Expert tips to buy and care for quality knives

Each day, kitchens across the world produce hundreds of different dishes; everything from spaghetti and meatballs to sushi.

And while the ingredients and preparations vary from each household, one thing is certain. Somewhere and at some time, a knife was used.

And the quality of the knife, Robin Stoneman says, is equal to the quality of your cooking experience.

“It’s frustrating, when you have to work at it and fiddle and saw away. It makes for a poor experience,” says Stoneman, who received new knives for a wedding gift.

But, he says, cooking with a quality, sharp knife allows you to work effortlessly and quickly.

A KITCHEN ESSENTIAL

Mike Wrinch, general manager at the Calgary-based Knifewear Inc., says, “Everyone should have at least one, good sharp knife.”

He says that you’ll take more of an interest in what you feed yourself if you own a quality knife.

Recently, he received an email from a family who no longer serves frozen vegetables thanks to their new, sharp knife, because they no longer have to struggle with dull blades on hard carrots.

But with so many options, from bargain buys at Ikea to pricier brands like Zwilling J.A. Henckels, it’s easy to be unsure of where to start and how to pick the best knife for you.

When setting out to get that life-changing knife, knowing some basic information is key.

The ConsumerReports.org’s “Kitchen Knife Buying Guide” notes that knives are either forged or stamped. Or in simple words, they’re either hand-made or factory-made.

Hand-made knives tend to be less flexible and more durable, says the online guide. Factory-made knives however, are generally less expensive.

FOUR STEPS FOR BUYERS TO TAKE

Whether factory or hand-made, Wrinch says there are four steps to take when buying a knife.

He says the first question to ask yourself is, “Rust or no rust?”

Stainless steel will never rust whereas the traditional harder material, carbon steel, will begin to rust the moment you cut a potato, he explains. A carbon steel blade needs to be cleaned constantly, making it a high-maintenance knife.

On the flip side, Wrinch adds, a carbon steel knife will outlast you and be passed down to your children – if you take care of it.

Once you’ve made this decision, you can focus your search.

Mike Wrinch, manager at Knifewear, says that a quality knife can cost $250 but people should only spend what you can afford.

Photo by: Devon JolieWrinch, who worked as a chef for 15 years, says the next step is the most crucial. He highly recommends going to a store where you can actually cut with a variety of knives.

He says, “What would you spend $300 on that you couldn’t try?”

The same goes with knives. He explains that each knife will feel and work differently for each person. Having a chance to slice and dice with the product lets you experience the weight of the blade and the shape of the handle before you take it home to your kitchen.

Wrinch adds that allowing customers to hold and use the product shows that the company is 100 per cent behind what they’re selling.

The Consumer Reports guide also suggests holding the knife to get a good feel for the handle’s comfort and balance since this is the only part of the knife you actually touch.

The next step in honing your search, Wrinch says, is to ask yourself, “Does it look good?”

It may seem vain and unimportant, but he says that you’ll enjoy cooking with the knife if it “sexy.”

Finally, it comes down to the price.

Wrinch says that ultimately you should spend only what you can afford. But for $250, you’ll have many options that will last a long time. He says that some of his co-workers justify the cost by breaking it down per day. Suddenly that $250 is only 70 cents a day.

CARING FOR YOUR KNIFE

And if you’re going to shell out a couple hundred bucks on a knife, you want it to last.

Wrinch says that above all, it’s important to protect the edge of your knife. Tossing it into a utensil drawer or pushing it into a metal slot will only dull, or worse, chip the edge of the blade.

He says the edge of the knife should only ever touch food. To ensure this, he suggests spending a couple extra dollars on a blade guard, or if you have room, install a magnetic knife bar – which vary in cost – on a kitchen wall.

You should also beware of hard cutting surfaces. Despite their current popularity, bamboo boards are very hard and will easily dull the knife, says Wrinch. He suggests using either a wooden or plastic board, and never the kitchen counter.

Regularly sharpening your knife is important too.

Knife 101

Mike Wrinch of Knifewear says a basic set of knives includes three different knives.

• A paring knife: Use this to core strawberries or peel potatoes by hand

• A vegetable cleaver: The flat blade makes scooping diced onion into a pan easy

• A chef’s knife: The all-purpose knife for carving meat

Avoid: Serrated knives. Wrinch says the only food a serrated knife should be used for is bread.

Wrinch says, “A sharp knife is a safer knife.” He explains that a sharp knife will slide through the food but a dull knife will require you to push down, and that’s when accidents happen.

Using a honing rod at home will help keep your knives in the best shape, Wrinch says. He adds that ceramic rods are a good option to consider because they are harder than most knife blades and won’t rip up the edge. But he says that about once a year you should have a professional sharpen the edge on a wet-stone to keep your quality knives at peak performance.

Wrinch says, “Being limited by your tool is not awesome. Knives that work properly are awesome.”

djolie@cjournal.ca