Sharp Knife

You need confident skill with this, the most important kitchen tool.

This is an important subject

“Oh, no. Here comes Alan,” she whispered to the rest of us. We quickly put our heads down in our work.

“Hi, everbody!” Alan said. “How is everyone this morning?”

A few mumbled “fines” could be heard before Janice said, “Great Alan! How are you?” I made eye contact with Susan. She rolled her eyes, as if to say, “Why does Janice do this to us?”

“I’m doing fantastic. It’s another great day! Anyone want to get lunch today?” Alan said.

“Um, can’t got a meeting.”

“Ooh, sorry, have plans.”

Other excuses were muttered out of sides of mouths. Even Janice declined.

The look on Alan’s face was one of disappointment but you could also see that he expected those answers.

You see, Alan didn’t wear clothes. Ever. Who wants to eat lunch with a naked dude, right?

But what does Alan’s exposed floppy dong have to do with cooking? (Come on, let’s give him a little credit, at least.)

Well, if you’re trying to cook without a good knife and the knowledge to use it, guess what? You’re Alan.

A good knife and knife skills are as fundamental to cooking as clothes are to social interaction at work. Not knowing how to use a knife effectively makes cooking much harder and more frustrating. Likewise, a dull, poor quality knife leads to slow progress for each dish. Your slices take more effort. Your dice are not uniform. Cooking is a bother, so you just skip it and order a pizza. Then before you know it, you’re topping 300lbs and you can’t see your own floppy dong.

Barry, the Lord of Sandwich, and Terry.

Comfort with a good, sharp knife will make cooking way more enjoyable. You’ll be able to do so much more in the kitchen, which is awesome and empowering: when you can slice and dice things small, cooking times are faster, what you cut up cooks more evenly; trim your own meat—the cost savings alone should put a smile on your face: breaking down a chicken for, like, four meals for $10 is pretty sweet. But you can also get thick steaks cut just the way you like, grilled in your own home; or make tasty Beef Wellington for the missus on a special occasion. Holiday meals…will still be a gong show, but less so with superlative knife skills.

A knife is obviously for cutting things. There’s a few other things it can do quite handily, though. Chances are good you have a garlic press in some drawer. I’m willing to bet that in that garlic press, there is still some garlic from the last time you used it, maybe even when you used nine times ago. A garlic press makes short work of a clove of garlic, but then you have to clean the thing. And garlic is some sticky stuff (even with a knife). A dishwasher isn’t up to the task. You’ve got to hand wash that sucker if you want it clean. In truth, I haven’t used a garlic press since learning how to use a knife. For garlic, I take my trusty chef’s knife, place the side of the blade over the clove, give it a bash with my fist, remove the papery skin and mince that sucker with my knife. It takes slightly longer, by a few seconds, sure, but then I take a cloth and wipe my knife. All done my cleanup.

The side of the knife is pretty handy for other tasks: pitting cherries or olives (although for many cherries or olives, I recommend a dedicated pitter), lifting all your chopped goodies from your cutting board to your pan and, if you’re really in a pinch, you can peel apples, pears and potatoes.1

It slices! It dices! It chops garlic! It pits cherries and olives! It cleans up in seconds! Are you ready to get started with this wonder device?

What Knife to Get

If you’re going to get one knife, get a chef’s knife, 7 to 10 inches. If you’re going to get two knives, get a chef’s knife and a paring knife. Add a good bread knife and you’re all set. I have one more knife that’s between the paring and chef’s knife. It has a longer blade than the paring knife and a narrower blade than the chef’s knife that use to trim fat off meat and slice tomatoes extra thin. I believe it’s called a sandwich knife.

I use the Wusthof Grand Prix II line. You may use another.

Any knife from a reputable knife seller should do the trick. The more you pay, the better the knife. Mine was a gift (Thanks, Dad), a Wusthof Grand Prix II 8-inch Cook’s Knife, as part of a set with my paring knife. Some may recommend buying a cheap knife which, once dull, is thrown and then repeating the process. That’s wasteful, I think. Buy a good quality knife and care for it (see below) and it will last you many years, maybe your whole life.

Knife Care

Once you get your shiny new knife, give it a name. That’s right, a name. You might care for your paring knife or your chef’s knife or your sandwich knife for a couple of months. But Barry, Terry and the Lord of Sandwich? Those are lifelong companions, worthy of respect and care. You’ll want to protect them and spoil them.

Store your knife in a knife block or on of those magnetic strips. NEVER store your knife in a drawer. It will get banged around, chipped, lose it’s edge; that’s bad. It’s also unsafe for your fingers.

Hand wash your knives with warm, soapy water. I like to wash, dry and place in my knife block right away. No other dish or kitchen tool gets that special treatment. NEVER put your knives in the dishwasher. It will be banged around, chipped and lose it’s edge; that’s bad.

A steel will keep your knife cutting all year long.

Keep your knife straight. Get a steel for your knife; a starter kit should come with one. Someone at the knife store should show you how to do it. The steel will help keep your knife’s edge straight. When you cut with your knife the edge will get knocked around bit in places. If you look closely, you’ll see the edge will have little imperfections. A steel fixes those. You want an angle of about 20 degrees from the steel and swipe down the blade the entire way. Then do the other side. Ever see Gordon Ramsay take a steel and quickly straighten his blade? That’s macho bullshit; he’s just showing off. Of course, I taught myself how to do it that way. Until you’re a master in the kitchen, though, place the point of the steel down on a cutting board and go slowly. Use your steel regularly: daily before starting dinner, if you can remember. I’m not nearly so perfect.

  • Keep your knife sharp. A sharp knife works way better than a dull one, it’s also safer. You probably should let a professional do this. There may even be kitchen stores in your area that offer this service for free to get you in the store. It’s very effective. I always leave with purchasing something. And I get sharp knives. Everybody wins. Do this once a year.

Knife Skills

This, sadly, is where the written word does not do the subject justice. I’m too shy to film anything. I recommend you sign up for a class, like I did, to get introduced to the basics. In Ontario, the LCBO hosts some cooking classes. That’s where I went. Make it a night out. Have fun. Those skills are worth learning.

Then, practice. Practice, practice, practice. Go slowly at first: knives are sharp, eh? But once you get more comfortable, the speed will come. You’ll perfectly slice an onion in 5 seconds with uniform slices no thicker than a matchstick.

You will use these skills every day if you cook for yourself for just one meal a day. That’s probably worth investing some time and money.

Just like owning pants.


  1. That’s some serious knife skills though; I just use a speed peeler for those. []

Jason Kemp is a geek trapped in a cool guy's body. He hand crafts software for the web and mobile devices. He excels at user interface design, the deadlift and barbecue. He is @ageektrapped across the internet.

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