5@5 - Hone your knife know-how
September 27th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
Share this on:

5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

The old proverb goes "only a bad workman blames his tools" - so next time your knife slips and you mangle your fingerprint, we don't mean to sound sharp, but it's most likely user error.

Good knives are the one of the basic building blocks in a well-equipped kitchen, but what's the point if you don't know how to use and maintain them correctly?

Jeffrey Elliot is the executive chef and Director of Culinary Relations of kitchen product company Zwilling J.A. Henckels, and the co-author of the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills: The Essential Guide to Use Techniques and Care.

With Elliot's advice, there will never be a dull moment in the kitchen again.

Five Knife Basics You Need to Know: Jeffrey Elliot

1. What are the essential knives to own?
"To have the most basic kitchen setup you need a chef’s knife (or Santoku, depending on your preference), a paring knife and a serrated bread knife. The chef’s knife is the workhorse of the kitchen the majority of what you do can be done with this knife.

The paring knife is basically a miniature version of a chef’s knife, so chef’s knife for cutting big things like eggplant and watermelon; paring knife for cutting little things like strawberries or shallots.

A serrated bread knife is for cutting thing that are hard on the outside and soft inside like hard crusty bread - except not tomatoes, those you cut with your chef’s knife."

2. Chef’s knife or Santoku?
"Santoku means 'three virtues' and depending on which part of Japan you’re in that can mean slicing, dicing and chopping or it could mean meat, fish or vegetables. So a Santoku is for slicing, dicing and chopping meat, fish or vegetables. This also happens to be what a chef’s knife is used for. The difference is in the blade shape and the cutting motion.

Santoku knives have straight edges which are good for cutting in an up/down chopping motion, and chef’s knives have curved blades for cutting in a circular rocking motion. You’re either a rocker or a chopper, typically not both. I’m a rocker!"

3. German or Japanese?
"Both. German knives are great for everyday use and Japanese knives for precise cutting and delicate work. Japanese knives are made with super hard steel, which is great for creating thin, razor-sharp blades. German knives are made with softer steels which are great for sharp edges that are durable and tough.

You can do things with a German knife, like cut a hard butternut squash that you shouldn’t try with a Japanese knife as you might chip or crack the blade."

4. Stay sharp!
"When you look at the edge of a knife under a microscope you’ll see little tiny teeth, these are called burrs. As you use your knife these burrs get bent making your knife feel dull. Using a honing steel will straighten the burrs out restoring the edge - this is edge maintenance.

When the steel no longer restores the edge, it’s time to sharpen on a whetstone. Sharpening removes a little metal from each side of the blade creating a new edge - this is repair. Just like with a car, the more often you maintain, the less often you have to repair."

5. The grip
"The proper way to hold a chef's knife is in what’s called the 'pinch grip.' Your thumb goes on one side of the blade, and your forefinger is curled up on the other side of the blade. Your remaining three fingers wrap around the handle. The pinch grip gives you the most control of your knife; you’ll know where your blade is and where it’s going at all times. It’s what gives a professional chef the distinctive callous on the underside of their forefinger.

If you hold the knife with all your fingers around the handle or with a finger extended across the back (spine) of the knife, you can lose control of the blade and possibly injure yourself."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

Previously - Five Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Kitchen Knives

Posted by:
Filed under: 5@5 • Make • Techniques & Tips • Think

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. body fat scale

    This is really interesting, You're a very skilled blogger. I've joined
    your feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post.
    Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

    July 15, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  2. shofar

    great poste,

    October 9, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  3. Jimmy

    I just bought the Rolls-Royce of electric knife sharpener as recommended by Cook's Illustrated, the Chef'sChoice Model 130 Professional Sharpening Station ($140). Cook’s Illustrated: “This quiet model is the Rolls-Royce of sharpeners. Spring-loaded blade guides make sharpening foolproof. One slot works like a sharpening steel but removes all guesswork from the usual steeling motion.” I can sharpen my knives in seconds! I couldn’t be happier.

    “When the steel no longer restores the edge, it’s time to sharpen on a whetstone." Really, use a whetstone? …Not!

    October 4, 2011 at 6:05 am |
  4. CampStove Jack

    Any person who respects their knives would never hone them with a steel file. Honing stones are the only way to go. You'll never see a wood carver or barber honing her blade with a file except when filing a huge nick out of it.
    One of the best and simplest finishing honing stone can be the back side of a marble tile, use it dry or with a little water, just put the edge on it, and as you finish just use the weight of the knife in applying pressure to the stone.
    Good quality steel doesn't have to come at a steep price. German knives are wayyyy so over priced for what they are. These days, with a little shopping one can fine a very nice blade comparable to the German and Japanese knives at discount store prices.
    It's hard finding US made kitchen knife these days as most of the knife manufacturers cannot compete with China. Case and Buck are the last big name hold outs, Case stopped making kitchen knives years ago (shame because they were top shelf) and Buck – well Buck knives have such hard steel the average homemaker would get frustrated trying to resharpen them and give them away. Who cuts bolts with their knives these days anyway?

    September 30, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  5. Bonnie

    Can we get a picture of the right way to hold a knife?

    September 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • CampStove Jack

      sharp side down. sharp side down.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
      • CampStove Jack

        why the bloody hell am i being moderated? I've not said one flipping thing! Makes say I quit – reading and adding advice and such to this frog pond. Bullocks!

        September 30, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
      • mrtmallen

        what does that mean

        July 22, 2014 at 3:42 am |
  6. Kathleen

    Why was the question above limiting choices between German and Japanese knives? What about American-made knives?

    September 28, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  7. Trystan

    Sounds like some useful tips from Hannibal.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
| Part of