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How to Use Chopsticks

Written by Wesley Kang

I experienced my first culture shock when it dawned on me that not everyone grows up learning how to use chopsticks as an Asian American growing up in the states. Although it’s second nature to me, like breathing or blinking, not everyone grows up using chopsticks at home or when eating ramen noodles in an Asian restaurant.

Maybe you want to impress your significant other’s family, or maybe you got tired of asking for a fork at a restaurant with Japanese food. Whatever the reason may be, I’ll give you some easy steps to follow so you know how to use chopsticks the next time you go out for a gathering. I’ll show you proper hand placement, and some tricks you can utilize to make it easier for yourself.

Step 1: Getting a Good Grip on Your First Chopstick

anatomy of hand for holding chopsticks
Marcosticks, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You might have seen instructions for how to use chopsticks on paper wrappings from disposable chopsticks and wondered how accurate those graphics are. Having reviewed them myself, I can say that they’re actually not a bad way to start learning how to use chopsticks!

That said, it’s only intuitive to me because I already know how to use them, and breaking it down into step-by-step instructions is an important part of learning a new skill. 

different ways to hold chopsticks chart visual infographic

Marcosticks, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Instead of diving in and holding both chopsticks, we’re going to start with one chopstick at a time. Using your dominant hand, grab your first chopstick and tuck it in that little dip between your index finger and thumb. It should feel as if you are holding a pen or pencil. Next rest the end of that chopstick on your ring finger. Basically, you only want the chopstick to be in that pit, while having it rest on your ring finger for mobility.

To test if you have done this correctly, move your ring finger up and down. If your chopstick moves up and down with you, then you most likely have a good grip on your item.

Marcosticks, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Step 2: Adding the Second Chopstick

Step one was the easy part, like juggling with only two balls. It’s when you add the third where things get tricky, and that’s definitely the case for using chopsticks too. This is generally where many people struggle, but not to worry! Here’s what you have to do. 

Since you are already holding the first one almost like a pencil with the opposite end resting on your ring finger, you just rest the other chopstick above the first chopstick on your index finger. Your thumb should wrap around and grip the top of the second chopstick to keep it stable with the other end resting on your middle finger. So let’s break this down.

Marcosticks, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first chopstick is resting in the pit between your thumb and index finger with the end near the tip resting on your ring finger. Your thumb should wrap around that first chopstick to grip the second chopstick.

The second chopstick is rested on your index finger with your thumb gripping it. The end of that second chopstick near the tip should rest on top of your middle finger.

Step Three: How to Know if You Are Using it Right

If you move both your middle and ring finger, you should be able to control your chopstick movement. They should move up and down at your will and you should feel as if you have complete control of them.

Try to pick up food and keep your grip. You don’t want the end of your chopsticks to make and “x” shape when grabbing food. It should feel easy enough that you can make them tap at the ends.


Tips and Tricks

Now that we went over form, I’ll share with you some advice to help you improve your skills. Don’t feel too worried if you still struggle with getting a good grip on your food. I know when I have helped my friends, it feels really awkward for them at first. Let’s ease that awkwardness with some best practices!

Hold the Chopstick Close to the End

I see many of my friends lack control and grip when they hold chopsticks and after some comparison with myself and their positions, I realized that they hold it too far from the tip.

By the tip, I am referring to the end where you grab the food from. You don’t want to hold it too close to the tip otherwise, you limit the amount of food you can pick up, but you do not want to hold it too far from the tip because it makes it harder to control.

I like to hold mine either in the middle, or be a little closer to the tip for a better grip. Go ahead and try it out.


Try Training Tools

When you see children learning to ride a bike, their parents usually install training wheels to help them keep their balance. For some families who are teaching their children to use chopsticks, they give them training chopsticks.

Some training chopsticks come with ports that show you how to place your fingers, others will hold the sticks together. I recommend this if you are having trouble visualizing the instructions or if you can’t grasp how to move it, then you should try some out. 

Types of Chopsticks

I wanted to end with discussing the different types of chopsticks you may encounter. Not all chopsticks are made the same and they vary by design by different countries. You will find some to be easier and harder to use based on size and the material. 

Typically with Japanese chopsticks, they are shorter in length and have pointer ends or narrower chopstick tips. It helps with picking at foods like fish and separating the bones and even the sticky rice. I grew up with these and find them easy to use because they are usually made of wood. 

Next I want to discuss Chinese chopsticks. They are longer and can be made of different materials like wood or bamboo. When I had gatherings with friends who expressed their culture, they told me they often feast together. The design of the chopstick is longer and wider so it is easier to grab food around the table and into your own plate. 

The last type of country’s chopstick I want to talk about is the Korean chopstick and metal chopsticks.I personally struggled with them as they are typically made of metal. They are slippier and make it hard to grab certain types of food.

They look elegant and they are easier to clean. So if you ever wondered why some look different than others, it may be due to the use of the utensil, the diet of a county, and the history. I think if you are just starting, wooden chopsticks or bamboo chopsticks are best.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you have a better understanding of how to properly grasp chopsticks, how to improve your technique, and how to find the best type of chopstick for your diet. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you awhile to get the hang of.

Learning a new skill takes time and practice, but the end result will be so much more worth it! With these tips and tricks in mind, you can work your way up to eating confidently in Asian restaurants and showing off your skills. On top of that, you’ll be opening your mind to new experiences and cultures, which is always a plus. 



How do you use chopsticks step by step?

  1. Hold the First Chopstick: Place one chopstick in the crook of your thumb and rest it on your ring finger. This chopstick remains stationary.
  2. Hold the Second Chopstick: Grip the second chopstick with your thumb, index, and middle fingers, similar to how you hold a pencil. This chopstick will be used to pick up food.
  3. Adjust the Chopsticks: Ensure that the tips of the chopsticks align evenly. This makes it easier to pick up food.
  4. Practice Moving the Top Chopstick: Keep the bottom chopstick stationary and use your index and middle fingers to move the top chopstick up and down.
  5. Pick Up Food: Once comfortable, use the top chopstick to grip the food against the stationary bottom chopstick. Practice with larger, easier items before moving to smaller pieces.

How do you use chopsticks in 10 seconds?

  1. Hold the bottom chopstick: Rest it on your ring finger and support it with your thumb.
  2. Hold the top chopstick: Grip it like a pencil using your thumb, index, and middle fingers.
  3. Align the tips: Ensure the ends of both chopsticks are even.
  4. Move the top chopstick: Use your index and middle fingers to move the top chopstick while keeping the bottom one stationary.
  5. Pick up food: Squeeze the top chopstick against the bottom one to grip the food.

Do you hold chopsticks like a pencil?

Yes, you hold the top chopstick similarly to how you hold a pencil. It is gripped between your thumb, index, and middle fingers, allowing for precise movement.

Are there different ways to hold chopsticks?

Yes, there are slight variations in how people hold chopsticks, depending on personal comfort and cultural differences. The traditional method described is the most common, but some may adjust their grip for better control or comfort. The key is to find a technique that allows you to pick up food efficiently and comfortably.

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