How to Dice Vegetables Like a Professional Chef

Knife Skills
Thursday, October 8, 2020

One of the first skills any culinary student who intends to be a professional chef or dedicated at-home cook learns is dicing. Turning round, cylindrical, square, or any oddly shaped fruit or vegetable into evenly sized diced cubes makes for a more quick and even cook time and can be a great way to hide vegetables that could be deemed too big to eat in large bites (for picky eaters especially). 

Learning how to dice is a primary and essential skill that comes before many of the more difficult knife skills, such as julienning. There are many methods to dice an ingredient, but mastering this skill takes practice. Once you have the basics down, dicing becomes quick and easy. It is important to dice all ingredients uniformly, because when some pieces are larger than the others, you will get an uneven cook -- meaning some parts of the vegetable will be less done and still crunchy while others will be perfect. 

Dicing not only improves the quality of your meal, but also the visual appearance -- because as they say, the eyes or the phone camera eat first. When all of the parts to the meal appear uniform, this makes your dish appear more professional and high quality. 

We will teach you the basics of how to dice and include individual sections on certain vegetables: 

Dicing 101

Dicing 101
Two knives that are appropriate for dicing ingredients depending on size and texture -- serrated on top and chef’s knife on bottom. Image courtesy of Overlord Knives

The first step to dicing is to properly prepare your ingredients. You’ll want to wash whatever fruit or vegetable you’re working with and typically peel away any tough skins -- carrots, apples, potatoes, etc. 

Next, you’ll want to select an appropriate knife based on the type of ingredient you’re working with. For larger ingredients such as a watermelon, potato, onion, etc, you can use a chef’s knife. A chef’s knife is an all-purpose tool that can accomplish nearly any and all tasks -- the blade on a chef’s knife is typically eight inches long. Most professional chef’s wield this knife and use it for all of their prep work. 

However, the large size of a chef’s knife can be intimidating to beginner cooks. For this reason you may choose to use a paring knife with a more friendly 3.5 inch blade. A paring knife is built for the smaller, finely detailed prep work, but has the same abilities as a chef’s knife. It can be used for a multitude of prep tasks, and will feel much comfortable to a beginner. It can also handle ingredients such as an onion, potato, bell pepper, etc, but will not be equipped for any large ingredients like watermelon. 

Lastly, a serrated knife is the best option for ingredients with thick or tough exteriors and delicate insides that can be easily crushed. The serrated edge applies a greater force with each sawing motion than a smooth edge. This makes it the best option for bread, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. 

Be sure to wash your selected knife with warm, soapy water before and after each use -- especially when working with a variety of ingredients. This will help avoid any cross contamination. 

When you want to start dicing, it’s important to create a flat side for your ingredient to rest on -- this makes it easier to achieve uniform cuts. Next, you can cut multiple layers into your ingredient or cut it into slices. From there, slice once vertically, rotate the ingredient and slice vertically and you should be rewarded with perfectly diced cubes.

How to Dice an Onion 

How to Dice an Onion
Diced onion will elevate your dish because the strong flavor will come through better in uniform pieces, this way you are not getting an overpowering bite of onion at one time. Image courtesy of YayYay’s Kitchen.

To begin, peel the skin off your onion. Be sure not to cut the root off until the very end -- this causes the onion to start leaking juices that will cause you to cry. Next, slice the onion in half and lay it down on the flat side. Rest your three middle fingers on top of the onion and use your knuckle as a guide throughout cutting. 

Start with the knife pointed towards the root. Begin cutting long layers into the onion -- as close to the root as possible, but do not cut the whole way through the vegetable. The thickness of the layers can be determined by the size of the dice you want to achieve. Thin layers that are very close together will result in smaller dices while a few thick layers will result in bigger cuts. 

Once you’ve created all of your layers push the onion back together and make horizontal cuts halfway into the top, middle, and bottom of the vegetable. These cuts will be horizontal to the root. Then grip the entire onion and begin cutting in the opposite direction of your original layers. As you begin to do this, you will see the result as diced pieces of onion. Once you get close to the root, cut the rest of the diced pieces from around it and discard the remnants. 

How to Dice a Tomato

How to Dice a Tomato
Be sure to use a serrated knife when dicing tomatoes to ensure the delicate and juicy insides don’t get crushed in the cutting process. Image courtesy of Serious Eats

To start, remove the upper most layer of the tomato with the stem -- try to make this cut as thin as possible. Then sit the tomato on its bottom (the part you just sliced should be facing you). Begin making multiple cuts down through the tomato -- create the same layers like you did with the onion. Again, be sure not to completely slice through the bottom of your tomato. Rotate the tomato and make the same style of cuts. Individual sections of tomato should appear -- they will even separate from each other so you’ll need to push the ingredient back to its original shape during the final cut. 

Turn the tomato on its side, gripping the fruit and pushing it back together. Slice down through the side of the tomato in sections again. While doing this, your diced pieces of tomato will appear as your final result. 

When you get to the stem, cut four pieces from around the stem and dice those sections. Then discard the stem. 

How to Dice a Bell Pepper

How to Dice a Bell Pepper
Dicing bell pepper is similar to julienning, but with an added step of cutting the matchsticks into diced cubes. 

Start by removing the top and bottom of the pepper. You will notice the core of the bell pepper is attached to the part you’ll want to dice. With the pepper sitting flat, make a cut behind the first attachment point. Next, turn the pepper on its side and begin to unravel and cut through the rest of the attachment points until you can remove the core -- make sure that you are cutting fully though and disconnecting the core from the pepper. You should be left with a long band of pepper. 

With the band horizontal to you, make full vertical cuts clean through the entire pepper. This can also be referred to as julienning. You should be left with matchsticks of pepper that are your desired thickness. Collect all of the individual slices. Using the side of the knife -- push them to an even starting point as you gather them in your hand. Then chop through the pepper slices to create diced pieces. 

How to Dice a Potato 

How to Dice a Potato 
Diced potatoes are great for roasting or frying or mashing -- the possibilities are numerous when it comes to this starch. Image courtesy of Mexican Food Journal

Since potatoes are round and roll, slice off one end of the potato to create a flat bottom. Sit the potato on this flat part. Using your three fingers and knuckles as a guide, slice vertical sections into the length of the potato. You can cut through the entire potato and create stacks of sliced sections. You can either rotate the stacks of potato and slice down through the potato again and achieve your dices this way -- or you can create diced pieces from each individual section of potato. 

Once you have begun to dice a number of fruits and vegetables, you will notice the general technique that can be applied to all of your ingredients. Dicing is simple -- slice layers or sections of your ingredient going in one direction then rotate the ingredient and cut the opposite direction. This should leave you with uniform dices each time. The thickness is your choice as there is no right or wrong thickness. Over time, dicing will become one of the easier knife skills to master.