Cut the clutter

It’s easy to buy duplicate items that perform the same task when you don’t have a solid understanding of all the bells and whistles of what you already own. Whether it’s software on your computer or utensils in the kitchen, you should take the time to learn all there is to know about what you have.

To this end, I think that knowing how to properly use a knife can save you time, money, and space. Chef Roger Mooking gives an extremely good lesson on knife skills that makes items like the Slap Chop unnecessary:

If you can’t see the video automatically, check out the clip on YouTube directly.

(via Slashfood)

25 Comments for “Cut the clutter”

  1. posted by Lose That Girl on

    Yay! Erin, thanks for posting the video of Roger — a fellow Canuck and fantastic chef! I own only 3 sharp knives of various sizes. Never had the need to purchase more than that.

  2. posted by Soochi on

    Excellent video!

  3. posted by Loren on

    Kudos on the knife thing! Like good pots and pans many people don’t seem to realize that it’s about quality not quantity. My friends keep registering for those HUGE sets from Target and BB&B and I just want to buy them one big sharp chef’s knife and a lesson on how to use it.

  4. posted by Joe Ganley on

    As much as I agree with the need for good knife skills, I have to disagree on dissing the SlapChop and the like. I’m generally as anti-gizmo as you are, but I love that one. It can cut an onion (for example) into far smaller pieces, far faster, than I can with a knife, and with zero chance of losing a finger.

  5. posted by Anita on

    I own 2 sharp knives, and thinking about getting rid of one of them since I hardly ever use it.

    My family’s never really been gizmo-prone, so I guess I never felt the need for specialized knives or fancier cutting instruments.

  6. posted by Karyn on

    Hey, that was helpful! I agree that the chef’s knife is pretty much the one basic knife I need in the kitchen. I also keep a couple of small paring knives for “tiny” work, and a bread knife for slicing bread and tomatoes (multitasker! ha!).

    What I need to know is all about how to properly sharpen a knife in a way that’s not intimidating. :-O I grew up in a family that basically just had a ton of knives, and we were never taught how to sharpen or maintain them. I occasionally saw my mother using some kind of stone-stick on a handle against the blades, but I never did get the hang of that. And then I had a friend tell me that’s not a proper knife sharpener, anyway, it’s a something-or-other–and I’m totally confused.

    For years I had a nice, hefty, tang-all-the-way chef’s knife that I got on clearance at Target, of all places. It was one of those “never needs sharpening” knives, with the fine ridges going up from the edge of the blade, and it did last an incredibly long time before I finally picked up a new, sharp (and cheap) chef’s knife for regular use. The old knife, with its hefty handle, still works well as a pizza cutter ;-) so I still have it for that.

    I’d really like to invest in a top-quality, perfectly-balanced-for-me chef’s knife, but I’m stuck on two points:

    1. Where do I buy one that’s top-quality without being massively overpriced? In otherwords, a fair price for the quality, with no markup for “status” or “brand name” or other crap like that? I’m willing to pay for quality. I’m not willing to be overcharged because I’m gullible and don’t know what the hell I’m doing and the salesperson wants to make a hefty commission. ;-)

    2. Please to explain the whole knife-sharpener thing, for those of us who grew up on cheap throw-away knives and better-quality knives left to grow to seed. What are the different “knife accessories” and how do we use them?

    I hope someone out there can answer this. I suspect I’m not the only one in the dark, here. ;-) Thanks.

  7. posted by Joy on

    A good knife IS incredibly important, but in the effort to reduce the clutter in my kitchen, I can find many other items to get rid of than my version of the slap chop. I’ve had it for YEARS and probably use it every other day. Like Joe above, I can chop all kinds of items (onions, celery, nuts, hard cooked eggs) must smaller and with less mess. Plus I’m certain to have my fingers afterward!

  8. posted by trillie on

    @Karyn: I don’t know much about knives, or different sharpeners, or myths like “only wash them in cold water”, but I do know that I only own cheap to normal prized knives, and that the cheap IKEA knife sharpener (http://www.ikea.com/us/en/cata.....s/57145296) has made cooking a lot easier and more enjoyable.

  9. posted by Karyn on

    @trillie – I love IKEA. ;-) I do want a better-quality knife, with a weightier handle and the full tang, as well as a strong blade, but as long as it works, a cheap knife sharpener will do, at least for a beginning. It looks pretty simple: Just swipe the knife a few times before using and have at the veggies! Does it come with instructions, or is that pretty much it?

    Thanks for the recommendation! I just happen to be planning an outing to IKEA sometime soon. It wouldn’t have anything, of course, to do with that catalog that arrived in my mail last week…

  10. posted by Kelly on

    I’m with Joe. I don’t have a Slap Chop but I do have the Pampered Chef equivalent and you’ll have to pry that from my cold, dead hands. I have an especially strong reaction to onions so chopping them in about 5 seconds with the chopper is ideal. It’s also perfect for chopping nuts.

    I LOVE my santoku knife which I use for just about everything, but the chopper has its place.

  11. posted by Amanda on

    @ Karyn, for sharpening knifes I take mine to the local hardware store and they do it for me. Also local fabric stores also sharpen scissors and knifes a couple times a year. I’m not sure if this is an option you’d like but that’s my suggestion.

  12. posted by WilliamB on

    @Karyn:

    Summary of my comment: You get what you pay for, and good knives are very inexpensive when amortized over their lifespans.

    Back when I was mostly broke I spent $145 for two superb knives that felt good in my hand: 8″ Wustof Trident chef’s and 3.5″ Henkels Four Star paring. Over 20 years later they’re still in excellent condition and come out to $7/year. It’ll probably be $2/year by the time they give out on me – or I give out on them. These are the two knives I take with me to a desert island.

    Since I’m happy with my European knives I can’t tell you about the Japanese ones. I’ve heard good things, with the same caveats you hear with the European ones – there’s cheap crud out there.

    My parents put their Wustof Trident in the dishwasher for 40 years and cut on the counter for 20. The knives were dull but recoverable, even after all that abuse.

    Don’t get a “never needs sharpening” knife. What that means is the steel is too hard to sharpen so the edge it comes with lasts a long time. After the knife dulls is worthless. The steel of the good knives is slightly softer which means it can be sharpened.

    There’s two types of “sharpening.” One is with the stick thingie you mentioned, called a sharpening steel. That’s a misnomer, it’s really a realigning steel. What happens is this: the edge of a sharp knife bends over when you use it. The edge is still sharp but it’s flopped over to one side. The steel gets the edge to stand up straight again.

    The recommended method is to put a towel on the counter or cutting board. Put the steel tip-down on the towel, as if you were planting a sword in sand, swashbuckling style. Put the edge at a 22.5 degree angle to the steel and push it, edge down, along the steel. How do I get a 22.5 degree angle?!? I hear you cry. It’s easier than it sounds. Put the knife blade perpendicular to the steel, that’s 90d. Now, keeping the blade touching the steel, move the knife so the angle is halved; that’s 45d. Do it again, now you have 22.5d. FYI, some aligning steels are made of ceramic.

    Then there’s actual sharpening. Sharpening actually regrinds the edge, removing metal from your blade in the process. This is a whole ‘nother subject and people get quite into it. It also takes practice and a gadget that costs what a chef’s knife does, or it takes a LOT of practice and an inexpensive gadget.

    Which is why I recommend you get your knives professionally sharpened. Let your fingers do the walking. The usual suspects are hardware store, kitchen store (Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma are the usual suspects), knife store. An outdoor supply store-cum-circus known as Bass Pro Shops will do it for you for free, while you wait. Once or twice a year Sur La Table will do it for free, the rest of the year they charge $1/inch. If you want, I can tell you how to do it and what gadget you need, but this post is long already so I’ll wait for a request.

    The Splendid Table had a segment this past weekend about knives. I didn’t hear all of it, darnit, but the guy said something about our common wisdom about knives being all wrong. Till I hear the whole thing and check the research, I’m doubtful.

  13. posted by Maggie on

    @Karyn

    When you purchase a good knife the cutting edge is very different from the cheap knives. The edge of a cheap knife is serrated edge (jaggy) that lets it cut, but it is not meant to be sharpened. Over time, it does dull and will never be as precise as a good high quality chef knife that does require sharpening.

    Sharpening the blade only needs to be done every 6 months to a year, or even longer depending on use. When it is sharpened, it needs to be done professionally. It has to do with how it is held to the grinding stone, angle, etc and is a fairly skilled process. I use NWCutlery.com. When a knife is sharpened, it gets a new edge.

    The thing on the handle you refer to is probably a “steel”. You use it on a knife that is meant to be sharpened, not the cheap or even serrated good knives. The process is actually called “honing” and it isn’t so much sharpening the blade as it is straightening it. Over time, your cuts cause the blade to bend on a micro scale and round off the edge. Honing the knife cleans up the edge so that it is consistantly sharp along the cutting length.

    Try to find a chef friend or even a culinary school student to teach you to hone your knife, if you can. My husband worked as a chef and taught me. There are some videos out there too. Strive for learning to hold the knife to the steel at 22.5 degrees or just under to the steel and being consistant on both sides of the knife. Also, do this before every use for optimal results. Unlike the vids, I use a method where I hone 5 times one side, 5 times the other, 4 times first side, 4 other, 3 first.. so on to 1 on each side.

    http://video.google.com/videos.....;resnum=4#

    I could go on and on about shopping for knives but there’s so much stuff out there that covers it in more detail, just google “buying chef knife” and go from there. BB&B is where we got most of our knives and avoid the sets, just get the chef knife, paring knife, and maybe a bread knife. Spend the most on the chef knife, but a good find can be had for $60. Unless you’re a professional, there’s no need to spend more.

    Hope it helps.

  14. posted by Maggie on

    err or this link instead:

    http://tinyurl.com/lt39dw

  15. posted by Karyn on

    @WilliamB – Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed response! Just to be clear, we’re both in agreement on “you get what you pay for,” and that good quality pays for itself. I just want to make sure that when I pay a large amount, I *am* paying for *quality*: The most expensive item isn’t always the best quality, and some stores tend to mark things up because, well, it’s THAT store and it’s a privilege for you to be shopping there. ;-) Meanwhile, the cheap knife serves as a stop-gap until I get the “forever” knife.

    At the time I bought the never-needs-sharpening knife, I was in my early 20s and living on AFDC, food stamps, and student financial age. I just needed a *knife,* and for the five bucks or whatever I paid on clearance, it proved to be a good value. That knife, ironically, is also what taught me to prize a knife with a good heft and balance (“feel”) and a stable knife-length tang. So it served its purpose at the time. And thanks for the info about the differences between no-sharpen and standard knives.

    I take it Wustof and Trident are two reliable brands. Any others? Any caveats about certain lines in these brands? From there, I guess it’s a matter of comparison shopping to get the best price.

    Now, on the subject of sharpening:

    Realigning steel! I think that’s what my friend said, too, but she didn’t really explain it. I can see now why it’s done, to prevent the blad from bending out of line over a number of uses. How often do you do this? Every use? Once a week?

    Are you saying that knife sharpening itself only needs to be done once or twice a year? I’d always gotten the impression that it was something we’re supposed to do at home on a regular basis, if we *really* want to take good care of our knives. On the other hand, if it gradually wears away the metal, it might not be such a good idea to do it every week. ;-)

    If I only have to go in once a year for maintenance, then I probably won’t need a sharpener; all the same, I’d like to know about sharpeners and how they work, if you have the time and inclination. Are they like the cheaper version from IKEA, a little enclosed case with a slot guiding the knife through some kind of round wheels? And how *does* it work? I get the impression from your remarks that it actually requires more precision and skill than pulling the knife through the wheels a few times. I’m just curious about the basic way-it-works; if I need a detailed tutorial, I would guess I could get one if and when I buy a sharpener.

    Again, thanks! It may sound silly to people who grew up with this stuff as common knowledge, but to people like myself who grew up without this kind of background, it really can seem overwhelming, so I really appreciate the info. Ironically, it seems like the quality knives with once-a-year sharpening and occasional realigning is much simpler than the Drawer O’ Five Hundred Knives. ;-)

  16. posted by Karyn on

    @Maggie – Thank you. I just replied to another comment and found you had offered another one!

    Speaking of bread knives, I’m guessing that they don’t get sharpened since they are serrated?

    The no-sharpen knife I was referring to wasn’t serrated, per se (like a steak knife); it had a flat blade edge, but it had fine ridges going up from a 90 degree angle from the blade. As noted above, I bought it when I was a poverty-stricken college student with a small child ;-) when I wasn’t anywhere near the market for a good chef’s knife; it was just a stroke of luck that the knife turned out to be even as good as it was.

    “Spend the most on the chef knife, but a good find can be had for $60. Unless you’re a professional, there’s no need to spend more.”

    Thank you. That’s what I was getting at regarding price: I want a good quality knife for light-to-medium home use, not necessarily top-notch professional caliber that’s way beyond my needs. But if the top-notch professional knife blows ‘em all out of the water and is truly worth the extra cost, then I’m willing to spend it–but only if. ;-)

    I will have a look at that video; thanks for the link.

  17. posted by Maggie on

    @ Karyn

    Surprisingly, that non serrated knife might well have been serrated on a microscopic scale!

  18. posted by Keira on

    I have the generic equivalent of the Slap Chop (a gift) and will never get rid of it. For cutting onions it is invaluable. It cuts them much faster than I could do it by hand without the vapors burning my eyes.

  19. posted by WilliamB on

    Yay – someone posted the egullet guide. I’d’ve had to search for it. It’s a great guide and quite, um, thorough.

    Karyn, that sounds like an excellent $5 spent.

    My knowledge of good brands is out of date: I know the old standards but not the new ones. I recommend researching kitchen knives in “Cook’s Illustrated” and in “Consumer Reports.” Line (eg, Trident) is as signficant as brand(eg, Wustof).

    I hone my knives each time I use them. I sharpen them … well, in a perfect world I’d sharpen my two faves twice a year, and the others no more than once a year. The egullet site includes suggestions for tests to see when your knives need sharpening. As you noted, since sharpening actually removed metal you don’t to do it more than necessary.

    Something I didn’t mention is knife storage. You need to protect the blades *and* your fingers. The quick and easy solution is a specialized magnetic strip you mount on the wall. This works well to keep your knives away from fingers and the blades from knocking against things; the specialization is that it’s a very strong magnet so they don’t fall off. Another solution is an in-drawer knife block, which holds the knives blade down. I have more knives so I use a knife block. If you go this route try to get one where the slides go horizontally which, again, keeps the blades from knocking against things and getting dull. Whatever you do, don’t just dump them in a drawer! The blades will knock against things and get dull and you *will* cut yourself when looking for something in that drawer, possibly very badly.

    About home sharpeners. [later] I just erased several paragraphs because the egullet site does it better and with photos. Keep in mind that the author is just as opinionated as I am and that we don’t always agree. Frex, I think the Chef’s Choice sharpeners are good, although my 20 year old one has lost it’s umph. It the manufacturer doesn’t come though I’m all hot to try the EdgePro Apex. It only costs what a good knife would cost…

    I didn’t grow up knowing this stuff. I learned as I went, combining an increasing interest in cooking with an alarming tendency to research the hell out of things.

    Have fun! You’re going to like your results.

  20. posted by Daniel on

    Another good site for knife sharpening is Furitechnic’s. It’s not as comprehensive as the egforums site, and it’s obviously biased towards their products, but still a good read.

    http://www.furitechnics.com.au.....thers.html

  21. posted by Karyn on

    THANK YOU to everyone for all of your information about buying and sharpening knives! I’ve added this post to my Delicious bookmarks so I can find it again in future weeks and months. Lots of links and leads for research. Your generosity is very much appreciated, and put a really bright spot in my day.

  22. posted by Ho on

    @karyn

    some of the major players (in my opinion) in quality knives include Wusthof, Shun, JA Henckels, and Cutco. keep in mind that often, each company has several lines to choose from. for example JA Henckels has a “value brand” (logo has one stick figure), as well as a “premium brand” (logo has two stick figures)

    the sharpening steels/rods you often see are actually honing steels/rods. like WilliamB said, the honing steels will simply realign the edge of the blade, not sharpen. honing should be done on a regular basis.

    but to sharpen a knife, the process requires actually removing material from the blade. you can only do this with say a whetstone/waterstone/sharpening stone. this should be done less regularly than honing. 22 degrees is correct for most german knives, but i know for a fact that Shun knives are set at 16 degrees. so check the documentation if you plan on doing it yourself

    once the blade is sharpened, you can also polish it using a leather strop.

    some videos to get you started. i like the expertvillage videos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYnFL3zCYUY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7l418aybyAs

    if sharpening yourself is not your thing, i suggest taking it to a local hardware store or knife seller that has the proper skills. also, i know that Shun will sharpen your knife for free if you send it back to them.

    I own two Wusthof Culinar knives (8″ Chef’s knife, 4″ utility) and couldn’t be happier. I like the feel of the contoured handle, as well as the look of an all steel knife. It does not get slippery when wet, which is what some people are concerned with, but looks are a matter of personal preference. I strongly suggest only using wood/plastic cutting surfaces. Stay away from hard stone/glass surfaces. After all, something has to wear more, and if it isn’t the cutting surface, then it’s the knife

    Also, for an 8″ chef’s knife, i believe that $100-$150 is a fair price for a quality knife.

    Hope this info helps

  23. posted by jason on

    I am suprised no one else mentioned this. BUT, his knife handling skills are INCORRECT! I am no famous chef on you tube but I am in culinary school and the hand position on his knife is WRONG! you never hold the tang and stick a finger out over the back of the blade to stablize it.

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