What to look for - You want a knife that is high carbon stainless steel. The high carbon is for durability and the stainless steel resists rust. Hold the knife in your hand to determine if it feels right for you. Make sure it has a good grip and feels balanced. The handle should be riveted to the blade. There are several excellent brands. Check local stores, catalogs and Internet sites.
Caring for your knives - It is important to keep the knives sharp. More people get injured when using dull knives. It is highly recommended to use a steel before each use. I do that and it makes a difference. Additionally, knives need a thorough sharpening about once a year. An electric sharpener is recommended. On occasion, you might want to have your knives sharpened by a professional. Make certain when storing the knives that the blades are protected. I prefer a knife block but there are other possibilities, as mentioned below.
Knife Steel - A steel helps keep knives sharp and should be used before each use. You might find it easiest to hold the steel with the tip on the cutting board. Slide the knife down the steel at a 20 degree angle as if slicing, moving from the wide part of the blade to the point while moving downwards. Place the knife on the other side of the steel and do the same with the other side of the blade. Do this about 8 times on each side before each use. With larger knives, you will probably need to hold the steel in the air and do the same with the knife moving away from you.
Knife Storage - Purchase a knife block for your countertop or other storage unit for your knives. Some fit in drawers, others attach to the underside of your cabinets and there is a magnetic strip that attaches to the wall. Whatever you choose, it will help keep your knives separated, easy to access and in good condition. Of course, if there are young children in the house, choose an option that keeps the knives out of harm's way.
Sharpening Tool - It is important to revitalize your knives on occasion with a thorough sharpening. I recommend a good electric knife sharpener. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for best results.
Chef Knife - This is one of the knives I use most often. It is primarily used for chopping. Purchase an 8 or 10 inch blade. Keep in mind that, for large items like a head of cabbage, the larger knife works best.
Paring Knife - Every kitchen needs a good paring knife. Mine has a 3 inch blade, but 4 inch is also available. I also have a 2 inch blade and use it when the other is dirty. Use for paring or cutting vegetables and fruits that are held in your hand. Also good for chopping small quantities of food.
Serrated Knife - Get at least an 8 inch, preferably a 10 inch. This knife is essential for slicing soft breads. Knives that are not serrated, no matter how sharp, will crush soft breads. It also works well when slicing tomatoes.
Utility Knife - This knife is smaller than a Chef Knife but larger than a Paring Knife and is used for many different jobs. Mine has a 6 inch blade.
Hollow Edge Slicer - This is one of my newest knives. I love it. The hollowed sides near the bottom of the blade create air pockets, enabling you to make much thinner slices of almost any product without it sticking to the knife. Mine has an 8-inch blade, and I use it often.
Hollow Edge Santoku - This knife doubles as a slicer and a chopper. Mine, which has a 7-inch blade, is very useful when I am chopping smaller portions of vegetables. It also slices through meat very well because of the hollowed edge. I wouldn't say it is essential, but I use it more than any other knife.
Cutting Board - Unless your countertop has a built-in cutting surface, you will need a cutting board. Actually, I have 4 boards. Two of the boards are made of bamboo and one of wood. One, a family antique, is quite small, only 9x6x1/2-inches, making it convenient for working with small amounts of foods. Another is 15x11x3/4-inches. It is the one I use most often. The largest is 16x12x1.5-inches. It has a well around the perimeter on one side for catching meat juices and is great for carving roasts, but the other side may be used for chopping. Additionally, I have one plastic board that I use for raw meats. Judging from the age of the antique, a good-quality hardwood cutting board will last several lifetimes. According to the research, there is no advantage to plastic over wood as far as bacteria growth, and most wood boards are easier on the knife blades. Whatever type of board you choose, wash it well with hot soapy water after use. In addition, wood boards should be rubbed occasionally with a mineral oil designed for food prep surfaces. If the board has cracks, it is time to replace it, as bacteria can hide inside.
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