Knives 101

Make prep work go faster with a trusty knife, and spare your fingers from pointed assault. These steps will show you how to purchase, sharpen, and cut with a knife designed for safe and easy cooking.


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 a $10 knife you replace each year.

Buy a forged, high-carbon, stain-resistant, steel blade knife. 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; it may slip when you have to force it to cut.

Sharpen knives with a whetstone (a honing block used with cooking oil or water), a professional-style grinding wheel, or hire a professional service, which may even take house calls.

Keep your knives sharp with the occasional use of a sharpening steel -- a ridged rod made of diamond-coated steel or ceramic. Here's how to use a sharpening steel.

+ enlarge image Start by placing the knife edge near the handle of the sharpening steel.

1. Rest the sharpening steel vertically with the tip pressed against a stable cutting surface. Place the knife-edge near the handle at a 20-degree angle to the steel near the sharpening steel's handle.

+ enlarge image Draw the knife edge down and toward you.

2. Draw the knife blade gently down the full length of the steel in one smooth, slow motion. Pull the knife toward you as it moves down the steel.

+ enlarge image Finish with the tip of the blade near the tip of the sharpening steel.

3. Finish the stroke with the tip of the blade still at an angle and near the tip of the steel. Repeat with the other side of the knife blade.

+ enlarge image Begin by resting the tip of your knife on the cutting surface.

1. Rest the tip of the knife on the cutting surface for guidance and control. Protect your fingertips by curling your fingers inward as you grip the food to cut.

+ enlarge image Slice with a single motion.

2. Slice through the food along the length of the knife blade with a single motion, as you would use a saw, pushing the tip away from you. This makes the knife do all the work, reducing your effort and the strain and stress on your hands.

+ enlarge image Finish with a motion that takes you to the end of the knife blade.

3. Finish your slice in a single motion that takes you to the end of the blade edge. For rough chopping, use the back half of the blade near the handle, keeping the tip of the knife on the cutting surface and chopping with even motions.

1. Cut away from yourself. Use knives only for cutting and slicing, not as can openers or screwdrivers.

2. Use an appropriate, firmly fixed, cutting surface. A damp towel under a cutting board keeps it from sliding around the countertop.

3. Keep your knives sharp. A dull blade can be more dangerous than a sharp one.

4. Use the right knife for the right job: paring knives for paring, boning knives for boning, etc.

5. Hand-wash your knives. Never soak a dirty knife in a suds-filled sink. Soapy water dulls the blade and causes the wooden handle to split and warp. It is also dangerous to have a sharp blade lurking where you can't see it.

6. Hold a knife by the handle. Draw the knife away from you to cut and slice, using the full length of the blade.

7. Carry knives blade down, and store knives in blade-down position.

8. Store knives with their blades covered. Knife racks, sheaths, or blocks are best. When storing in a utensil drawer, keep knives in a separate compartment to protect them and your fingers.

9. Never wash knives in the dishwasher. Dishwashers ruin knife blades, loosen rivets, and cause cracks in the handles.

10. Never grab for a falling knife.

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