Eat Good Food

Knife Basics: Purchase + Care

knife basics

From French to Japanese, from fish knives to bread knives, we offer a wide variety of blades in our Healdsburg store. The good news is that you really only need three kitchen knives to get started. Here is a basic guide to buying and maintaining your blades. 

A 6- to 10-inch chef’s knife has the length and heft needed for most utile tasks. Perfect for slicing onions, dicing carrots, or removing a chicken’s thigh from its body.

A small paring knife allows you to peel and mince, cut through delicate areas, debone a bird, deftly remove skin, or quickly quarter an apple for your child’s lunch.

A serrated knife is a basic for cutting bread without tearing or compressing the loaf, as well as for any other tasks in which you want to cut through to the interior without compromising the outside (think: ripe tomatoes).

Holding the knife before purchasing is essential, particularly with a chef’s knife. As you heft it, ask yourself: Is it too heavy or too light? The chef’s knife that will work for you is one that you feel comfortable holding. While a sharp knife is a safe knife, none of them are safe if you can’t wield it well.

Carefully examine its shape, considering what feels safest for you. Some home cooks prefer a chef’s knife that has a bolster (also known as a “collar” or “shank”). This is the thick area where knife and handle align. In most Western knives, like German brands, the bolster acts as a safe guard for your fingers. Japanese and other Eastern implements normally don’t have a well-defined bolster. Choose a knife with a bolster that works for you, whether stout or negligible.

If possible, test the knife in the store before you buy it. Some outlets will allow you to try dicing an onion or at least cutting through a piece of paper. Is the heel — the thick end of the blade — made for your hand and stature and strength? Does it “thunk” down or rebound?

You use the heel when applying extra force, as when cutting through a strong winter squash or a ripe summer melon, and you don’t want a knife that bounces back up unexpectedly or stops the rocking motion (that’s the “thunk”) when you’re pressing down.

Hone your knives often, whether paring or chef’s. The honing steel (often called a “sharpening” steel, an unfortunate misnomer) is a long circular or ovoid stick with a handle. Its job is to fold the microscopic “teeth” in the knife’s blade back to center, which is why it’s important that you use it on both sides of the knife’s edge.

To hone your blade, make sure that the tip of the honing steel pointed down onto your cutting board (wood or another soft material only), hold the knife at a 20-degree angle near the steel’s handle and work slowly down the blade’s edge, pulling your elbow back to your torso as you work. Do it slowly at first until you get the feel for the process.

Sharpening your knives is entirely different than honing them. It needs to be done far less often, perhaps only twice a year, depending on the use they experience. Perfect Edge provides sharpening and repair services for kitchen cutlery and garden tools for SHED.

Drop-off is the 4th Monday of each month at SHED and they can be picked up the 4th Thursday. Services include cleaning, lubricating, and hand-sharpening for standard, serrated, and ceramic knives, as well as garden pruners, hedge trimmers, floral scissors, and more. Inquire with a retail associate for pricing.


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