station like a professional.

And, of course, the best thing you can do to improve your knife skills is use a sharp knife. So do yourself a favor and either take your blade to a professional sharpener or sharpen it yourself before you do any heavy Thanksgiving chopping and slicing. At the very, very least, hone it!

How to Mince Garlic

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Garlic…well, garlic goes in everything. Even if it isn’t in the recipe, you usually chuck it in anyway. (Don’t lie; you know it’s true.) But there’s more than one way to mince garlic, and how you choose to do it depends on how strong a garlic bomb you want to put on the table. Whether you’re making the filling for a stuffed pumpkin or making a classic sausage and sage stuffing, this guide will help you tailor any dish to your garlic needs.

How to Mince Garlic »

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How to Slice and Dice an Onion

[Video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

You’re definitely going to need to slice, chop, and dice a fair amount of onion for the meal, for the green beans, for good gravy, and for stuffing, at the very least. We cover every way you can cut an onion, so you know what you’re doing and how to do it safely.

If you’re looking for some tips for how to cut up other alliums, check out our guides for how to mince shallots, how to prepare leeks, and how to slice scallions. Finally, if you’re planning on serving pearl onions as a side, either glazed or creamed, here’s a guide for how to prep fresh ones.

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How to Cut Carrots

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

The carrot is probably the most dangerous vegetable to cut. For one, carrots are almost as ubiquitous in recipes as onions, and since they’re a hard, oddly shaped root vegetable, if you use bad technique and a dull knife, (terrible) accidents can happen. So we urge you to take a quick refresher course on how to cut them up before you take the knife to three pounds of the roots for these gingery glazed carrots (oh, and you’ll need to julienne some ginger, too).

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How to Cut Celery

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Celery’s role is regularly overlooked, but it is a crucial flavor component of some of the most iconic Thanksgiving dishes: gravy and, more importantly, stuffing. And while it’s pretty easy to chop, doing so efficiently takes just a little bit of trimming and planning, but once you’ve got the fundamentals down, chopping up a pile of celery is easy as pie. Peeling the stalks may seem fussy, and, yes, it is entirely optional, but we find it’s worth taking the extra minute to do it.

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How to Cut Cauliflower Into Florets

[Video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Cauliflower always has a welcome place at the table, and during Thanksgiving, it can fill any number of roles, but we like it best when it’s roasted and paired with a brightly acidic dressing, as in this roasted brassicas salad or in this dish of roasted cauliflower with a pine nut, raisin, and caper vinaigrette. In either case, you’ll want to know how best to quickly turn a head into florets.

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How to Prep Brussels Sprouts

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Whether you’re serving them shredded and salt-wilted in a salad, roasted with chorizo and sherry vinegar, or creaming them with spinach in an over-the-top gratin, Brussels sprouts are a must-have part of any respectable Thanksgiving spread. And while they’re a cinch to prepare, you may want to check out our guide for tips for how to prepare them efficiently.

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How to Clean and Chop Mushrooms

[Video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Do you really need to wash mushrooms? Store them in the fridge? Discard the stems? Answers to these questions and more are right here in our guide for how to prep buttons and cremini. If you plan on doing something with portobellos, you can look at a fuller treatment for how to prep them here.

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How to Prepare Butternut Squash

[Video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Cutting up a butternut squash, like carrots, presents a bit of danger, since they are quite hard and a little unwieldy. And knowing how to get the gourd into manageable pieces isn’t just for those interested in the savory side of cooking. Yes, squash will mostly grace your Thanksgiving table in the form of a cheesy dip or as a pile of roasted bits mixed up with kale, spiced pecans, and dried cranberries, but it also is the star of a show-stopping pie. So study up, be safe, and enjoy the most seasonal of all Thanksgiving vegetables.

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How to Buy and Prepare Green Beans

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

The process of prepping green beans properly starts at the supermarket. Don’t buy the pre-trimmed beans that have been sitting on a refrigerated shelf for hours; they degrade in quality immediately after trimming, so you’ll want to do that task yourself, at home, right before you get cooking. If you think that it’s going to be tedious, you’re wrong! If you approach the task with the right organizational mindset, you’ll be on your way to excellent from-scratch green bean casserole in no time at all.

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How to Mince Fresh Sage

[Video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Sage and Thanksgiving go hand-in-hand like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, salt and peppa pepper. And although you’ll often see whole sage leaves decorating dishes here and there in the Turkey Day spread, for maximum sage flavor, you’re going to want to know how to mince it, and it couldn’t be easier if you adopt the correct technique.

Of course, there are a bunch of fresh herbs that find their way onto the table, too, and for those, you can refer to our more general guide for prep, buying, and storage of herbs.

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Post Author: MNS Master

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