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The Basics of Knives

The Basics of Knives

In this post, I would like to discuss some of the basic knowledge about knife selection, features, and care that every beginner chef and home cook needs to know!

What are the most common knife types and what are they used for?

There are tons of different types of knives on the market (one for just about every task in the kitchen), but most home cooks and chefs really only need a select few. A good rule of thumb is to pair the size of the knife with the size of the task. Need to cut up an entire chicken or large melon? You’ll need a long chef’s knife that can reach through the entire diameter of whatever you are trying to cut in one slice.

10inchchef_sm

 Trying to dice an onion or slice a squash? A smaller/shorter blade, like a santoku, is perfect for this job. The 7 inch santoku that I offer has the added benefit of featuring a “granton” edge. These divots along the side of a blade keep food from sticking to the the blade, thus allowing a nice clean cut every time.

7inchsantoku_sm

For smaller jobs like peeling and coring, you’ll need a paring knife. This lightweight and easy-to-handle blade allows for more intricate and detailed cuts.

4inchparer_sm

Of course there are many other knives that are suited for more specific jobs like serrated bread knives and carving knives, but having these main three (chefs, santoku, and parer) will be more than enough to handle 90% of your slicing and dicing needs.

What’s important to keep in mind about the construction of a knife?

You’ll hear a lot of terms tossed around (balance, forge, tang, bolster, and heel) when the discussion of knife construction comes up. Some of these aspects are more important than others. Balance is fairly important in a knife’s comfortability and usability but, in my honest opinion, “perfect balance” has become a buzzword in the community when what you should be focusing on is just, “how does it feel in your hand?” As long as you don’t feel like you are trying to support the entirety of the knife’s weight blade while you hold it, you should be good. Forging refers to the knife’s strength from its construction and is incredibly important in the durability and life of your knife. All my knives are forged from stainless steel to ensure the highest quality and strength.

bolster_heelThe one feature that I focused on with my knife line was the inclusion of a “Western-style” recessed bolster. The bolster is where the blade meets the handle (or tang). Most knife companies feature a very thick bolster that extends all the way down to the heel of the blade. While this does guarantee a strong blade, it also creates a situation where, after repeated sharpening, the blade starts to recess where it meets the bolster and you get a small curve in the blade where it won’t cut anymore.

This is a major problem resulting in having to get the bolster ground down by a professional. A western-style recessed bolster allow for the entire length of the blade to be sharpened thus extending the life of the knife, while still maintaining the greatest strength.

How should you properly store and maintain your knives?

While most knives are stainless steel, it is important to remember that any and all blades may corrode and dull in time. Store your knives in a wood block or another safe place. Storing knives in drawer with other silverware can dull and damage the blades. Proper care of your blades will guarantee continued sharpness, strength, and beauty.

Honing the knife’s blade with a sharpening steel prior to daily use can keep a razors-edge for a long time, and will also avoid nicks and burrs in the blade that can allow corrosion to start. Another key factor in maintaining blade sharpness is to only use wood and plastic cutting surfaces. Metal, ceramic, and marble cutting boards are the death of knife blades. Once you find that your regular honing is no longer keeping your knife as sharp as you prefer, it’s time for a professional sharpening. For most home cooks, this will likely need to happen 2-3 times per year. As a professional chef, I typically have my knives professionally sharpened once a month.

To avoid blade corrosion, make sure that you wash and dry your knife after every use. Leftover bits of food can quickly start the corrosion process. Most knives are dishwasher safe. My knives feature a POM thermoplastic handle and tough 3-rivet construction that can stand up to the high temperatures in a dishwasher. Even still, I would always suggest hand washing with mild detergent as a means of extending the life of the blade and handle. An extra step to extend blade and handle life is to wipe it down with oil. This is especially important if you foresee not using your knives for an extended period of time. Food-grade mineral oil is best, but olive or vegetable oil will work in a pinch.

I hope this helps you with any of the knife usage and care questions that you have. If you have any other questions, feel free to post them in the comment section below. As an added bonus to subscribers to my newsletter, if you choose to purchase any of the knives from my online store in the next 5 days, you can get 10% off your order!! Use the promo code “knife1″ at checkout.

24 comments

  1. I’ve been wanting to get a good (basic) set of knives for home cooking for awhile now. These look like just the trick, and I trust Robert’s judgement/guidance on it. I was also wondering if Robert has, or would ever consider writing, a book on cooking basics. By that I mean, proper cooking of different cuts/types of meat; glazes, sauce creation, what is a “rue”, grilling basics, proper food storage, etc. I would definitely purchase such a book. Big fan of RI here; my favorite part of each show is when he shows the cooks a few dishes to make.

  2. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I was wondering if there was anything special I should look for to help minimize hand fatigue, especially since I will be starting culinary school soon.

    • I would look for a knife with a very thick and rounded handle that has great balance so that you don’t have to support the weight of the blade in your hand. While we would love to sell you some of our knives, we would suggest finding a supplier of knives specifically designed for people with arthritis. We just want you to be happy, comfortable, and successful! Good luck in school.

  3. Great set of knives treated myself for Christmas to these and I have to say they are easy to use, I was able to get some kind of rhythm with these which I have never had before, although I admit I did not have a good set of knives. Thanks for the tips, and I bought a wooden block for the drawer to store them in.
    I agree with KeithC writing a book on the cooking basics would be great for us home cooks and chefs

  4. My daughter was recently one of the volunteers on an episode of Restaurant Impossible. She thinks highly of his cooking and management abilities. His article on knives was, in my opinion, very informative.

  5. Hey, I really like the look of the knives.. I trust in Chef Roberts judgement. All i was wondering is what steel can i use to hone and maintain these knives. I know all knives (of same brand) have similar degree of angle for the blade. I would also like to know if I can find these anywhere is Edmonton, Canada. It will be better if can buy them from a store where i can check for the quality. Sorry but online ordering has not always worked for me.
    Thank you.

    • Thanks for the comment! You can use any high-quality honing steel on these knives. We currently don’t have retail distribution in your area. Let us know if you have any other questions!

  6. You did one of your shows and mentioned a bread pudding with spicy ice cream. That sounds absolutely delicious. I understand it us on your menu, however would you be willing to share the ice cream recipe? If not I understand. Thanks so much.

    Nancy

  7. I am a home cook and I have learned a lot by watching chef Robert. I am looking for a good set of kitchen knives. I am left handed and I was wondering if there are knives made especially for left handed people. Thank you.

  8. This is great information. I shared it on my FB page.

    I have a set of knives plus a couple extra. I use the mid blade chef knife and paring knife most of the time. I truly appreciate the glory of using sharp knives. So much safer.

    I briefly hone my knives just before using them and they’re still sharp enough to cut through tomatoes after 2 years of use. I rinse them immediately after using them…most of the time, always immediately rinse after cutting anything citric.

    After your article I wonder what I’m missing not having them professionally sharpened on a regular basis.

  9. Wow thank you very much for all the good imformation about the knifes!!!

  10. Where are these knives made?

  11. I know only too well how important it is to buy knives that feel comfortable to hold. Several years ago, I was given a hard sell in a gourmet cooking store and bought an extremely expensive Shun Ken Onion Knife set. Due to health issues, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to use these knives because they are so incredibly heavy to hold for repetitive chopping. I was wondering are Chef Irvine’s knives available in any retail outlets so that I might be able to hold them and see how they feel in my hand before I invest in more knives? Thanks so much for your help. I’m certainly looking forward to meeting the Chef when he visits Robert Irvine Live next month.

  12. How do I go about purchasing some of these knives. Is there more info and where can I look for them. Didn’t see where on the post.

  13. Make sure that your santokus are of a high enough quality and that will cease to be a problem!

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