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Mastering food chopping techniques: A comprehensive guide for mobile caterers

Mastering the basics of chopping techniques has to be one of the most essential things someone working in the mobile catering industry needs to do. Especially when learning how to cater for 100 or more people. Understanding the basics will not only make you quicker and more efficient when preparing food, but also safer.

After all, if you haven’t had the right training, you could easily end up with a nasty injury that sends your mobile catering plans off the road. This ultimate go-to guide will introduce you to the essential chopping techniques you must master, to make you a whizz in the kitchen.

With everything you need to know, this guide is essential reading for anyone getting into the mobile catering game. It’s jam-packed full of in-depth guidance on choosing the right knives, the different chopping techniques you’ll need, how to stay safe, and more. We’ve even included top tips on knife care and what to do if you get injured while using a knife.

There’s no better way to prepare you and your staff for working with knives in the kitchen. Just make sure you’ve got catering trailer insurance to keep your vehicle, fixtures and fittings safe, too.

Block of knifes


Chapter 1: Choosing the right knives for your kitchen

Chapter 2: Chopping technique to master #1 – The Claw

Chapter 3: Chopping technique to master #2 – The Tunnel

Chapter 4: Chopping technique to master #3 – Rolling

Chapter 5: Chopping technique to master #4 – Mincing

Chapter 6: Chopping technique to master #5 – The Lever

Chapter 7: Chopping technique to master #6 – The Hammer

Chapter 8: Keeping safe

Chapter 9: Top tips for looking after your knives

Chapter 10: What to do in an emergency

Chapter 1: Choosing the right knives for your kitchen

From butchers and bakers to sushi chefs, having just the right tool for the job in hand will always make the task quicker, easier and safer. In a kitchen, one of the most versatile pieces of kit is a good set of knives. Whether you’re performing specialist tasks like carving, boning or filleting, or getting on with the more general food prep work of slicing and dicing, with just a few high-quality knives, you can make virtually any kitchen task a breeze.

The top three essentials

These knives are the very minimum any kitchen will need. With these three, you can perform almost any task so invest wisely in a decent set of these.

  • Chef’s knife
    With its long, broad, tapering blade, sharp tip and heavy-duty handle, the classic all-purpose chef’s knife is the workhorse of the kitchen. Finding one you like and using it as much as possible will do wonders for your culinary abilities. With incredible versatility, a well-cared for chef’s knife will make light work of a variety of food prep. From finely chopping delicate herbs to taking on even the hardiest of heavy vegetables it’ll do far more of the work for you than smaller knives.
  • Chef’s knives can range anywhere between 6 inches to 12 inches, with an 8-inch blade being the most common size for everyday chefs. However, over time you’ll probably want to work up to a 10-inch knife, which is more efficient overall. Deciding on which knife will be right for you is an individual choice but always look for one that feels comfortable in your hand. After all, you're going to be spending a lot of time together!
  • Paring knife
    These short and slim knives are in constant use for a whole variety of tasks in professional kitchens. So, it’s well worth investing in three or four, particularly as their small size means they have a tendency to go missing! Perfect for delicate work, they’re easy to control and are great for small, softer ingredients like shallots, mushrooms and fruit.
  • Serrated knife
    Sometimes called a tomato knife, these lightweight, flexible knives are perfect for producing thin, neat slices of soft-skinned ingredients like tomatoes and aubergines. And for sawing through ingredients with harder skins like butternut squash, lemons, watermelon and pineapples.
  • Long versions of these knives (around 10 inches) are perfect for slicing through bread, bagels, baguettes, bread rolls and more. Invest in both short and long versions to take care of all your culinary needs.

Other optional extras

If you’re putting together a set of knives for your mobile kitchen then you’ll also need to consider adding these to your list.

  • Carving knife
    A long, narrow knife used to produce clean, even slices of cooked cuts of meat and poultry every time. With a sharper tip and narrower blade than a chef’s knife, it’s designed for skilfully cutting into joints and along bones.
  • Boning knife
    Most useful for cutting up raw meat, it’s recognised by its long, thin blade and curved, ultra-sharp tip. A boning knife’s blade is quite rigid, making it better for cutting up pork, beef and whole birds. For fish and chicken breasts, you’re better off with a filleting knife.
  • Filleting knife
    Similar to a boning knife but even thinner and more flexible, it can easily follow the curved shape of fish skeletons and chicken breasts. This means it’s much easier to remove skin and bones from delicate fish without ruining the flesh.
  • Santoku knife
    A very versatile knife often used as an alternative to a chef’s knife. The blade is straight like a Japanese bocho or vegetable knife, rather than curved like a Western chef’s knife. So, if you’re using this knife, you’ll use a simple up-and-down motion for cutting, instead of rocking back-and-forth.

Just like having the right catering trailer insurance, it’s important to have the right tools for the job that you’re doing.

Which brand is best?

With so many brands on the market it can be hard to know which one will be right for your business and budget. Price is important, but it’s not always the sign of the best quality or the right knife for you. You wouldn’t opt for a catering trailer insurance policy without putting in some research time. So why would you buy such an important kitchen tool without looking for some recommendations?

Fortunately, the catering supply specialists at Nisbets have spoken to 100 chefs to find out their professional opinion on the best knives to use in the kitchen. And here they are!

  • Victorinox
    You may recognise this Swiss brand from their excellent pocket knives; however, they also produce some of the best professional chef knives available. Incredibly sharp and beautifully balanced.
  • Global
    Crafted completely from stainless steel, Global knives are some of the most instantly recognisable knives around. But this seamless construction is not just for the design aficionados, it also prevents cross-contamination.
  • Tsuki
    High-end Tsuki knives are instantly recognisable by their distinctive and stylish blades and black Micarta resin handles. An ergonomic shape and excellent grip will make even the longest shifts comfortable.
  • Dick
    With a history stretching back to 1778, this German brand has a well-deserved reputation for producing high quality, ergonomic knives. Offering the perfect marriage of new technology and traditional techniques you’ll find them in top kitchens around the world.
  • Vogue
    Another leading German brand prides itself on offering high-quality materials at an affordable price. Add in style and comfort and you’ve got some great kitchen knives!
  • Zwilling JA Henckels
    One of the largest and oldest manufacturers of kitchenware and knives in the world. This German firm’s products are known for their high quality.
  • Hygiplas Knives
    Excellent quality kitchen essentials providing great value for catering businesses. They’ve got a great range of contamination-preventing colour-coded knives. Perfect for those looking to introduce colour-coded cleaning to their business.

Chapter 2: Chopping technique to master #1 – The Claw

Any training in chopping techniques has to start with the claw grip. This is a tried-and-tested way of holding food that keeps your fingers safe when chopping. Not only will this grip speed up prep times but it’ll also maintain complete safety in even the most demanding kitchen environment.

Step 1 - Create the claw by shaping your hand as though you are about to pinch something. Then rest the tips of your fingers on the food, with your thumb safely behind them. Ensure that your knuckles are the foremost part of your hand rather than your fingertips.

Step 2 - Secure the food using your thumb and little finger. Use your other fingers for stability and as a shield for your fingertips.

Step 3 - As you chop, let the side of the knife brush against your knuckles. Don't push the food into the knife. Instead pull your claw grip back across the food as you chop. Remember, never rush. Patience is key when learning such an important technique.

Just like finding the right catering trailer insurance, if you don’t get the basics right at the start all your hard work may end up coming to nothing.

Cutting salmon

Chapter 3: Chopping technique to master #2 – The Tunnel

The claw grip is great for when foods sit flat on the chopping surface. But what about foods like potatoes that don’t? For those you’ll need the tunnel grip. This gives you a clamp-like hold on the food to stop it from slipping while you cut.

Step 1 - Place the tips of your index finger, middle finger and thumb on the sides of the food to create a tunnel shape. Arch the palm of your hand upward to create a space for your knife to slot through.

Step 2 - Carefully guide the knife into the tunnel with the point of the knife resting on your chopping board. Now bring the knife down on the food while smoothly pulling it back towards you. Your grip should be strong enough to prevent the food from slipping but not so tight that your hand gets tired.

Chapter 4: Chopping technique to master #3 – Rolling

This technique is perfect for creating those uniformly diced carrots and celery to make your food look as good as it tastes. As the name suggests, the technique uses the curve of the knife blade to create a rolling motion and the very finest chop.

Step 1 - If cutting up smaller items such as chives or carrot batons, you’ll want to gather up several at a time to speed up food preparation. For larger items such as whole carrots you’re better off cutting up one at a time.

Step 2 - Use the claw grip from earlier to secure the food, while placing the tip of the knife on the chopping surface.

Step 3 - Using a fluid motion, push the blade down and forward with small movements to create a clean chop. To maintain a rolling motion and keep control, ensure the tip of the blade never leaves the chopping surface.

Step 4 - Slide your claw grip back along the food as you chop rather than pushing the food beneath the blade. It should always be your knife hand that’s in control of the cut.

Chapter 5: Chopping technique to master #4 – Mincing

If you’re finely chopping herbs or meat then the essential technique you’ll need to master is mincing. From the tip of the blade to the heel, this technique uses the full length of your knife to excellent effect.

Step 1 - Wrap your hand firmly around the handle of the knife. Then place the fingers of your other hand on the spine of the knife, towards the tip, to give you great control of the knife blade while chopping.

Step 2 - Lift the knife in an up-and-down motion from the handle. Always keeping the point of the blade on the chopping surface. This will create a rocking motion that will soon lead to a fine chop.

Chapter 6: Chopping technique to master #5 – The Lever

Chopping harder foods such as watermelon and butternut squash is made more difficult and riskier if you’re using a blunt knife, but also if you’re using the wrong technique. The lever technique and a well-cared for chef’s knife will make short work of even the toughest ingredients.

Step 1 - With the blade pointing down towards the chopping surface, angle your knife over the food.

Step 2 - Holding the handle firmly, place the palm of your other hand on the spine of the knife, with your fingers pointed away from the blade to avoid injury.

Step 3 - Push down sharply with both hands for a clean cut.

Chapter 7: Chopping technique to master #6 – The Hammer

Commonly used with cleavers, choppers and Santoku knives, the hammer technique is perfect for cutting through compact foods such as red cabbage. To maintain safety, focus on making powerful, straight and smooth cuts.

Step 1 - Steady the food and, using the middle or heel part of the blade, push down and cut the food into manageable pieces.

Step 2 - Using the claw grip to protect your fingers, apply even pressure in a downward force to cut up the food into the size you require.

Chapter 8: Keeping safe

When you’re working fast with such sharp blades your number one priority is to prevent knife accidents from occurring. Unfortunately, accidents involving knives are all too common in the catering industry. Read our blog on the most common kitchen accidents and how you can prevent them.

Indeed, they make up an estimated 22% of all incidents in commercial kitchens, the highest single cause of injury. These injuries usually involve cuts to the non-knife hand and fingers but can lead to injuries elsewhere as well as debilitating tendon or nerve damage or even loss of body parts.

The Health and Safety Executive warns you’re under a duty to protect your staff from harm so far as is reasonably practicable. You must always assess the risk to your employees and take any reasonable precautions. This process is often guided by conducting a risk assessment for your mobile catering business.

Having effective catering trailer insurance in place is just one of the ways to protect your business from harm.

How to minimise the risk

Do look for ways to reduce knife use in kitchen processes. Could you invest in a veg prep machine or purchase pre-chopped foods from suppliers?

Do store knives away securely after use.

Do invest in comfortable knives that can be easily and safely maintained.

Do make sure employees have had full training in the safe use of knives and how to sharpen them.

Do use a knife and chopping technique suitable for the task and for the food being cut.

Do keep knives sharp. Blunt knives increase the chance of slipping.

Do cut on a stable, flat surface and away from the body.

Do ensure there is plenty of room to move around the cutting area.

Do take extra care when cleaning knives.

Do carry a knife with the blade pointing downwards, by your side and close to the body.

Do use the correct protective equipment such as protective gloves and butcher’s apron.

Don't leave knives loose and unattended on benches or worktop surfaces. If you need to place a knife down then ensure it’s well away from any edges.

Don't try to catch a falling knife. It’s a natural reaction that must be resisted.

Don't use a knife as a can opener, garlic press, tenderising mallet or any other job it was not designed for.

Don't hold a knife by the blade or carry it in your pocket or when carrying other objects.

Don't fool around with a knife.

Chapter 9: Top tips for looking after your knives

Keeping knives sharp and well-maintained saves time in the long run, and it keeps you safe as well. Follow these top tips and you’ll look forward to years of safe service from these indispensable tools.

  • Never wait for a knife to go blunt before taking care of it. A regular system of honing and sharpening your knives is a much better option.
  • Invest in a steel, whetstone or knife sharpener. And follow the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance on knife sharpening.
  • Always use a cutting surface that won’t dull your knives. Wood or plastic tend to be the gentlest.
  • Take care over storage. You don’t want knives to get chipped or otherwise damaged. Store them in a block or on a magnetic strip; or separately in a drawer with a suitable knife guard.
  • Washing by hand with soap and water is best for cleaning. If using a dishwasher be sure to place them so the knife can’t get jostled around or the edge can’t be chipped.
  • To transport knives safely use a knife wallet, roll bag or case to provide that extra level of protection.

We all know that taking care of our investment is one of the best ways to succeed in business. While you have catering trailer insurance for your vehicle, make sure you keep your knives well protected, too.

Chapter 10: What to do in an emergency

When you’re using knives so regularly as part of your business it’s probably not surprising to find that injuries occur. Most injuries should be minor and can be easily treated. According to the NHS all you’ll usually need to do is stop the bleeding, clean the wound and cover it with a plaster or dressing. If the wound is minor then it should soon heal.

However, if someone is bleeding heavily from a wound then that is a different matter. The main aim then is to prevent any further blood loss and to stop the patient from going into shock. The NHS advises you to take the following steps:

  1. Dial 999 and ask for an ambulance.
  2. Check if there's anything embedded in the wound. If there is, don’t press down on the object. Instead, press either side of the object and put padding around it before applying a bandage.
  3. If nothing is embedded then apply and maintain pressure to the wound. Use a clean pad or dressing if possible. Apply pressure until the bleeding stops.
  4. Firmly bandage the wound with a clean dressing.
  5. If bleeding continues through the dressing, apply pressure to the wound until the bleeding stops. Then apply another dressing over the top. Don’t remove the original dressing, but continue to check whether the bleeding has stopped.
  6. If a body part has been severed, immediately place it in a plastic bag. Don’t wash the severed part. Then wrap the bag in soft fabric and place it in a container of crushed ice. Don’t let the severed part touch the ice. Make sure it goes with them to the hospital.

So that’s the ultimate go-to guide to chopping techniques. If you know some we haven’t covered, we’d love to hear from you.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

Frequently asked questions

What skills are essential as a mobile caterer?

As a mobile caterer, there are several essential skills you need to master for your business to be successful. First and foremost, you need outstanding cooking skills, with a keen sense of taste and ability to prepare a variety of food.

Secondly, excellent customer service is vital; it's not just about the food, but the overall experience you offer. Time management and multitasking are also crucial, as you'll often work under tight deadlines. Lastly, don't forget about business acumen.

You'll need to manage costs, price your services correctly, and market your business effectively. These essential skills will surely set you apart in the mobile catering industry.

How do I get better at chopping with a knife?

To master the art of chopping with a knife, practice is key. Start with easy to handle food items like carrots or celery and gradually move on to harder items. Make sure your knife is sharp as a dull blade can cause accidents.

A solid grip on your knife provides better control, so ensure your fingers are curled inward to avoid any slips. Learning the rocking motion technique also helps in efficient chopping. Remember, speed comes with time and practice.

Is mobile catering profitable?

The mobile catering business has been booming over the past few years, with food trucks and pop-up stalls becoming increasingly popular.

With lower overhead costs than a traditional restaurant and the flexibility to move to high-traffic areas during peak times, mobile catering offers unique advantages that can lead to significant profits. The key lies in offering delicious food, maintaining excellent service, and effectively marketing your business.

What certificates do I need for mobile catering?

One of the most crucial certificates you'll need is a Food Hygiene Certificate. This demonstrates that you have the knowledge and understanding of food safety practices and regulations. It's important to note that this certificate must be obtained from a reputable training provider recognised by the Food Standards Agency.

Additionally, depending on the specific services you offer, you may also need other certifications such as a Gas Safety Certificate for any gas appliances used in your mobile catering unit. It's always best to research and consult with local authorities to ensure you have all the necessary certificates and qualifications for mobile catering.

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