Lets talk knives… Every kitchen has them. Some are good. Some not so good and some? Downright terrible!!! Why does it matter? Well let’s be honest…. A workman is only as good as his tools. (Or so my grandpa always said). But it’s more specific than that.
First rule of the kitchen. You’ll get cut by a dull knife far more often than a sharp one. For realz. Why? When you use a dull knife you have to use more pressure to get the job done. And dull knives “slip” more easily….. A sharp knife, that’s properly matched to the job, is far less likely to cause you harm…. So. I guess right off the top…. A good knife is one that sharpens easily and holds an edge for a good period of time. If you have to sharpen it every other day or if it’s difficult to sharpen…. Bad choice of knife!!!
What other things do you need in a knife? BALANCE. It has to feel good in your hand. It should feel like an extension of your own arm. Easy to use. Not heavy and unwieldy Enough weight to feel real and useful, to get the job done. But not so much so that your hand and arm becomes fatigued. A cheap, lightweight knife will be difficult to use when trying to chop dense things like turnip or squash, and lead to problems. A heavy unwieldy knife makes it very difficult to be precise and make even cuts.
Quality is important too. There are a few things that determine quality. Materials. Workmanship. Design. But also, finding a maker that stands behind their product and backs their workmanship with a good guarantee. This is never more important than when you have a klutz for a husband. What am I trying to say here? Well… Basically I’m trying to tell you that you shouldn’t let me near your knives!!! LoL. Todd began his collection in 1991. The first basic set he purchased then is still very serviceable today, we have simply added knives to his collection as time has passed. But. There was a day I won’t soon forget, when I knocked one of his chef’s knives off the counter. By some great fluke it’s hit the floor at the precise angle needed to shatter the last 1 1/2 from it’s tip. As I heard the crash and saw the tip splinter across the floor I braced myself for the repercussions. I knew those knives were precious to him and I was ready to forgive him for the evil he would unleash on me. But it never came. I stood in my kitchen. Holding my breath. Waiting. But…. Nothing….. Then a slight sigh. I breathed again. I looked in his direction and his eye caught mine. My heart skipped a beat. Then he shrugged. My face must have given away my confusion because Todd simply said “well THAT sucks! I wonder how much postage is gonna cost on that?” That’s when I came to realize that a warranty can be a very important thing. That knife? It got packed in a box. Mailed to the company and within days a shiny new replacement was in our doorstep. Free of charge. Yup. More than 10 years after he had bought it. Without question. Replaced. For that reason alone I now believe in his choice of knife, and I’ll probably be a life long customer. I guess my point is that even if the KNIFE is the best quality, service is important too. (of course no matter how good the service or guarantee, it can never make a BAD knife useful in your kitchen).
The picture at the top of the post is Todd’s actual knife collection. First I should say, those aren’t ALL of the knives in our kitchen…. There are a couple other pairing knives in the drawer, which are there for occasions when I need to pry open a lid or hack into a package we have received. I once tried to do that with one of Todd’s knives…. You don’t want to know what happened…. But I will say this much… I never tried it again that’s for sure!!! Why do people who spend so much time in the kitchen get so attached to their knives (and their pots and their pans, and their measuring cups and their other toys… the list is endless). Well, if Todd’s love for his knives is any indication, it has to do not only with their purpose, but also their pedigree and their link to their own memories. I know that Todd’s original knife set was one of the first things he purchased when he struck out on his own. They were bought when he entered college to work toward his culinary studies, and trust me, THEY WERE EXPENSIVE (especially when you are talking about a young man just starting out on his own). The thought that went into such a purchase, the importance that they had to his journey, and the pride of owning something that was not only useful, but also quality made all make those knives significant. Of course, with time, each and every story and experience linked to those knives (like when I tried to destroy of prized possession by dropping one on the floor….) adds to the value. At this point in time I am sure those knives are damn near priceless. Especially the largest 10″ chef’s knife (since it is no longer in production…..). Even as we add new knives to the set, none will ever truly be as “valuable” as those original ones he purchased in 1991.
After making your own determination of “quality” there is still some room for discussion. Even a quality tool must be fitted to the right task. That’s where knowing how you will want to use you knives comes into play. There is no secret that trying to filet a fish with a meat cleaver is unlikely to produce a quality result. Likewise, trying to slice a turnip with a paring knife will never be productive and probably cost you a thumb, or a thumbprint at the very least! So, which knives are used for what tasks? And which knives should you purchase to start a collection (because let’s face it, unless you have cash to burn… and few of us do…. this is going to be something built over time).
A good basic kit should consist of the following
- An all-purpose utility knife (5 or 6 inches) – used for a range of foods; often a choice for the first knife as it can do many things.
- A Chef’s knife (8–9 inches) – used for chopping, dicing, mincing, and cutting.
- A Pairing knife (3″) – used for peeling, cutting, and trimming small items
- A Serrated (bread) knife – used for bread, cake, fruit, and tomatoes.
- A Boning knife (6-7 inch) – Similar to a fillet knife, but has a more rigid blade.
- A Carving knife – used for getting thin and even slices of meat from roasts, full roasted poultry, etc.
- Sharpening steel
A honing stone would be a great addition, But you can always find a local hardware or restaurant supply store that will sharpen for you, at a very reasonable cost.
The best knives are made from a single piece of steel, hand-forged, Look for any signs of joining or welding, particularly in the hilt of the knife and avoid these. They’re likely to bend or break at this point.
Avoid knives that claim to never need sharpening. They are not very sharp to begin with and they cannot be sharpened, meaning that when they lose their edge (and they will), they have to be disposed of.
Store them carefully and safely. In a block or a roll is best, wrap them in an apron (being sure that they do not touch each other) and tie it up with the apron strings… but DO Not just put them in a drawer. Aside from banging an clanking against the blade, causing nicks, chips and dulling, it is JUST UNSAFE. Who wants to reach in a drawer only to get a nasty cut or stabbed buy a knife.
And treat them well. Don’t use glass, stone, or metal cutting boards or surfaces. Invest in a good quality wooden cutting board. A plastic board will also work, as long as its pliable. Hard surfaces such as glass and stone are not only bad for your blade, causing it to dull more quickly, but they are also more likely to cause slipping when you are cutting, and cause severe, unnecessary injury.
Thanks for Reading!
Duane & Todd