Let’s cut to the chase. Welcome to knife basics 101

August 25, 2017 Chef Tse

  • You don’t pick the knife, the knife picks you.
  • No matter what the sales person in the store tells you, you don’t need a knife set.
  • A sharp knife is a safe knife.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about the importance of good knife skills. Now, it’s time to talk about knife purchasing and care.

How to buy

Whenever I teach a class, someone always asks me about what brand of knives to buy. My response, “I’m in the habit of never recommending a brand.” The reason why is because a knife is very personal. What I prefer, you may dislike and vice versa.

I caution people not to buy a knife based how pretty it is. When shopping for a knife, what should you buy? It’s quite simple really. If you’re familiar with Harry Potter, then you’ll understand the following: you don’t pick the knife, the knife picks you. This is so true and let me explain why.

Like snowflakes, we all have different hands. What may feel good in my hand may not feel good to yours. In fact, even my husband and I have separate knives. He likes a very light weight one with a stainless steel while I prefer something heavier with a wooden handle. If you are in the market for a new knife, go to a store that has a wide selection. Put them all in front of you and pick each one up. Close your eyes and feel the weight in your hand. Once you hold each one, you’ll definitely have a preference.

Remember, a knife is an investment so be prepared for sticker shock. A good knife made from solid materials and well taken care of should last you a lifetime.

What to buy

Trust me, no matter what the sales person in the store tells you, you don’t need a knife set. It may seem like a good deal at first, but chances are you’ll never use half the knives in the set, and it will be more expensive. Instead, all you need are the following:

  • A chef’s knife. Depending on the size of your hands look for ones that are 8, 10 or 12 inches long. Personally, I prefer stainless steel, but you can go with ceramic. Just remember if you’re a klutz like me, if you drop one, it will break.
  • A paring knife. Look for blades between 3 and 4 inches. Anything more is just overkill.
  • A bread knife. Serrated knives come in very handy for cutting bread and other softer items.


When you get your new knives home, wash them with hot, soapy water. Never (ever, ever) put your knives in the dishwasher! It dulls the blade and can create tiny nicks in your dishwasher rack’s protective coating that can rust over time. Oh! And always wash knives last. Please oh please don’t put them in a sink full of dishes. I’ve done that and still have the scar to prove it. Learn from my mistakes!


Always keep your knives in a non-moving space like a knife block or slots. You can also use protective covers, but I find those get dirty quickly and are difficult to clean. Don’t put knives in a drawer where they can move around each time you open and close. This can dull them faster.

Cutting Surface

A brand-new knife is sharp—ridiculously sharp. To keep it sharp, use a soft cutting surface such as wood or plastic. Never cut on plates, marble work surfaces or glass cutting boards. Personally, I like bamboo cutting boards. Not only is bamboo a sustainable resource but it’s incredibly soft, so your knife stays sharper longer. It also has antibacterial properties in the wood that help prevent the spread of foodborne illness. Just wash with hot soapy water and let air dry. And don’t put it in the dishwasher. Again, learn from my mistakes!


A sharp knife is a good knife. Use a honing rod (also called a sharpening steel) every two hours of cooking to keep the edge of the knife straight. For me, that’s every day, but for the average cook that could be once a week.

Then depending on how much you cook at home, get your knife professionally sharpened every six months to a year. If you can, look for a place that sharpens by hand for the best quality. Avoid places that simply run it through an electrical sharpening tool. That wears your blade down faster, so it doesn’t last as long.

Armed with your new insights and knowledge, aren’t you excited to get back into the kitchen and cook? Stay tuned for the next article in our foundation series on buying and storing produce!

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