Contributed by: The Maitre D
When it comes to kitchen tools none is more important than your knives. If you've ever talked to a professional chef you'll know that the one thing they bring with them no matter where they're working are their knives. These are the most personnal of kitchen accessories and having ones that work for you makes the difference between enjoying your time in the kitchen and not.
So what should you look for in knives?
You want knives that feel good in your hand, are well balanced, will keep an edge and last a long long time. High carbon stainless steel is best. It has the strength of carbon steel and the rust resistance of stainless steel. As a result, knives made of it hold an edge with minimum care and are easy to clean.
Choose knives that are forged from a single piece of steel tapering to a sharp point. The thick end, or tang, should extend right through the handle to prevent it from working loose. While I prefer a wooden handle, plastic is fine also. The important point here is that the tang extend right through the handle. Feel the knife in your hand. Find its balance point. It should balance close to where the handle meets the blade. A well-balanced knife will be easier to use and you won't tire as quickly when using it.
If you can't afford to buy an entire set right away, start with a 10 inch Chef's knife and then work your way through the paring knife, serrated knife and carving knife.
Once you have your knives it's important to properly care for them. The first thing is that they should never, ever, ever, go into the dishwasher. Use warm water and a soft cloth to clean them after every use. Never use abrasive cleaners that could cause your knives to scratch. Keep them clean and sharp and they'll provide years of use. It's best to store them such that they don't bang against each other in a drawer. Use either a wood block or a magnetized wall strip.
Contrary to what many people seem to believe, you are much less likely to accidently cut yourself with a sharp knife than a dull knife, so keep them sharp. It's easy to sharpen a knife if you do it regularly. Begin first by having an edge put on them by a professional knife sharpener. Next you'll need to buy good whetstone. This is not the same whetstone you might have for keeping your pocket or fishing knife sharp. You need one that is on a solid block of wood and designed specifically for kitchen knives. You can get one at most hardware or kitchen stores. They'll usually come with instructions you can follow so I will not cover knife-sharpening technique here. A word of caution. They're not cheap, but a good one is worth its weight in gold.
Finally, you'll need a sharpening steel to maintain your knife's edge before and after every use. The sharpening steel doesn't replace the whetstone for knife sharpening, but it does remove any small burs that might appear after each use of the knife. Finally, I strongly suggest that you find a good, reputable kitchen store to buy your knives at. Preferably one that sells wholesale and retail, a place where both professionals and amateurs can shop and especially one that has a reputation for knowledgeable staff. They can provide you with lots of guidance in selecting the best knives for your budget and you get to try several different makes, thus making sure you get ones that feel right for you.
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