How to Cut a Perfect Slice of Pie, According to a Food Stylist

It all comes down to using the right tools and taking your time.

Brown Sugar Buttermilk Pie
Photo: Anna Williams

When it comes to Thanksgiving, turkey gets a lot of attention—and it's usually considered the centerpiece of the feast. For many of us, however, the Thanksgiving dessert table is the real star of the show. And while pumpkin-spiced cakes and cookies might enjoy some of the limelight this season, there's no doubt that the queen of all Thanksgiving desserts is pie.

Autumn pies can take many forms: fruit, custard, cream, and more. When you've spent time and care perfecting that flaky crust and achieving a smooth surface free of cracks, the final step is cutting a perfect slice. It can be nerve-wracking to portion and cut your pie as friends and family watch your every move, eagerly anticipating their dessert. Heed these tips to cut the perfect slice every time—regardless of the holiday or time of year.

Only Slice When Cool

All pies need time to cool before slicing—especially fruit pies. "It takes longer than you'd like," sympathizes food stylist Spencer Richards. But cooling allows the pie filling to firm up, "so it doesn't pour all over the plate when you begin slicing, or melt the ice cream you're serving it with," he says.

To allow for ample cooling time, pies can be baked during the afternoon or even the night before. If you leave a pie out to cool overnight, avoid covering it. Any residual heat may produce steam and that will soften the crust and ruin that perfect crispness. Don't store it in the refrigerator, either—pie crust contains lots of butter, which will harden in the fridge and give the pie pastry an unappealing texture.

Use the Right Tools

Martha always says that you need the right tool for every job and this is certainly true when it comes to slicing pie. So, round up your pie slicer or sharp chef's knife and an offset spatula—these are the basic utensils you'll need.

Pie Cutting Techniques and Tips

The Secret of the Third Cut

The law of clean pie slicing states that it's always easier to lift out that tricky first slice when a second slice has also been cut. So, use your chef's knife to cut the first slice—but don't remove it. Then be sure to make that third crucial cut, marking the second slice. This ensures the inaugural sliver will come out without a hitch.

For Double-Crust Pies

Richards has a nifty technique for evenly slicing double-crust pies: He starts by cutting the top of the slice first using a serrated paring knife or small scissors. Why? This careful approach prevents damaging the top crust and is especially useful if the pie has a lattice top or decorative elements, he says. He uses a larger knife to slice down—then pulls the slice out using an offset spatula. His method ensures the top doesn't crush the fillings inside. "It makes three utensils dirty instead of one, but you get a nice clean slice that looks great from the sides," he says.

For Layered Pies

When cutting slices of layered pies, such as lemon meringue or chocolate cream pie, Richards notes the pie can get messy really quickly; the wrong cutting method could result in unattractive streaks instead of clean layers. To avoid this, "rinse your chef's knife off with hot water in between slices. The hot water heats the knife and helps it glide easily through the layers," he says.

Take Your Time

When you're cutting into a homemade pie, go slowly to achieve perfection. It's easy to feel intimidated when the pressure is on and excited guests are watching. "Don't let the onlookers rush you—the key to a neat slice is to take your time and run over your cuts with your knife several times," says Richards. "And, most importantly, cut yourself some slack!"

Serve With Style

While smaller, simple tools like an offset spatula might be invaluable for a food stylist on the job, the holidays at home are the time to break out your nicest serveware and add a bit of pizzazz to the glorious ceremony of pie serving. If you have an heirloom pie server, now is the time to use it—switch to this prized piece after you get a few slices up and out. A final tip: Have plates stacked beside you begin to cut the pie, so you're not holding a slice in midair as you desperately try to locate its landing place.

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