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Ulu or Alaskan Knife: Handy Kitchen Tool

Joy has always loved cooking and baking, and she has collected thousands of recipes. Nutrition, beauty, taste, and creativity are criteria.

An ulu makes excellent, quick work of chopping or mincing almost all foods, speeding the work of even an inexperienced cook.

An ulu makes excellent, quick work of chopping or mincing almost all foods, speeding the work of even an inexperienced cook.

What Is an Ulu Knife Good For?

  • Mincing
  • Chopping
  • Slicing
  • Scooping
  • Scraping (similar to a bench scraper)
  • Fleshing hides

Advantages

  • Versatility
  • The knife is easy to maintain.
  • It increases cutting efficiency by as much as 40 percent for an untrained cook.

My First Experience With This Knife

In the summer of 2004, my husband brought home a strange, small, curved knife he picked up at a garage sale. It had a faux-antler handle, and it came with a little cradle of a wooden stand, which had a groove for the blade. It was obviously a souvenir someone had picked up on a trip to Alaska, and it had never been used. The box had barely been opened, and it included an info card and the original packaging.

Two days later, friends acquired large boxes of red bell peppers and yellow onions. They decided they had brought home too many and gave me a box of each.

What to do with this abundance? I had no extra refrigeration, little freezer room, and an oven of a tiny 1925 house. I decided to can them. I had been given a Blue Ball Canning Book for my birthday the previous winter, and I'd been dying to try out a dozen and one ideas listed in it.

First Time Canning Alone

I settled on a sweet pepper relish. The first thing was to make a fine dice of all the vegetables.

I had grown up gardening and preserving foods, but I'd never canned anything alone before this. It was a beautiful adventure!

Armed with my trusty new ulu, I diced and chopped and minced for a couple of hours, through the hot, sticky afternoon. I discovered in short order that I had a gem of a knife. Cheap though it was, made of poor-grade steel which refused to hold a keen edge, it sped up the vegetable prep by almost twice what I had been able to do with a usual kitchen knife.

I used it on a regular, flat wooden cutting board, lacking a specially matched wooden bowl, but was able to core, slice, and chop with amazing speed, without the usual strain to my wrist.

I had fallen in love with that knife.

Ulu Demonstration, With a Variety of Foods and Methods

I use my ulu on a daily basis for chopping and mashing garlic. By loosening the skins with a blow with the flat of the blade, I can prep, crush, or mince a garlic head as fast as I can process it in a food processor.

I use my ulu on a daily basis for chopping and mashing garlic. By loosening the skins with a blow with the flat of the blade, I can prep, crush, or mince a garlic head as fast as I can process it in a food processor.

Winter Chile Cooking Marathons

Every winter, my husband and I make several batches of chile, stew, menudo, burrito beans, and such-like. Our Colorado Plains winters tend to be long and harsh, and we give our wood stove a workout.

We also go through dozens of heads of garlic, several bags of onions, and bushels of peppers.

That's a lot of chopping.

I eventually got a slightly higher-quality ulu, whose blade stays a bit sharper, longer. My original Alaskan knife fell apart after 13 or more years of extensive use, requiring a new handle. My son, an avid fix-it guy, fashioned me a knew one out of wood. He did a good job, making an ergonomic, pretty, long-lasting handle of which I am proud.

An ulu makes equally quick work of tough roots such as horseradish, which must be roughly chopped before being ground in a traditional grinder, or minced in a food processor.

An ulu makes equally quick work of tough roots such as horseradish, which must be roughly chopped before being ground in a traditional grinder, or minced in a food processor.

Summer Food Preservation Work

During the summer, my knives get to help with all kinds of food preservation chores. I put up pickled vegetables, jams and marmalades, dehydrated vegetables and fruits, canned and pickled fruits, and anything else that sounds interesting and tasty.

The ulu easily cuts through course and sometimes fibrous root vegetables, slashes stone fruits to pit and slice them, slices cucumbers and carrots and zucchini, and has done nearly everything I've ever asked it to do.

The task of chopping or mincing bacon is made simple with an ulu.

The task of chopping or mincing bacon is made simple with an ulu.

How to Sharpen an Ulu Knife

Please Tell Us About Your Knife Preferences

Ulu Origins

As I understand it, the ulu has been traditionally used by Alaskan natives for processing fish and fleshing hides. Original knives were made of slate or other stone, with bone or antler handles.

Different sizes of blades, and a few different handle styles, have been developed for separate uses.

I have a little experience preparing hides of deer and goats, and I can testify that, with a bit of practice, a high-quality ulu does indeed do a fine job.

Fleshing a Beaver Hide With an Ulu Knife

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Joilene Rasmussen