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Why Dull Kitchen Cutlery Can Wreck Your Cooking

Jun 11, 2008
The most expensive knife isn't necessarily the best. If you don't keep your knives up in good condition, they won't be easy to cook with, no matter how costly they were. It's vital to have the right knives and be able to make sure they're in good shape, if you want to have an efficient kitchen and avoid accidents.

Every cook should be sure to have a decent chef's knife. This is the familiar large handled knife with a wide base and pointed tip, and it's the knife you'll use for most of your cutting tasks. Because chef's knives are so versatile, you won't even need to invest in a full knife set. All you need is a great, very sharp chef's knife to accomplish almost everything.

However, not all chef's knives are the same. They come in a variety of different sizes, which are measured by blade length. The smallest all purpose knife you should buy is about eight inches long (without the handle). While you might think a small knife is easier to handle or safer, it's not necessarily. You can use a large knife to cut smaller objects, but a small knife won't work for large ones.

There's a bewildering variety out there, as even the above eight inch chef's knife can be found in versions costing between fifteen dollars and more than a hundred fifty. People on a budget should avoid the cheapest knives and settle on one that's about twenty-five dollars. Look for a significant overhang below the handle to help you keep your knife sharp.

You might have been told that expensive knives hold their edges longer, but this isn't really the case. While good steel holds an edge longer than very cheap metal, remember that cutting a parsnip or sweet potato can take the edge out of true no matter what quality knife you have. To straighten your knife's edge, use a steel on a daily basis. A steel is the long stick that comes with many knife sets. Traditionally made of steel, they can also be diamond or ceramic. Using one just requires swiping it down the side of the knife at about a twenty degree angle. However, you can do this wrong, so there are other options for those who aren't comfortable with it.

You can get knife and tool sharpeners that have their own built in angle, eliminating guesswork. With them, you can straighten a knife edge without needing skill. Just hold the knife with the edge up, tip hanging off the counter's edge. Swipe the sharpener over the edge a few times, and you'll get a much sharper blade. However, this kind of sharpener can reduce the life of your knife, taking metal off the edge. Still, a knife that's sharp and lasts a few years is better than a dull one for a lifetime.

However you choose to keep your knives sharp, wash and dry them before and after you sharpen. Once you get used to having your knives sharp, it'll be easy to tell when the edge is going. Cutting will be a lot harder, especially on tough things. Want to test it? Slide the knife along the skin of a tomato or a peach, but don't press down. Sharp knives will cut in right away.

A knife should always be treated carefully if you want to preserve its edge. Never use cutting boards of glass, granite, or other hard materials. Wood and plastic are better. The edge should be preserved from damage by immediate washing and drying after use. Store your knife somewhere out of the way of other dishes, so it'll stay in good shape.
About the Author
Robert Cooksey is the developer of several websites covering the art of cooking with emphasis on the tools necessary to attaining success, including About Kitchen Cutlery as well as Henckels Cutlery.
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