A cut above: Sharp knives are a home cook’s greatest tool

For home cooks, buying the right knives is only half the game. Proper storage and professional sharpening also are key.

07/21/2014 5:28 PM

07/23/2014 6:44 PM

The metal-on-metal swoosh-swoosh sound of cooks honing their knife blades on steel rods keeps a near-constant rhythm in Tom Azar’s kitchen at the Lauderdale Yacht Club.

Keeping knives sharp, straight and nick-free is a smarter way to cook than using dull blades, Azar said.

“You’ll work twice as hard with a dull knife,” said Azar, executive chef of the private Fort Lauderdale club who formerly cooked at Emeril’s in Miami Beach and City Hall the Restaurant in Miami. “A sharp knife gives you cleaner cuts,” making you work more efficiently.

Plus, he said, a blunted blade can lead to injury-causing slips.

“A dull knife will hack up everything,” Azar said.

While cutlery experts, restaurant chefs and experienced home cooks suggest routine DIY touch-ups with a honing steel and sharpener, they also recommend periodic professional sharpenings.

For most at-home cooks, twice-a-year visits to the sharpening shop (see box) will leave blades so fresh and fine-tuned that they remind us what a joy it is to chop, cube, slice and dice.

In the market for new knives?

German and Japanese brands known for their quality, value and reliability include Wüsthof, Shun, Zwilling J.A. Henckels and Global.

And four kinds of blades that should be in any set are a chef’s knife, a serrated knife, a paring knife and santoku knife. (See box for details on each.)

No matter whether you have a new set of knives or ones just back from a sharpening, proper storage can greatly extend their lives. Keep in mind:

•  Keep them out of the dishwasher.

The harsh detergent and heavy jostling can damage and dull knife blades. Instead, carefully wash with a sponge using warm, soapy water.

•  Don’t leave them soaking.

Someone could get cut by a knife hidden at the bottom of a murky pool of dishwater. Or, other utensils and dishes could blunt the blade.

•  Use the right board.

Wooden cutting boards are most forgiving on knife edges; acrylic and ceramic dull blades faster.

•  Store separately.

Don’t crowd knives in a drawer with other utensils; they’ll get damaged. Keep knives in a wooden block holder or a wall-mounted magnetic strip.

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