Knives 101

Sharp, professional-quality knives are any cook's best friends.
The Right Knife
Cutting a Pepper

It may be easier to find a good knife than to acquire a best friend, but if you care for both of them devotedly, they will take care of you. Only your trusty knife, however, makes prep work go faster and spares your fingers from pointed assault.

Start by purchasing a good knife. A high-quality knife may seem costly, but compare buying a $70 knife you use for 20 years with the $10 knife you replace each year.

What should you get for your money? A forged, high-carbon, stain-resistant, steel-blade knife is your best buy. It should be rigid and feel heavy, yet balance lightly in your hand.

The value of good knives is in the way their stronger metal maintains a sharp edge. Contrary to what you might think, a dull knife can be more dangerous than a sharp one, since it may slip when you have to force it to cut.

Here's what to consider when shopping for knives:

Blades: Most higher-quality, more-expensive knives are forged (hammered) or stamped from a piece of high-carbon, stain-resistant steel. This type of metal alloy allows the blade to hold a sharp edge and sharpen easily. Also, a quality knife should have a full tang (end of the blade that extends all or most of the way through the handle) for balance and added strength.

The blades of most inexpensive knives are made of stainless steel, making them tough and very sharp. However, these knives lack the weight, balance, and craftsmanship of more expensive models.

Handles: Heat-proof, water-resistant plastic handles usually do not warp, chip, crack, or peel. Some folks prefer attractive wood-handled knives. To avoid damaging the wood finish, hand-wash and do not soak.

Prolong the Life of Your Knife

Most kitchen professionals have a favorite knife or knives they've used for decades. Here's how they prolong their knives' lives: They carefully hand-wash a knife in hot, soapy water, using a cloth or plastic scouring sponge. Unless a knife says it is "dishwasher safe," wash it by hand. Dishwashing may be harmful to both the blade and the handle of the knife.

Immediately dry the blade and handle with a clean towel and return the knife to a storage tray or block, sometimes after rubbing a little cooking oil into the blade.

Always use a cutting board when using a knife. The best choice for cutting meats and poultry is a plastic (polyethelene) board. This kind doesn't warp or crack like wood boards can, and it is dishwasher safe.

Continued on page 2:  Sharpening Knives