The Best (and Safest) Way to Slice a Bagel

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There are a couple of mysterious, un-cited claims around the internet that anywhere from 2,000 to 40,000 people in a given year went to the hospital in the U.S. for a bagel-related injury. Whatever number may be real, I have no doubt that some folks cut themselves pretty badly slicing bagels, and that’s because they’re not like other pieces of bread. They can be quite hard on the outside, they’re round-edged, and we’re only satisfied if they’re cut into two rings. Here’s what I know: I’ve cut myself trying to split a bagel while holding it in my palm before, and it sucked. I didn’t go to the hospital, but I also didn’t enjoy my bagel that day.  

Grab the right knife

If you’ve ever watched the staff at a busy bagel shop split open bagels, they’re probably using a long serrated knife. A serrated knife is best for slicing most breads, and this is especially true for a bagel. Breads often have a tough crust and a softer interior crumb. The serrated knife’s teeth bite into the crust, allowing you to saw into the bread. A chef’s knife or other smooth-bladed knife can easily slip off the crust. If your bagel is frozen or stale, this makes the crust even more slippery. That’s cut risk number one, and we haven’t even started yet. 

Here are some knives up for the task:

The right way to hold a bagel while you’re slicing it

Cut risk number two has everything to do with how you grip the bagel—and I’ll tell you now, it’s not in your palm. Unlike other rolls and breads, a bagel doesn’t give you a spongy surface and it doesn’t really have a convenient flat side for how you want to cut it. So you have to work with its strengths.

The best, safest way to cut a bagel is to place it on a cutting board bottom-down, like the way it baked in the oven. Do not try to balance it on one end and cut down. There’s no way to really keep your fingers safe, and the darn thing is absolutely going to roll around or slip sideways. Stability is always best when cutting.

Hand pressing bagel on table and knife next to the bagel

Press down and keep your fingers up. Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Hold a long, serrated knife in your dominant hand, parallel to the cutting board and halfway up the bagel. 

Knife sawing into a bagel

Saw into the bagel about a half-inch or so. Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

This is the important part. Use your non-dominant palm to apply pressure, but keep those digits up and out of the way. Keep your elbow up too—you don’t want a mishap to occur and accidentally cut your forearm.

Hand holding bagel, top view

Give the bagel a quarter turn. Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Hand turning bagel

Turn the bagel and pull the knife to continue sawing the bagel on your dominant hand-side. Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Now, with your knife-holding hand, you can saw into the bagel a bit, maybe a half-inch. Use your pressure-applying hand to give the bagel a quarter-turn. The knife never changes position, only the bagel does. Repeat the sawing motion, and turn it again. Do this until you make it back around. 

Hands slicing a bagel.

Repeat this motion going over the same cut mark until you reach the center. Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Then do it all again but this time you’re halfway into the middle of the bagel. By the time you make it back around, or even before that, you should be through to the center. Lift the top off and proceed with your breakfast.

Two bagel halves open on a cutting board.

Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

You could use a bagel guillotine. Its name does not inspire confidence, and if you’ve read my post on gimmicky appliances then you know how I really feel That said, I get it: You really aren’t handy with knives, or your mother-in-law bought you one. It’s fine. But you don’t need to buy one if you have a serrated knife and you’re willing to learn how to handle it in a different way. With a bit of practice, you’ll be safely and easily cutting bagels in no time. 

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