Kitchen knife basics

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I once heard a chef say that the most important kitchen tool aside from fire is a sharp, good knife. And the chefs that come on the show seem to agree. Most come with a favorite knife or an entire set and carefully unwrap and wrap them with extreme care.

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Plus, Chef Chuck Wiley from Caf Zu Zu continually tells us all to practice our knife skills. His urging about this made me want to look into exactly what kinds of knives the home cook should invest in. And, invest is the correct word. Good knives can cost a pretty penny. If you can't spend a lot on a single knife, don't worry; just get the best you can.

Look for steel knives that are made of one piece of metal that goes through the handle. Stainless Steel knives are not quite as hard but are still a good option. The new ceramic knives are even harder than steel, believe it or not but they are more fragile. In fact, they can't be used to cut through bone or frozen food. They'r e mainly for slicing and dicing. But, they stay sharp a very long time so they don't have to be sharpened very often. They're one of those "specialty" knives that you might want to add on to your collection. I wouldn't make one a major component.

So, I'm a home cook, what three types of knives should I have or where should my dollars go when buying knives? Here are the top three knives that pretty much everyone I asked or researched agreed should be in your kitchen.

Top three knives

- also sometimes called a

If you're going to spend a little more - put it in these types of knives.

Caring for Your Knives

So, you've invested in the best knives you can afford. How do you take care of them? When I learned the primary ways to ruin your knives - I realized that I was doing most of them.

1. Never put them in the dishwasher. Always wash by hand. The dishwasher will ruin the handles and even the blade.

2. Don't toss them in a drawer to store them. This can bend the tips and if the blades hit against each other or other utensils they can get damaged very quickly. Use knife sheaths to protect the blades in a drawer or get a handy magnetic knife strip that can be mounted on the wall. This can be a little questionable if you have little kids though.

3. Never, use a good kitchen knife to open a can or to pry anything open. This can make many a chef gasp!

What's that tube like thing that comes in every set of knives? It's a steel and most people think that when they run their knife up and down it, they're sharpening the knife. Guess what? This little tool DOESN'T sharpen your knife it realigns it. That was a shocker to me, nothing says sharpening like running a blade down that steel rod. But in reality it's just sort of taking little, undetectable bends out of the tip of your knife. But without doing this, your knife isn't as effective. Actual sharpening literally shaves off the edges of the knife a little bit. You can buy a knife sharpener or take your knives to a culinary or knife store for professional sharpening. Take a look at the segment online to learn how to use a steel properly - most chefs use one every time they go to use a knife. They key thing is the angle at which you position the knife as you slide it down the steel. It should be 20 - 25 degrees.

I have always found it impressive to see a chef walk in with their pack of knives all neatly and carefully bundled. You'd think I would have noticed that mine were just piled up in my utensil drawer AND were never very functional - they always seemed dull. DUH!

I guess it's like they say - I'm not the sharpest tool in the box - or the knife drawer for that matter!

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