Sunday, May 22, 2005


For The Love Of A Good Knife

There really isn’t much that can compare to a truly, outrageously sharp knife. When the blade is so honed you can cut through just about anything it makes cooking a joy. I love it. Just LOVE it.

What breaks my little heart is when people misuse their knives, or are practically sawing through something as soft as a stick of butter with a quality blade that hasn’t been sharpened in years, if ever. So today I thought I would write a few thoughts on knife maintenance.

To start, buy the best quality knife you can afford. I know this sounds obvious, but I would say 9 out of 10 kitchens I go to have a full set of Target’s finest. Even in the swankiest pads you can imagine, those knives loom large. This is not a snobbery thing at all by the way. (And lord knows I have my snobbish moments) this is a safety issue, and a basic pleasure issue. A good knife will last you a lifetime and will make cutting/slicing/dicing so much easier. If you disagree, try cutting a zucchini into rounds with a good knife and then with an inexpensive one. The cheap blade will be flexible, causing uneven slices and make you really work to get those cuts. Now use a good, heavy, well-balanced, sharp knife. The difference will amaze you. I should write some time about what makes a good knife, but for now, I will just focus on how to treat the ones you have.

Your knives should be kept razor sharp. They start out sharp, but if they are dull, bring them to be professionally sharpened. As I have mentioned before, Bristol Farms does this for free, as do most butchers. This does re-grind the blade (i.e. make it smaller) so you don’t want to get over zealous with this, you should most likely do this every two years, unless you have a lot (and by that I mean, you are catering) of use. I personally do not think most of the home sharpeners are good for your knives, so save your pennies and don’t bother with those, just use your steel.

Now for the technical stuff. For it to truly be in optimum shape, the blade's "feather" must be aligned. Huh? What? The feather is the thin edge of the blade. Every time a knife is used the feather develops waves, as if you were brushing velvet the wrong direction. This decreases the sharpness over time and the ability of the blade to cut effectively. This is why it is crucial to your knives that you use a steel every single time you use your knife(before or after, whatever works for you). Your steel is a magnet that’s purpose is to straighten the feather and knock off any burrs. And because it is a magnet, should be stored away from your knives when not in use. It does not regrind your knife, so can and should be used every time you cut something. Which reminds me, there are three things you should never with your chefs knife; bread, cheese and tomatoes. They dull the blade too quickly, so for them use a serrated knife. (And that knife can be cheap as you like)

Watching chefs use a steel can seem pretty daunting. For the beginner, I say to try this: Holding the steel in one hand, put the point onto the countertop (in the grooves between tiles works great) then in your other hand hold the knife flush to the steel, then angle it out to (ideally) 20 degrees. How far is that? About the width of two coins stacked together. (See picture below) Starting with the heel (the part of the knife closest to the handle) draw the knife towards you and down the shaft of the steel, (my, my) in a single motion, ending at the tip (the part furthest from the handle). There is no need to get all ginsu doing this, four or five times, alternating sides, does the trick.

The facts are that the sharper your blade the easier it cuts. The easier it cuts, the less work you have to do. The easier it cuts, the fewer mistakes get made (due to slipping or sawing or hacking.) and the less dangerous it becomes. If you do get cut by a knife, a sharper one is going to hurt less and do less damage.

The last key to keeping your blades sharp is storage. I recommend a magnetic strip mounted to the wall, since it cannot interfere with the blade. Of course, if you live in an earthquake prone area, this may not be a viable solution. Second best is a knife block, either the counter top variety, or one in a drawer. Just put the knives in blade side UP, so they don’t get dull from repeated dragging against the wood. Speaking of which, you should also refrain from using your knife to scrape food off of the cutting board. Wood + Scraping = Dull Knife.

Other things you should not do: do not every throw your knives into a drawer, you could seriously injure yourself reaching in and not knowing its there. Same with soapy dishwater. Wash one at a time, dry, and put away. It freaks me out to think people can just leave them soaking in a sink. Shudder. Just don't do that, ok? Thanks. Saving that glass of wine until after the knives have been put away is my last safety tip. Do what you will with that info.

What matters most is that you treat your knives with respect and they will give you a lifetime of use.


You can go to the market to buy lamb, chicken or fish, right? They are all identified as what they are. So come you buy beef instead of cow?

Cost of testing each slaughtered U.S. cow for mad cow disease per pound of beef produced : 5 cents - Harpers Magazine

Ratio of the number of cows France tests each week to the number the United States has tested in the last decade : 7:6 - Harpers Magazine

Hi, Im so happy you posted this. I've been struggling with my knives lately, although they are a very good set that I bought in Sheffield, England recently. I've been too nervous to sharpen them myself until I read your post. I'm going to give it a try.. My knives and I thank you :)
Im so glad I can help!
Brilliant and helpful as always!
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