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Wednesday, February 16

Let’s Talk Knives

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I have been wanting to do a post about knives since I started this blog, but it just hasn’t happened. I even took photos at one point…photos that have since been relegated to the trash bin. But, today is the day! The post is happening! Let’s talk knives!

1. What knives do you need?
Well, you only need THREE knives. That’s right, three. A paring knife (or other small knife that you are comfortable with), a chef’s knife (larger, multi-purpose) and a long serrated knife. If you have that, you’re all set. Of course, there are lots of other great knives out there that I’m sure are perfectly loveable. But if we’re talking need, these three will do it.

For Christmas years ago Nate bought me three Wusthof knives – a 3″ paring knife with hollow edge, a 6 1/2″ santoku knife with hollow edge, and a super slicer (serrated). They’ve been perfect. I’ve never felt a need to buy anything more. I use the serrated slicer only for bread and slicing cooked meat. My paring and chef’s knives take care of the rest.

Quick note on the chef’s knife. We originally bought a Japanese santoku knife, which has a flat edge. Wusthof recently sent me an 8″ cook’s knife with their new PEtec edge to try out. This new knife has the classic shape, where the blade curves up towards the end. I honestly can’t tell you which I like better. (See the two knives in the picture below, side by side.) The classic shape is definitely nicer when chopping herbs, but other than that, I like both shapes. The best thing to do is to try them out and see what feels good in your hand. I think I do like the smaller 6 1/2″ size as opposed to 8″, but that might be just because that’s what I’ve used for so long and it’s what I’m used to.

For the paring knife, I do wish that mine had the classic shape, instead of the santoku flat shape. It’s just so small that the flat edge doesn’t work for me as well. That said, I still love my paring knife and have done just fine using it over the years.

2. Invest in high-quality knives.
Buying knives is a lifetime investment. Buy good ones. They will last you forever. And since you only have to buy three knives instead of a huge set, you can afford to! ;)

3. Hone your knife every time you use it.
Yes, every time. Honing realigns the edge of the knife and will keep your knife sharper longer.The video below from Fine Cooking is a great tutorial on honing.

4. Have your knives professionally sharpened.
Not much else to say here. If you’re honing at each use, you won’t have to sharpen them very often, probably once a year or so. Sharpening is different than honing and actually grinds the metal to get your edge back to a sharp state. There are plenty of sharpening tools out there, and my friend who is a chef has equipment to sharpen her own knives. But unless you really know what you’re doing, I would go to a professional.

5. Take care of your knives.

  • Store them properly. I store mine on the wall with a magnetic wall holder, but a block (either on the counter or in your drawer) is a great option. Bottom line – you want them stationary and not touching one another. And you want them safely stored so no one gets hurt!
  • Don’t put your beautiful knives in the dishwasher! It’s not that hard to hand wash them, so just do it.
  • Don’t cut bones with your knives. Unless you buy a knife specifically for that purpose, the bones will damage the blade.
  • Don’t cut on glass – plates, cutting boards, whatever. I get the chills just thinking about it!

I think that’s it! This post has been bumping around inside my brain for years, so I’m hoping I remembered everything! Feel free to share your own thoughts and suggestions, or tell us about the knives you use and love!

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28 Comments »

  1. This is very timely! We have excellent knives, but despite honing regularly, they are not the thrilling sharp they used to be. So my question is, where does one go to get them sharpened? (I live in the Framingham/Boston area.)

    Thanks! Great post!

    • Jane Maynard

      I just had mine sharpened after YEARS of not sharpening them…you’re going to be in heaven when you get it done! my knives actually cut again – it’s a dream! :)

      as far as where to get them sharpened, I would maybe look in the yellow pages, ask around, look for any knife shops in the mall that might be able to refer you to somewhere (or even do it themselves). you could even ask kitchen stores, like Williams-Sonoma – I’m sure the employees there would know of good places to go. When I lived in San Diego our local market (Henry’s) had a knife sharpener come every Thursday. Basically – just keep an eye and ear out and ask around. Hope that’s helpful!

    • Where I live, we have a cooking school that sharpen as well.

  2. Thank-you so much for that video! It’s so helpful. I love that I can know I’m honing my knives correctly now and not just hoping that something good is happening! :)

  3. Great post! I agree with your list, a pairing, chef’s and serrated are the must haves. I would not be without mine and they must always be sharp! It is terrible trying to use a blunt knife. My hubby even says I have a fetish for sharp knives.
    :-) Mandy

  4. Yay for knife sensibility! Far better to buy three expensive knives than a cheapie butcher block full of ridiculous sizes. One of the nice benefits of my Shun knives is free factory sharpening for life. Me likey :)

  5. Check out kitchen moderne on my website! Some great knives for great prices!!
    http://bridgetprice.willowhouse.com. Click on the kitchen moderne link to the right!

  6. 6
    Bethanie

    Great post! I work for a major housewares store, and believe it or not, this is actually the advice we share with our customers. In fact, though I can get more of them at a great price, these 3 are the ones that I have in my kitchen.

    The block is nice, but 3 good knives are waaay better than 10 that you won’t use. The customer that we most have to convince of this is the men who come in at the holidays while they’re gift shopping. They are convinced that more is better, and are hard to convince that a really nice, higher end Wusthof is indeed a better gift for a cook than a lower-end block set for the same price. Sometimes I compare the Wusthof to a Porsche and the block to a collection of Escorts, and that seems to help. After all, both drive/cut, but which would you rather have?

    Think of honing like taking care of split ends on your hair… honing helps the filaments line back up again so that there are no “split ends”.

    With respect to sharpening, talk to your hairdresser! They probably have someone who sharpens their scissors on a regular basis, and this person probably also does blades. Also check out flea markets where people can have service booths. Finally, I second the suggestion to contact your houseware stores like W-S, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Crate & Barrel (my favorite :D ). They probably have a phone # for someone who does this–I know that our store does.

  7. 7
    Soyon

    Jane, I got my chef’s knife sharpened a couple of months ago, that’s after um…10 years of using it and it was like I bought a brand new knife. I almost cried. I have a regular 6 inch and 8 inch and like you, I like the 6 inch. The 8 inch is used only when I need to cut melons.

  8. 8
    Kim

    My brother (a chef) sharpened my knives the last time he visited and it was awesome to have them back to their original sharpness!

    The only time I pull out one of my knives besides the basic three is when I’m too lazy to wash the dirty one I really want (which happens more than I should admit).

  9. I have the Pampered Chef set – the whole knife block with 9 knifes, kitchen shears & a honing tool (the 7″ Santoku is definitely my favorite). It’s like $500+ worth of knives but buying it in the set took it to about $415, plus I was a consultant at the time & once a year you get 40% off a personal order and then I used my commission money to get them – so they were a total steal and I LOVE THEM! I used to think it was absolutely ridiculous to spend so much money on knives. I liked the cheapies I had – they worked well enough. But then I splurged & bought my set. Oh. My. Gosh. How was I living without them!!? I love the sharp edge, of course, but the way they are weighted just right so the control is in your hand as opposed to being led by the weight of the blade. Perfect! I could get by with just the 3, probably, but I love having enough that if I use one to cut some raw chicken I can just grab another one to cut my broccoli off the stalk, etc… I have 9 knives in my block & there have actually been a couple of times when they were ALL dirty at once! LOL

    Anyway – sorry that got long!! I am a thrifty convert. Spend the money, folks. INVEST in great knives!

  10. 10
    Bridget

    Hi there! I have been trying to figure out what to do with my knives, which are in a woeful state of dullness, so this is a good prompt to get out there and figure it out!

    What do you think about carbon-steel vs. stainless steel? Is carbon-steel really higher maintenance for the avid home cook?

    • Jane Maynard

      I emailed my chef friend Jen and here was her response – good info for me, too – I didn’t know some of this! :)

      From Jen:
      there’s four different types of knives: stainless, carbon steel, high carbon steel and ceramic. Stay away from ceramic and carbon steel. Carbon steel rusts easily and needs to be maintained a lot. Ceramic will stay sharp but isn’t flexible, and if you ever need it sharpened you’ll have to find a pro with a diamond sharpener.

      High carbon steel is what most knives are made of nowadays (most people probably don’t even know that’s what they have). High carbon doesn’t discolor and is easy to take care of. it also holds a great edge. Stainless steel won’t discolor and holds a great edge as well. I have both high carbon and stainless knives and I love them. The ceramic blades I’ve used I really have not liked.

      As far as picking new knives, go to the store and have them take the knives out of the display for you — lots o places even have stuff you can cut and chop so that you can get a feel for the knife. For a good chefs knife I’d plan on spending between $70-$150 dollars. It’s worth the investment.

  11. 11
    Jackie

    I am a hairstylist and my guy that sharpens my scissors does knifes as well!

  12. Thank you for this! I’m seriously awful about knowing what knives I need. I have two knives for everything – and one of them is getting pretty dull. I’ll look into having it sharped {and stop putting it in the dishwasher ;)}.

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You must’ve read my mind as I just posted about this. I think I need to start with the small paring knife. Yay!! Also, my husband gets all his knives sharpened for free at our local grocery store butcher counter. And he says they come back like new. :)

  14. I have a knife I picked up at a yard sale years ago that is made of thin spring steel and can be bent almost double. It takes a great edge but rusts easily if not completely dried when I’m done washing it. This knife is particularly useful for slicing onions because it is so thin it causes only a minimal release of whatever it is in onions that brings tears to the eyes. Its flexibility makes it great for finely chopping herbs because you can bend it by holding the tip in one hand and the handle in the other and roll the blade so that it is always in touch with the board’s surface. I use it often to reduce hot peppers to flakes but have to cover the blade with a paper towel while I’m doing this to keep the dried pepper pieces from flying about as they separate.

  15. 15
    kari

    GREAT advice – and reminds me – it’s time to get the knives sharpened!!
    all three of them.

  16. Great tips! That video was especially helpful- I’ve never known how to hone my knives or the importance of doing it every time you use them. This is going to revolutionize my cooking!

  17. 17
    Angela

    Useful info, thanks! Just curious as to why they shouldn’t be put into the dishwasher. Does the hot water harm the blade somehow?

    • Bethanie

      My understanding is that the hot water isn’t the issue, but rather the strength of the detergent and also that it can easily get knocked around during the cycle… which can damage the blade.

    • Jane Maynard

      thanks for jumping in bethanie…I’m behind on vacation here!

      I think some handles are not dishwasher safe…but even if the handles are, I think the biggest issues is they can get moved around during the wash, which could damage the blade.

      if anyone else has input, please share!

  18. Jane, I just got the Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Cook’s Knife. It instantly became my favorite knife! It’s supposed to be dishwasher safe, but I don’t put good knives in the dishwasher. The next knife I need is a good bread knife, as I make a lot of homemade bread of all kinds, some soft, some very crusty. Does your Super Slicer 4532 work on all kinds of bread? What else do you use it for? Carving roast beef and turkey?

    • Jane Maynard

      yes, I use it on all kinds of breads and have thought it was great. and, yes, we use it to cut meats, although I often go to my 8-inch for that anyway just because the 10-inch slicer is so LONG. :)

      my aunt actually swears by cutco for her serrated knife. she uses maybe henkels or wusthof for all her other knives, but she says for the serrated she loves to have a cutco knife. I’ve yet to try it myself, but just thought of her telling me that when I read your comment.

      also – the people in williams-sonoma are super helpful and could probably make some good suggestions for a serrated knife.

      and I’m so glad you’ve loving your new knife!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

  19. 19
    adrianne

    i got a ceramic chef and paring knife for christmas this year. apparently, my husband was watching over my shoulder while i was watching oprah’s favorite things show. and i LOVE them. oprah loves them too. just sayin’….

    they are the sharpest knives i have used. and i have a good set of steel knives that i sharpen regularly – but my ceramic ones are my go to knives now. true, they aren’t flexible and quite honestly, feel like something you may buy from party city because they are so lightweight, but i think they’re awesome. mine are from kyocera.

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