Just one rule: buy a knife you can sharpen.
There are all kind of different knives out there, all kinds of different claims and all kind of prices. But unless you're frequently breaking down a side of beef, butchering your own chickens or filleting fish, all you really will ever need are three simple knifes: a chef knife, a paring knife and a bread knife. And a knife sharpener.
Sure, there's all kinds of talk about the perfect tang and balance and carbon grade steel. And countless words could be spilled on the right handle grip, riveting techniques and knife weight. Yet as to the specific style or brand of knife you should buy, I have no advice. Because it's really all about you. What kind of knife feels good in your palm? How important is the weight? What kind of handle material do you like? Do you care about aesthetics?
But that's stuff isn't nearly as important as my single knife rule:
BUY A KNIFE YOU CAN SHARPEN
I base this rule on first-hand experience. My first knife was a dreadful piece of cheap metal with a plastic handle welded to the blade. It was physically impossible to sharpen because of the tiny serrations along the blade - and this was supposedly somehow an advantage! Because the knife was incredibly dull, it was also impossible to slice or mince anything - I either hacked, mashed or sawed. Don't be fooled by package promises and cheap prices - from the bottom of my heart, I beg you to buy knives you can sharpen. Please, please please. Buy a knife you can sharpen.
And if you have a knife you can sharpen, you also need to own a sharpening tool. Most knife blocks will include a knife sharpening steel rod. Which is great if rubbing two pieces of metal together at high-speed is your kind of thing. Enjoy. Let me know when it's safe to come back into the room.
I prefer a simple knife sharpener which requires no skill and minimal effort - like the one shown below. You just slide your knife through the "coarse" sharpener a couple times, then through the "fine" sharpener a couple times, and just that easy, you've restored your sharp cutting edge. Somehow that just seems simpler than the steel rod thing.
Now, to be fair, I know all of us at one point thought to ourselves: "I don't need to sharpen my knives. I prefer my knives dull - that way if I slip, the blade won't cut off my finger…"
It does seem logical, I know. But dull knifes are actually much more dangerous and far more likely to slip or miss their target than a sharp blade. A sharp blade slices through the target cleanly while a dull blade struggles to get through. A sharp blade moves precisely yet a dull blade hacks with imprecision. Really sharp blades sound dangerous (and any blade can be dangerous) but what you should really fear is that dull blade you're so comfortable using - it will slip when you least expect it (and it can still draw blood).
So just to recap:
- Buy knives you can sharpen
- Keep them sharp
That's really it. But just in case you feel cheated by a post that's so obvious, here are a few more good habits for keeping your knives in good shape.
- Never, ever put your knives in the dishwasher. Why? The heat, detergent and water pressure can rust quality knives, especially along the sharpened edge. So take a couple minutes and wash your knives by hand.
- Wipe or rinse off the knife after use to prevent food particles from drying on the blade. Why? Stuck-on food particles often contain moisture which can accelerate rusting in spots along the blade. The blade is also more time-consuming to clean once the food particles have dried against the steel.
- Dry your knives thoroughly and do not allow them to sit in water. Why? Leaving knives in standing water can promote rust along the blade. So if you love your knives, don't drop them in the sink. Keep them high and dry whenever possible.
- Do not chop on glass, ceramic or metal surfaces. Why? Glass, ceramic and metal will all rapidly dull your blade and in some cases the knife may even create fine chips of glass, ceramic or metal. Not something you want in your food. So use wood, bamboo, plastic or hard rubber cutting boards and protect your knife blade.
- Cut into the flesh-side of a fruit or vegetable whenever possible. Why? Cutting through the flesh and then the skin of a fruit or vegetable (like a pepper or apple) will dramatically reduce the wear on your blade.
And now, just because it doesn't feel right to not try and offer helpful buying tips, here are five generic things to keep in mind when knife-shopping:
- Buy knives you can sharpen (oh wait, I already told you that!)
- Buy what is comfortable to you. Physically pick up the knife and feel the grip in your palm. If you don't like it, it's not going to improve over time.
- Do not buy knives where the blade is welded to the handle. The blade tang should be one-piece with the blade and extend all the way through to the back of the handle.
- Pay attention to weight. If the knife feels heavy now, just wait until you've been using it for an hour.
- Forged is generally better than stamped. But if you don't know the difference, I'm not sure it's worth looking up.