Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Knives: Choice, Care, Storage, PLUS Product Recommendations

I purchased some new knives at the beginning of the summer, and I have been dying to tell you all about it.

Purchasing or Registering for Knives 

When buying knives, I recommend two or three very good knives that will last your whole life, rather than a set that appears to have more value.  The knives in the set may be of lower quality and they are likely to take up valuable real estate in your kitchen.  Additionally, the knife blocks that come in sets tend to be very bulky, take up a lot of space on your counter, and only fit the knives with which they are sold.  However, if your family eats a lot of steak and you depend of a full set of quality steak knives, go for the set.

Restaurant discount stores can be a good place to find quality knives, but you may also see some of the top brands in mega-marts and grocery stores.  I did some price comparison and feel that I got a good deal on Amazon.com.  Stick to well known brands.  Knives made in Europe are generally higher quality.  Specifically, Germany has an excellent reputation for blades.  (I never buy a pencil sharpener without making sure the blade was made in Germany.)



My recommendations:

Caring for your Knives

Now that you've shelled out some dough of professional knives, make sure you take good care of them.

Cleaning: Do not drop your knives in the sink or in a pile of dirty silverware.  As soon as you are done using your knives, wash them in warm water.  If you wash them right away they shouldn't need much more than that.  Use dish soap and a gentle sponge if necessary.  Dry immediately.  Prolonged contact with acids in food, harsh detergents, and minerals in water can erode your knife over time, so wash and dry ASAP.  (Advice from my Dad - "Chef Dan")

Honing: It is recommended that you hone/sharpen your knives after every use.  You will need a quality honing steel like the Edgeware Standard Sharpening Steel or the J.A. Henckels 9-Inch Poly Sharpening Steel.  The process is commonly called sharpening, but you are actually straightening the edge of the blade.  When you use your knife, the thin edge gets slightly bent over.  It becomes less efficient at cutting and will be harder to correct the longer you wait to hone your knife.  Leave the real sharpening to the professionals.  To hone, or realign the edge of your knife, slide the blade across the steel at a 20 degree angle.  Watch the video below for a demonstration.  Be sure to "sharpen" each side of your knife equally.  Run each side of your knife over the sharpening steel 2-8 times after each use.  There is also a good demonstration with explanation from Expert Village.

Have your knives professionally cleaned and sharpened every 6 months to a year.  Get recommendations!  An unskilled "professional" can do a lot more damage with their heavy machinery than you can do with poor knife habits at home.





Storing Your Knives

Storage is a very important consideration when keeping quality knives.  All the honing or sharpening in the world won't help if you toss your knives in a drawer or canister after each use.  Besides keeping each knife in an individual sheath, you have a few choices.
  • A standard knife block, generally wood, has slots for specific sized knives.  I find that they usually take up a lot of counter space, but the Wusthof 8001 Under-Cabinet-Swinger Knife Storage Block looks like a nice option.  It can be mounted under an upper cabinet and swivel.
  • A universal knife block is a modern innovation where thin plastic rods hold any combination of knife sizes and shapes, including a honing steel, scissors, or whatever else you choose to slide in.  I love my Bodum Bistro Universal Knife Block (see image above).  It comes in fun colors, takes up almost no counter space, and keeps my knives safe from curious hands.  If you need a block with more space, you might like the traditional lookingKapoosh 650 Knife Holder.  These knife block do take a slightly gentle touch, and might not be in good shape to pass on to your grandkids, but I think they are a great choice.
  • A magnetic knife bar is a good professional choice if you have wall space and want to display your knives.  If you are crafty, you could make a fancy knife bar with strong magnets or purchase the length you need.  The Norpro 18 Inch Aluminum Magnetic Knife Bar seems like a good size and value.
  • If you are short on counter space, you might want an in drawer knife block.  They come in a variety of sizes at a range of price points.  The Ironwood Gourmet Acacia Wood Drawer Knife Organizer takes up minimal drawer space and can also sit on the counter.  This is not an option if you need to keep your knives out of reach of youngsters.

Final Suggestions
  • Always use a good cutting board.  Using a glass cutting board, cutting on the counter, or cutting on a plate dull your knives.  I like having one large board and one very small, light weight board.  Both should have a "gutter" to catch juices, and the board needs to fit in your sink for proper washing.  You can sanitize your board by spraying it with white vinegar.
  • If you have kids, avoid brightly colored knives or knife blocks that might look like a toy. I learned this lesson when I bought a USB hub that looked like a caterpillar.  My kids just could not stay away.  (But these cute USB hubs are SO tempting!)
  • For Amazon.com purchases, all the kitchen items linked to in this post are eligible for Amazon's 4-for-3 promotion.  If you have four or more eligible items in your shopping cart the least expensive item will be.free.  Don't waste your discount by choosing four substantial items and then putting a $2 item in your cart.  The $2 item will be free and you might not realize until you've placed your order.
For a few more knife care tips from a pro, read Lisa Rose's post How to Take Care of Your Knives  on Real Food Digest.

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