You’ve heard it from professional chefs and home cooks alike: your knives are your most important tools in the kitchen. I would give up my Vitamix and my food processor for my best chef’s knife. I have a few (not a big fancy set of) high quality knives that I use all the time. But even good knives get dull and dull knives are not only difficult to work with, not fun to cook with, but they are also dangerous.
I teach cooking classes very often in private homes and I use my students’ equipment when I do. This includes their knives. (I stopped bringing my own knives because I am much too absent-minded and have forgotten one or two!) I have had the pleasure of using knives that are well cared for and razor sharp and ones that can barely cut a straight line through butter!! I have found that this discrepancy has less to do with the quality of the knives (although that is part of it) as much as how the owners maintain them. I’ve mentioned to a few ladies some tips for protecting their knives, and most of the time the response was “I never knew that!” Once I even suggested to one of my students that if she had her knives professionally sharpened, cooking would be much more fun. She had her doubts until she brought her knives to a cutlery shop and had a much easier time prepping food after that.
So I have put together a list of my tips for how to take good care of your knives so that you may have an easier, safer and more pleasurable experience in the kitchen, and protect your investment at the same time!
DON’T: Put your knives in the dishwasher. I know many people like to put everything in the dishwasher, but keep your knives out of there. The dishwasher will bang your knives around which will ding and damage the blades. In addition, the heat from the drying cycle can warp your blades.
DO: Hand wash your knives with warm soapy water and dry them right away.
DON’T: Put wet knives away in a drawer or cutting block. The blade can develop mold or mildew. Also, if your blade is carbon steel, it can rust if left wet for extended periods of time.
DO: Dry your knives right after washing.
DON’T: Use your knives on plastic, glass, granite, marble or stone. These surfaces will either dull the knife blade more quickly than necessary or will damage the edge of your blade.
DO: Use your knives on wood cutting boards.
DON’T: Throw all your knives together into a drawer where they’re going to bang against each other and miscellaneous utensils. This can dent, ding and damage your blades over time.
DO: Store your knives in a knife block or cover each blade with a protective sheath (even a heavy piece of paper with a rubberband is better than nothing.
DON’T: Use a particular knife for the wrong task. Using a paring knife to cut through chicken bones is going to damage the knife. Also, don’t act crazy and try to use your kitchen knives to pick a lock, remove nails from the wall, pry open your kid’s piggy bank, scrape the grates of your barbecue, break up the huge block of ice in your ice maker, and so on. That’s not what kitchen knives were designed to do.
DO: Know what knife is for what task and leave it at that.
DON’T: Think that your knives will stay sharp forever. The more you use them, the sooner they will need to be sharpened.
DO: Get your knives sharpened every 6 months or thereabouts.
DON’T: Sharpen your own knives unless you know what you’re doing. I know that most knife sets come with a honing steel and I have seen a few grinding blocks in people’s kitchens, but if you don’t know how to use these, you can really mess up the blade.
DO: Get your knives sharpened professionally at a local cutlery store or cookware shop. I sharpen my knives regularly myself with a whetstone, but I also take them to my local Sur La Table or Thee Cutlery, a knife store at my local mall. This tends to cost about $1/inch, e.g. a knife with an 8-inch blade costs $8 to get sharpened. I have heard that a supermarket in my neighborhood sharpens knives while you shop, but I have also heard they don’t do a good job. Ask someone you trust (like a restaurant chef) where to go in your town if you’re not sure. There are also good videos on YouTube if you want to learn more about sharpening yourself.