It may seem that knives have absolutely nothing to do with health, yet good kitchen knives are the first kitchen tool in which I encourage clients to invest if they haven’t done so already. For less than $300, a home cook can get the essential knives needed for daily meal preparation and over time, can probably save more than that in headache remedies for the pain and suffering caused by dull knives! (If you’re wondering what the second purchase I recommend is, it’s a good cutting board, of course!)
My premise is that most healthful meals involve SOME sort of trimming, chopping, dicing, and slicing and if you are attempting this with dull or cheap knives, there are numerous challenges. Upgrading to a decent set of knives has a host of benefits, but here are my Top 3.
Good, sharp knives are faster. Plain and simple. Slicing a tomato with a dull, low quality knife is an exercise in Zen-like patience as you saw back and forth hoping to eventually break through the tomato skin (Seriously? HOPE to break through? We’re talking about a TOMATO SKIN here and I’ve had this experience more than once when cutting a tomato with a sub-par knife! Sheesh.) If you’ve never used quality knives, you will be AMAZED by how much more quickly you are able to complete the preparation for any recipe.
Quality knives just do a better job at cutting! They cause less (aesthetic) damage to the food when it’s being prepared, leaving you with more beautiful slices or dices on the plate. And when you’re dealing with healthy food, presentation matters even more. Since they don’t mangle the tomato or bread or whatever it is you are trying to cut, there is also less waste.
Paradoxically, you are actually LESS likely to cut yourself with a SHARP knife than with a DULL one! And since good knives are often sold in knife blocks, you’ll keep your fingers (and any little fingers that roam your kitchen drawers) from being accidentally cut when digging for a knife.
So you’re ready to buy? There are really three basic knives that should be in your collection.
Once you get comfortable with what these three can do, you can go crazy adding many more specialized tools to your knife block, but these three could easily last most home cooks a lifetime. Here’s a bit about when to pull out each one.
A 7-10″ Chef’s Knife – this is your basic kitchen workhorse. It makes me crazy when I see someone using a teensy paring knife to chop a potato or carrot or celery into her hand! A cutting board and a chef’s knife make quick work of most chopping and dicing. This knife will also slice meat (ham, turkey, beef, etc) beautifully.
A 3-4″ Paring Knife – This is your “precision” knife – great for peeling vegetables or fruits but also for deboning meats.
A Serrated bread knife – You need to use a sawing motion when using a serrated knife vs just pushing the knife straight through the food to be cut. The serrated edge thereby slices bread without mangling it, but it’s also super for tomatoes which can tend to crush under the weight of a less-than-perfectly-sharp chef’s knife.
Which brings me to one important disclaimer:
A good knife only stays good if it stays sharp! Once you’ve invested in knives, you must commit the time to keeping them sharp. Even the very best quality knife will dull over time with use. Did you know professional chefs sharpen their knives every DAY? You can do this at home by using a honing steel to prevent or delay dulling by honing before each use, but a steel will not make a dull knife sharp again! As a result, you should also buy a good quality knife sharpener OR have your knives professionally sharpened periodically (once or twice a year). Trust me, you will notice and appreciate the difference when you do!
There are countless brands of quality knives out there. I swear by Wusthof because I grew up with them and have owned them personally for the last 15 years. J.A. Henckels is an other excellent brand and I often hear good things about Japanese brands like Shun and Global as well. The most important thing is to go to a store and actually HOLD the knife before buying. You’ll want one that feels right in your hand. Not too big or too small, too heavy or too light. You’ll know it when you find it. And then you’re off and chopping!