I guess it’s why Padma Lakshmi on Top Chef always tells the poor losing chef to “pack his or her knives and go”. Knives are the tools a chef will never be without. Experience has taught me to become more and more particular about the types and condition of the knives I use. I have most of the basic ones: paring, boning, chef’s, slicer, cleaver, bread knife. I have yet to find the perfect slicer, and I pretty much hate my cleaver, but all the rest are great. Knives are rather personal things – they should feel balanced in your hand, not too heavy, the curve of the blade should feel right, and so on. Personal preferences aside, knives make great gifts for the cook wishing to upgrade their tools.
You can spend an eye popping amount of money on a knife. I tend toward the middle of the road, not too expensive, not too cheap. Most of my knives are from the Wusthof Classic line. They keep a decent edge, don’t rust, and can be run through the dishwasher. You cannot have too sharp a knife. Knives should be kept as sharp as possible either by having them regularly professionally sharpened, using an electric or manual sharpening tool, or learn to use the time-honored, whetstone method – a painstaking but atom-splittingly effective craft. I use an electric grinding tool. Between sharpenings, use a steel to straighten the edge every time you use the knife and sometimes several times during the cutting or carving job. Steels, even the diamond impregnated ones, do not sharpen the blade. If you were to look down the business edge of a knife under a microscope you would see that after even brief use the edge begins to curl or become wavy – the steel straightens that edge.
Here is a very thoughtful article from Cook’s Illustrated that discusses knives: the essentials, the nice-to-haves, and even a safe knife for children to use. I found this article fascinating and I may just follow their recommendation for a new slicer, and ditch that cleaver for sure. Types of Kitchen Knives
Finally here are two knives that I love and rarely hear mentioned. These are both from Cutco. First is a really excellent Cheese Knife. We use it all the time and it is great in the kitchen or on a cheese plate on the buffet. The other is a Spatula Spreader. It’s a spatula with a serrated edge and I use it every time I make a sandwich. I wouldn’t be without it.