How to buy and care for kitchen knives

October 22, 2015

Buying and caring for kitchen knives /
Often in cooking classes, I’m asked about buying and caring for kitchen knives. In case you’ve ever wondered the same things, this post is for you.

Probably a good place to start is, why even bother with good knives or taking good care of them?

Because cooking involves knife work. Healthy cooking—cooking with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables—involves lots of knife work. And the better your knives, the easier and more comfortable that work will be.

So then, what kind of knives should you buy?
For what types of knives to buy, take a look at my post on what kitchen knives you really need.

For what brands to buy, you’ll find people who adore one versus another, but once you get into the $80 to $100 price range—and beyond—almost any chef’s knife is a good one. (That’s my Henckels chef’s knife above. I also have a KitchenAid and have used and liked Furi knives.)

But the question is, which is good for you? And that’s mostly a matter of what feels comfortable in your hand.

So go to a store where you can pick up and play with a few. Often knives are packaged such that you can grab the handle and see what it’s like to hold. And some stores—Sur La Table, for instance—have areas where you can actually use the knives you’re considering buying. So you can cut and chop and compare.

Buying and caring for kitchen knives /

Caring for your knifes
Once you get them home, store your knives in a knife block, on a magnetic wall mount, in a wooden in-drawer knife tray, or with protective sleeves or edge guards. In other words, don’t store them loose in a drawer where their blades can get nicked and scraped.

Then as you use your knives, hone them regularly. (That’s my honing steel above, on the left.) How regularly? It depends on how often you use them. I try to do it once a week, and that’s probably not enough.

A little more about honing. If you were to look at a knife under a microscope, you’d see that even a straight-edged blade doesn’t actually have a straight edge. In fact, the edge is made up of thousands of small serrations. With use, those serrations come out of line. Imagine teeth that, instead of lining up to make a useful biting surface, are bent all willy nilly. A honing steel brings those serrations back into alignment.

Note that a honing steel is not the same as a sharpening steel. Honing brings the bite back to a knife’s edge. Sharpening cuts an entirely new edge. Every time you sharpen, you take metal off the knife’s blade, reducing the knife’s life. So you want to avoid sharpening. And the more you hone, the less you’ll need sharpening.

After a while, no matter how much you hone a knife it won’t regain its bite because its teeth are simply worn down. This is when you need sharpening.

If you’re one of those people that are very DIY, that enjoy the zen of a methodical chore, then get yourself any number of sharpening tools and do it yourself. (For honing and sharpening techniques, as well as tons about knife skills, see The Complete Book of Knife Skills.)

Me, I’d rather spend my time with my knives making Sauteed Chicken with Parsnip, Apple, and Sherry Pan Sauce, so I take them to a professional sharpener.


Sauteed Chicken with Parsnip, Apples, and Sherry Pan Sauce /

This post contains affiliate links, but no one paid me for the opinions in it.

12 thoughts on “How to buy and care for kitchen knives

  1. Lauren @ Wicked Spatula

    Great tips! I truly couldn’t live without my knives. Whenever I cook at a families house I bring them with me since it’s like an extension of my arm. You really do have to find the ones that are most comfortable to you, it makes a world of difference!

  2. Jill Post author

    I got my Henckels by marriage, Dorothy, and it’s probably at least 20 years old! Do you sharpen your own knives or take them in for sharpening? Sometimes I wonder if lasting quality of the edge is at least partially effected by how well it was sharpened.

  3. Jill Post author

    Thanks, Lauren (and thanks for your recent Apple Cider Margarita recipe)! Yeah–I’m appalled by the knives I sometimes find in others’ kitchens. I don’t mean quality necessarily, but sharpness. It’s just making more work for yourself if your knife isn’t sharp!

  4. Jill Post author

    Thanks for stopping by and saying so, Debra! My Henckels is probably about as old as yours, but you’d never know it. :)

  5. Jill Post author

    Thank you so much for saying so, Barrett! It’s so easy to overlook the little things that really make a difference, isn’t it? What kind of knives do you like???

  6. Jill Post author

    Thank you, Levan, for your pointed (!) and witty comment. You’re a real cut-up (two can play this game!) and I appreciate the smile you’ve inspired. :) (AND your tiramisu is GORGEOUS!)

  7. Jill Post author

    Right, Dee Dee?!? You just have to be careful once you get those newly-sharpened knives at home, because it can make such a difference!

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