Monday, January 28, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Buying and Caring for Knives

In addition to knowing how to cook, you've also got to have the right tools for the job. Chief among them is a good knife. But what makes a good knife, and how do you find one?

A few years ago, I bought this guy pictured above. Funny, right? (You can find it on for $80) But the five knives that came with it--that come with pretty much any butcher block--are mediocre at best. They're poorly weighted, have a bad handle, and can't keep an edge.

If you look closely, two of the knives have black handles. Those are two I bought separately, and I use them more than any others. Let's take a closer look:

The top knife is a J.A. Henckels 7-inch Santoku that costs about $90 at Macys, though you can probably find it for less elsewhere. I use it all the time. It's perfectly balanced, so that you can hold it right at the bottom of the blade (where you should hold all knives) and chop with abandon. It's also really light, and really sharp. 

The bottom knife I got for $1 at a garage sale. I have no idea who makes it, or where it came from, but it has all the same properties as the one above: It's light, well balanced, and holds an edge nicely. 

Before buying a knife, pick it up, and see how it feels in your hand. Put your index finger in the spot where the blade meets the handle; the knife should almost be perfectly balanced there. 

Care and Feeding
A good knife will stay fairly sharp for a long while, especially if you don't use it all that often. However, there will come a time when you'll need to get them sharpened. A good test is to see how easily you can slice through a tomato, just like on those infomercials. If it squishes a lot, then your knife is dull. 

Once when I was a kid, I was sharpening a knife, when my dad asked me what I was doing. 
"A sharp knife is safer than a dull knife," I said, proudly displaying what I learned in Boy Scouts.

Then I sliced off the tip of my finger. 

So, sharpen carefully! If you have a sharpening stone, take a little oil (olive oil works fine), and pour it on the stone. Holding your knife at a 45-degree angle on the stone, draw it about 10-20 times in one direction. Then, flip the knife over, and repeat. Above all, it's important to keep the knife at the same angle, otherwise it won't be sharpened properly.

Or, just bring it to a knife and scissors sharpening guy, like I did. It'll cost about $10 per knife, but it's worth it.


  1. I think that lower knife is also a Henckels - an older version. I have one just like it and the markings got worn off, by sharpening or by washing. By the way, I saw that same knife holder in Italy - it gets around.

  2. It's a Henckels Four Star series knife. I have 5 of their knives, and swear by them! They hold their edge for an incredible amount of time, and only need a light tickle on a stone to bring the edge back. I keep mine sharp enough to shave with, and they have always needed very minimal maintenance.