5 most common mistakes cooks make with their knives
It’s time to learn how to care for the best tool in your kitchen. Look==>
Buying cheap, inexpensive, low quality cutlery
This may be the single most common mistake made by the home cook. I’ve done it many, many times. Raise your hand if this sounds like you: I’m walking through the supermarket and hanging right by the spatulas is this shiny, neon colored knife on sale for $5.99.
What do I do? I think, man do I need that!
I have a secret for you: choosing a quality knife and taking good care of it are two of the most important (and efficient!) ways to become a better cook. That’s right, i said it! It speeds up your prep time, there is less waste, it instills you with greater confidence, the food you serve your family will look better (even more professional) and you will get more compliments.
Somebody gave you a gift of steak knives. Maybe your mother-in-law gave it to you. Maybe you got it at your bridal shower. Maybe you got it from one of your kids. And you’ve been using this hazardous equipment for years. You’ve been using it for everything from slicing cucumbers to chopping lettuce to cutting your steak.
If you want to see our review on the proper tool for chopping cucumbers, see our Nakiri Knife Review by clicking here.
But recently you tried to debone a chicken and it didn’t quite work out the way you thought.
But it’s hard to give them up. I know. I have three of something i don’t even know what they’re for. Have i thrown them out? Nope. why not? They aren’t good for anything. I’ve never used them. If I’d used them, ever, perhaps I would have realized that i have not once been called upon to saute’ the tongue of a yak.
You have these unused items in your utility drawer – c’mon, don’t deny it.
Get a decent knife. Spend more than you think you should. This small act of fiscal instability will reward you for years and years. Trust me.
Putting good knives in the dishwasher
Don’t do it! Let me repeat that: Don’t do it. And don’t use harsh detergents on your knives. Rather, use mild dish soap, wash them by hand and immediately wipe them dry after each wash.
This isn’t just me saying this. Virtually any review you read from other bloggers to Sur La Table say don’t do it.
It may be less effort to merely toss ’em in the dishwasher or let them air-dry, but, not only are you encouraging rust on the blade, but years of this abuse will also cause the handle to degrade in quality. The chemicals in most dishwasher detergents may cause corrosion and discoloration of the handle and blade.
The pressure of the dishwasher knocks the knives around, resulting in dulling and even bending the blade. Letting water sit on the surface has the same effect. It’s worth taking the extra few seconds to do it by hand.
I know, we all live busy, hectic lives. Those few moments it will take to properly care for your knives are precious. But do it anyway. You’ll thank me for it.
Okay, go into your kitchen and open your ‘silverware’ drawer. Step back and take a look at the chaos. Now imagine you are a really good chef’s knife that has just been tossed into this utensil drawer with random spoons, spatulas, other knives.
Your good knives deserve better.
Bumping around will be bad. First, it will dull your blade. Next, it might chip your blade. This would be bad, but not the worst. The worst will come when your spouse or child reaches into this ‘drawer of chaos’ and cuts themselves, badly.
One way to deal with this is to buy a set that comes with a wooden block. You can see our review on kitchen knife sets by clicking here.
You should consider storing your knives on a magnetic strip mounted to the wall.
I’m not crazy about knife blocks. Not only do they take up precious counter space, but also they contain many knives that you’ll never use. You only need three, really:
A good chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.
Using the wrong tool for the job
Before you take your knife out, think about what you’ll be using it for. Are you mincing something small, like garlic? Or, will you be working with something larger, like a whole chicken? You might love working with your paring knife, but it’s not an all-purpose tool and doesn’t work well when tackling large foods.
Always use the right size knife for the job.
Here’s a tip: if you plan on cutting meat, then reach for your chef’s knife. This is an all-purpose tool. It works just as well with herbs and vegetables and it does with meats. Spend some time with it. Make it your friend. Practice, practice.
Next, if you’re slicing a stiff hearty crusty bread, like a baguette or a bagel, that’s the time to pull out the serrated knife. (My dad used to use this to ‘carve’ the turkey!). If you’re frosting layered cake, that’s the time to use the serrated knife. Not with the frosting, of course. But with slicing the layers. It works well on things like watermellon or honeydew. It is less likely to slip.
Try not to use it for things like chopping vegetables.
Think of the paring knife as the chef’s knife mini. It should be used for smaller jobs and smaller pieces of food, like mincing shallots.
The 3 – 4 inch blade is designed so it really feels like an extension of your hand, and it’s for peeling and paring vegetables or fruit, coring tomatoes and fruits, trimming chicken, scoring doughs, and any other exacting task where the heft and long blade of a chef’s knife feel too big.
This is the reason people are scared of knives; not because they’re sharp but because they are dull. They slip and you end up using way too much pressure. This is not good if you miss.
Dull blades cause accidents. They also make you look bad. Why? Because the finished product looks like it was cut with a kindergartner’s scissors. All choppy and squished with pieces sticking out every which way. Ugh! You may as well use a hammer.
Sure, you need to be more careful with a sharp blade. This is why you should practice your knife skills.
What’s a person to do?
If you have a shady blade – poor quality, inexpensive tool, and you can’t even get it to go through a firm tomato, can you get it sharp at home? Probably not. It’s probably not worth the time and effort it will take to try.
However, if you have a good quality knife (yeah, it cost more), you have a couple of options.
First, get yourself a decent honing steel. And use it. Many people don’t use it because, quite simply, they don’t know how.
But it is a skill you can learn and it will greatly improve the quality and life expectancy of your knives. There are several very good tutorial videos on youtube on how to use a honing steel.
Next, you should know that the honing steel does not sharpen the blade. It straightens the blade and helps to repair any small nicks. You should get in the habit of using this tool every few times you use your knife. A few swipes, a few seconds and your knife will stay sharper longer and you will extend the usable lifetime of one of your best tools.
Sharpening is a topic we will discuss in an upcoming article. How you sharpen your knife may depend on what kind of knife it is. How often should a knife be sharpened? Some chefs get their favorite knives professionally sharpened 2 to 3 time a year. Some knife manufacturers recommend a professional sharpening every 2 years.
If you use your knives a lot and you are honing regularly, there will come a time when you will just look at it and think to yourself, hmmm.
Put the word out – to friends, relatives, siblings, office workers, birthday shoppers, santa, the doorman in your building, everybody. Tell them what you want.
I used to have to do this with my grandmother. I couldn’t let her go out and buy just any sweater. The results would be horrifying! Sometimes a surprise is nice. But it’s better to be surprised that you get what you really want.
This works both ways, incidentally. If you have someone to get a gift for and they are ‘kitchen folk’, then spend a little extra and give something of really good quality.
Next, hand wash your good cutlery. Hand dry and store them in a safe place, either a knife block or a magnetic wall mount.
Get a honing steel and learn how to use it. I promise you it is not as difficult as you may fear.
Build a small collection of good quality knives and toss the old, worn,busted stuff in the trash. Build your collection one at a time if you have to, but start with the magic three.
Finally, practice, practice, practice.