Knives 101: Sharpen Your Kitchen Skills [Infographic]
People tend to take kitchen knives for granted. But every knife, from the shape of the blade to the weight of the handle, is designed for a unique purpose. Whether you're whipping up breakfast for the kids before sending them off to school or settling in for Sunday dinner, having the right tool for the job makes it easier to cook tasty food quickly.
Fortunately you don’t have to buy an entire knife set to slice, chop, and pare. With these four essential blades and a couple of tools for maintaining them, you can tackle any recipe and make sure your knives will stand the test of time.
This is the workhorse of the kitchen. Whether you’re breaking down a bird, dicing root vegetables, or mincing herbs, a chef’s knife will see you through almost any recipe from prep to plating. One of the major reasons for this knife’s versatility is its design: the tip is best for slicing, the heel provides the force to cut through tougher stuff (like carrots or between joints), while the center of the knife allows for both precision and control, meaning you can use this knife to julienne or mince with equal success. If you want to upgrade or add one knife to your kitchen, you’ll get the most use out of this one.
Paring knives are underrated. Given their smaller size, they’re perfect for tasks that require precision like peeling vegetables, filleting small fish, or working with fragile ingredients like fruit. They’re light and easy to hold, giving you greater control so you can carve the eyes out of a potato or delicately score or peel apples for picky eaters.
Serrated Bread Knife
Serrated knives are designed to cut into waxy foods—or those with a tough exterior and soft interior—without mashing them into oblivion. We typically think of bread when it comes to knives like these (and they do work beautifully on a crusty loaf), but they can also come in handy for lettuce, peppers, pineapples, roasted potatoes, even tomatoes. Because of their toothy edges, you’ll want to use them like you would a saw—don’t chop with them and they’ll stay sharp much longer.
Boning Knife (or Filet Knife)
Boning knives are thin and pliable to allow you to cut smooth, straight lines through meat or fish. They’re made to be flexible so they can cut around bones — not through them. While this knife might not be part of your everyday repertoire, it can save you time when breaking down larger cuts of meat, while reducing waste by helping you more precisely remove bones (thus saving more meat) with its nimble blade.
Storage and Maintenance
Taking care of your knives doesn’t have to be another item on your to-do list. Storing them properly is the best way to keep them slicing and dicing: if they don’t come with their own sheath, keep them in a knife block or use a drawer organizer.
The more knives are jostled about, the more chipped and uneven the blades become, which means riskier and uneven cuts. Contrary to what you might expect, a sharper knife is safer. Dull knives don’t pierce the surface of the food you’re cutting, so they tend to slip and slide and slice your fingers.
When your knives do eventually dull, there are plenty of good electric or manual knife sharpeners that can help you hone your blade at home. Another option is a whetstone: they come in a variety of grades just like sandpaper, ranging from super coarse to very fine. You use them by first soaking the stone, then running your knife edge across the surface at an angle, first on the coarser side to sharpen the blade, then on the finer side to hone. Best of all, whetstones are adaptable, inexpensive and can last a lifetime.
Ever wonder what that long metal cylindrical thing is that came with your knife set? It’s a honing steel. They don’t really sharpen knives, but they can keep them sharper longer by realigning the tiny fragments of steel on the edge of the blade that go astray with the wear and tear of daily use. Honing steels can be used with any type of knife, but take it slow. Start by holding the steel tip-down on your cutting board. Holding the knife in midair just as you would if you were about to chop, angle the blade slightly to the right (about 30 degrees) so the left side of the cutting edge lies flush with the steel. Carefully pull the knife toward you (maintaining that angle) and repeat until the knife is smooth and shiny, then repeat on the other side.
The moral of the story? Sharp, task-specific knives make for tastier and prettier food with no extra to-do, not to mention they save you time and effort in the kitchen because they’re so much easier to wield. You’ll be surprised what a difference using the right knife for the right job will make—especially with a little bit of tender love and care.