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Kitchen Knives: The Basics

26 August, 2009


Photo by davidrossharris

Knives are arguably the most used, as well as, most important tool in the kitchen.  When selecting knives for your kitchen, there are several things you need to take into consideration: from what material the blade is constructed, how you will be using each knife, and how much time you are willing to spend caring for them. Always go for quality, not quantity. While the 30-piece knife set (in butcher block, of course) may be $19.99 and may seem like a great deal, the quality of the knife is more than likely poor. It is wise on your part to pay (substantially) more for one knife, made by a reputable brand, because as long as you care for it properly, it will last nearly a lifetime. And honestly, how often will you use every one of those knives in the set? I bet you will consistently use only two, maybe three of them. So, put away your steak knives (they’re for the table, not the onions) and read on.

Blade Materials:

-High-Carbon Steel: Carbon Steel blades are tough, will keep a sharp edge well and are fairly easy to sharpen. These blades will discolor when they come into contact with acidic foods, but this does not affect the quality of the blade. Using steel wool can be used to remove stains and rust from the blades. You can also rub vegetable oil on the blades when storing to prevent rust and discoloration.

-High-Carbon Stainless Steel: These blades are nearly as tough and sharp as High-Carbon Steel, but have enough chromium to make them nearly resistant to rusting and staining. They are slightly harder to sharpen, but they have become the most popular blade choice for the higher-end knife brands.

-Stainless Steel: Stainless Steel is highly resistant to staining and rust, but make sure to dry completely after washing because they will rust or discolor under the right conditions. These blades will hold a sharp edge longer than most other blades, but they are extremely hard to sharpen.

-Titanium: Titanium is a very strong and durable blade, but it is much more flexible than steel. It is wear resistant, rust resistant, and fairly easy to sharpen. This is a good choice for boning and filleting knives.

-Ceramic: Ceramic is very hard, but prone to chipping. Because the blade is much thinner than steel, they are very easy to slice with, but should not be used for chopping. They hold their sharpness for a longtime, but must be sharpened but a professional.


Chef’s Knife: This knife is used for chopping, slicing and dicing. The blade is between 8-14 inches long. It is more difficult to handle a longer chef’s knife.

Paring Knife: This knife is generally 3-5 inches long. It is perfect for peeling and coring, or mincing and cutting small items like garlic or herbs.

Santoku Knife: Usually more expensive because it is precision made. Perfect for slicing, dicing, and chopping foods into fine pieces, or to butterfly a chicken breast.

Serrated Knife: This is the blade to skimp on. Serrated edges are much harder to sharpen, therefore, it is usually easier to by new. It’s only worth buying a knife with a longer blade to slice bread.

Utility Knife: This knife to 4-7 inches long and used for items to large for a paring knife and too small for a chef’s knife or Santoku knife like cucumbers, apples, and larger pieces of garlic.

Other types of knives, that while fun to have, are not very necessary: Tourne Knife, Boning Knife, Cheese Knife, Chestnut Knife, Clam or Oyster Knife, and Cleaver.

Maintaining Your Blade:

-Never put your blades in the dishwasher and make sure to dry completely before storing.

-A dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp one.

 Sharpening You Knife:

Whetstone: This is used to sharpen your blade. Place the heel of the blade against the stone at a 20 degree angle, and press down on the blade while pushing it away in one long arc. Repeat on other side until sharp. This should be done every 3-5 months.

Steel: This will not sharpen the blade, but is used to straighten the blade. Place the heel of the blade against the top of the steel at a 20 degree angle with the tip pointed slightly upward and draw the blade along the entire length of the steel. Repeat on other side. Use the steel periodically between and right after sharpening.

Watch this video to better understand how to use these tools to sharpen your blades.

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