Kitchen Knife Care and Use

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 or The Basic Care and Feeding of Your Kitchen Knife

 

Cutting Boards and Your Edge

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The best way to maintain the sharpness of a knife is to make sure that the only things that come in contact with the edge are softer than the knife’s edge.  Subsequently, the best cutting board for your knife is one that is softer than the steel in the knife’s blade.  The old standard of wood still works best.  There has been some talk of concerns about wooden cutting boards harboring bacteria, but much of that has been dispelled and a small amount of research on the internet can yield the facts.  If you still feel uncomfortable using wood, especially for meat, use a high density polyethylene or nylon cutting board for the meat and use wood for everything else.  The synthetic cutting board can be sprayed with bleach after use to kill any bacteria, and the softer plastic will not damage your knife’s edge.  Some of the more modern high density pressboard material is still softer than most knife edges.  Any glass or tile should be avoided for use as a cutting board.

When cutting on a cutting board, try to avoid chopping motions or any technique that involves striking the edge of the knife directly against the cutting board.  If you have something that needs to be chopped, try a rocking motion by placing the tip of the knife on the cutting board and then raising and lowering the handle of the knife as you move the blade from side to side over the items you want to chop.  To keep the tip down on the board, place two fingers or the palm of your left hand (if you are right handed) on the spine of the blade, near the tip and press firmly down as you rock the blade up and down by raising and lowering the handle with your right hand.

 

Cleaning Your Knife

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Resist the temptation to wash your knives in the dishwasher.  The temperature in a dishwasher gets very high and can cause the handle materials, especially wood, to warp and subsequently separate from the tang.  Although some handle materials are advertised as “dishwasher safe”, most cannot stand up to the repeated exposure to the high temperatures in the average dishwasher for very long.   Different materials also expand at different rates.  This differential expansion rate means that when a knife with a steel tang and a wood or synthetic handle is exposed to rapidly rising high temperatures, such as those in a dishwasher, the handle can separate from the tang, warp and/or crack.

The high velocity of the water jets in a dishwasher can also cause the knife to be tossed around in the washer cages, striking other kitchen utensils and dishes, thus damaging the edge.

While using the knife, try to avoid getting food on the handle, especially if it is a natural material.   If you do, just wipe it off with a damp cloth and dry it.

If you are finished using the knife and can’t immediately wash it, set it aside in a safe place out of the way, but avoid placing it in the sink where it can get submerged in water or the edge can strike the sink or other items already in or that will be added to the sink.

When it comes time to clean your knife, the best way is to carefully wash the blade with warm soapy water, as soon as you are finished using them.  Be careful of the sharp edge while washing them to avoid getting injured.  Wash the blade from the spine toward the edge.

Dry the knife carefully, avoiding the sharp edge.

 

Storing Your Knife

Once dry the knife can be put away in a block or drawer.  If the knife is being stored in a drawer with other knives or kitchen tools, try to always place the blade in a protective cover or sleeve to keep the blade from striking other knives and getting nicked. 

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Synthetic covers can be purchased or you can make your own from heavy corrugated cardboard folded over the cutting edge and taped along the spine of the blade. Consider a separate drawer dedicated only to your knives.

If the knives are stored in a block, consider storing them in such way that they do not rest on the wood of the block; if they normally rest blade down, try flipping them over so the blades are up and not resting on the wood.  Only try this if it is safe and there is no risk of injury from the upturned blades.  Some blocks store the blades horizontally. 

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Another storage option is a non-marring magnetic strip that will hold the blades firmly with very strong magnets, but does not allow the blades to actually touch the magnets themselves.

 

Edge Maintenance

Even when you follow the steps discussed above to protect your knife’s edge, eventually it will begin to wear.  A high quality fine grit ceramic rod 10 or 12 inches long is a simple tool for lightly honing the edge when it starts to cut less efficiently.  This tool can help maintain the edge of your knife between sharpening episodes. 

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Firmly hold the ceramic rod at one end and place it vertically on your cutting board at 90 degrees to the surface.

 

 

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Holding the knife in the other hand, lightly stroke the blade from the top of the ceramic rod down toward the bottom as if you were trying to shave a thin sliver off of the rod.  The spine or back of the blade should be approximately 1/2” from the rod with the edge angled toward and touching the rod’s surface. 

Complete several swipes on one side of the blade and then switch to the other side of the blade repeating the same process.    

It may help to place a dry dish towel or similar under the tip of the rod against the cutting board to keep it steady.

There are more advanced techniques that help to maintain your knife’s edge.  If you are interested in learning more about caring for you knives, or have any questions about the above material, feel free to speak to your service provider.

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