Kitchen & Cooking

How to use chopsticks, according to a self-taught expert

This quintessential East Asian utensil isn’t hard to master.

How to use chopsticks Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

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Whether you simply don’t want to see a pair of chopsticks going to waste next time you order take-out, or you want to impress your friends on the next trip to a hot pot joint, knowing how to use chopsticks can be useful.

Chopsticks are two pieces of long, often tapered sticks that are made out of bamboo, plastic, or metal. In East Asian kitchens, chopsticks are king—they’re the fork and knife, sometimes the egg beater, and rarely, food styling tweezers. However, this seemingly universal tool can be difficult to maneuver for those who didn’t grow up using them. To this day, I still remember refusing to use chopsticks until I turned 6 or 7. Though I had been practicing with since I mumbled my first words, it took me a couple of years to embrace the techniques involved.

The different types of chopsticks

How are chopsticks different
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

There are small differences in chopsticks of different origins.

The type of chopsticks may dictate how difficult it is to use them. Chinese chopsticks, mostly made out of bamboo, feature tapered ends and are longer than Japanese chopsticks. They're easy to maneuver and can hold a good amount of food, like cooked rice. Japanese chopsticks are pointy and short, which is great for bone-in fish, but require more practice to use. Korean chopsticks, typically made out of silver or other metal, are more designed with aesthetics in mind. They’re more flat than the Chinese and Japanese chopsticks, which makes them the most difficult to use.

How to use chopsticks

How to use chopsticks
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

At the end of the day, the key to mastering chopsticks is to make yourself comfortable.

While I’m no member of the chopsticks police—I firmly believe that you can hold your chopsticks however you want—I decided to compile a detailed guide to help those who want to learn to use them for the first time, or more effectively than they do currently. By taking the time to learn now, you can avoid feeling left out the next time you dine out with friends at a fancy sushi establishment.

Step 1: Hold one chopstick like you hold a pen.

Step1
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

To start, hold one chopstick as pictured, similar to holding a pen. (For demonstration, the photos on the left and right are for left- and right-handed people, respectively.)

To get used to holding chopsticks, the first step is as simple as holding a pen, resting on your middle finger—you won’t have to think about it because it’s all muscle memory. But, unlike how you hold a pen, you should hold the chopsticks from the mid-way point or two-thirds of the way up the chopsticks to gain some leverage when actually picking up food.

Step 2: Slide in the second piece.

Step2
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Then, slide in the second chopstick between right finger and middle finger.

While the first chopstick is in place, slide the second one between your middle finger and index finger, and make sure the second chopstick rests at the base of your thumb. Hold the bottom chopstick firmly so you have a better grip.

Step 3: Adjust the chopsticks to make sure they’ll work.

Step 3
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Try to find the most comfortable position by moving the chopsticks around.

To ensure you’re doing it right, move the top chopstick around to see if it’s too loose or too tight. (If it slips out when you hold them, it’s too loose. If the two chopsticks cross when you hold them, it's too tight.) You can adjust them by moving the chopsticks up and down to find the best spot that works for you. The rule of thumb is your bottom chopstick should work as a strong base that lifts the food and the top one should act as the “targeting” tool that provides precision in picking up and handling food.

Step 4: Make sure the tips of the chopsticks are aligned.

Step 4
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

You can align the chopsticks by tapping them on the table or any flat surface.

If they’re not, you can tap them on the table to make sure the tips are aligned. Unaligned tips can make picking up food all but impossible.

Step 5: Practice makes perfect.

How to use chopsticks gif
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Practice the movement as demonstrated above.

You can practice holding the bottom chopstick still while moving the top chopstick freely. If the two chopsticks get stuck or too tight to move, then you’ll need to adjust the way you hold them.

Chopsticks etiquette and helpful tips

  • If this is your first time trying chopsticks, I recommend that you angle the chopsticks as you would use a fork—then pick things up from the side. This will help you securely transport the food from the plate to your mouth.

  • Practice on small things like grains of rice or larger objects like corn and pieces of paper to perfect your chopstick-holding skills.

  • Never stick the chopsticks straight up in a bowl of food. (Just thinking about this image makes me cringe.) This is incredibly rude in cultures that traditionally use chopsticks as it symbolizes rituals for the dead.

  • When you’re at a restaurant, don’t scrape the chopsticks together (if they’re not the disposable ones). This is rude because it’s suggesting the place you’re eating at isn’t clean, as the disposable chopsticks aren’t always the best quality.

  • Don’t gesture at things with chopsticks.
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    Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

    Enjoy your meal!

    Again, these are my personal preferences for how to use chopsticks and as far as I know, there’s no one correct way to use chopsticks. Whether you’re eating soupy dumplings, slurping rich ramen noodles, or grilling meats at a Korean barbecue, you should settle on the method you feel most comfortable with to enjoy the food. If you’re looking for more tips and tricks, check out Reviewed for more how-tos!

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