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