From Scratch: Kitchen Safety 101

March 15, 2012

slicing Serrano ham flaming chicken livers
Demonstrating the correct way to slice with fingers curled inward; standing back from an intentional kitchen fire (a.k.a flambé)

Kitchen safety is of utmost importance and encompasses everything from the obvious (protecting your fingertips while chopping) to the invisible (a knife lurking in a sink full of soapy water). Navigate the potential pitfalls with poise and grace, so you can focus on the most interesting part of meal preparation -- the food.

Knife Work

  • Keep your knives sharp. The sharper the knife, the less work you will need to do, the more precise your cuts will be, and the safer your fingers will be.
  • Curl fingers away from the blade, towards the palm, and tuck your thumb when using a knife (see photo above, left).
  • Use the appropriate knife for the job (e.g., when trimming a roast, use a boning or utility knife even if a paring knife might seem more manageable).
  • When you've got company in the kitchen, alert others when you walk behind them with a knife in hand by saying "knife behind." Always keep the knife at your side, with the tip pointed down and the blade facing behind you.

At the Range

  • Do not leave spoons in or on hot pots and pans -- this is an invitation for melted plastic or burning wood.
  • Reposition oven racks before preheating the oven, and always check to make sure nothing is being stored in the oven before turning it on.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby, out of kids’ reach. And don't forget to check the expiration date.
  • Never use a damp towel or potholder to handle hot pots and pans. Water conducts heat very quickly and a wet towel provides no insulation for your hands. 
  • When adding food to hot oil or water, avoid splashing the hot liquid by lowering the item slowly and only releasing it after it is partially submerged (see photo below, left).
  • Never pour alcohol directly from the bottle into a pot or pan on the stove; pour the required amount into a measuring cup first.
  • When baking custards or other items in a water bath, first place the cookware in the oven, then fill the pan with hot water to avoid splashing hot water on your feet as you transfer the unit to the oven.

croquetas chile pepper
Properly slipping croquetas into hot oil; using a plastic bag to protect hands from fiery dried chiles

On the Countertop and in the Sink

  • Before chopping, stabilize the cutting board with a damp towel underneath.
  • When blending hot liquids, use the blender on the lowest level and hold a potholder or towel over the lid before powering up. 
  • Unplug appliances as soon as you’re done using them.
  • Do not put knives, food processor blades, or any other sharp tools into the kitchen sink.

In the Refrigerator and Freezer

  • Store glass bottles (we're talking to you, hot sauce hoarders!) in the fridge door rather that on the grated shelves to avoid knocking them over and onto the floor.
  • Stow heavy, frozen foods in the back of the freezer to keep them from falling out and onto your feet.

What kitchen safety rules do you abide by? Share your tips and techniques in the comments section below.

All photos by Sarah Shatz, except croquetas (directly above, left), which is by James Ransom.

2 Comments Add a Comment
  • Headshot

    Slate says: My favorite kitchen safety mantra " a falling knife has no handle" (REPEAT THREE TIMES)

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: That is an excellent mantra! Thanks for sharing.

    over 2 years ago

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