When you prep for a meal, chances are you use a knife. Or two. Or three.
Prep for me usually involves slicing, dicing, and/or chopping. My knives are an extension of my hands and I need them to work just as well, not only for efficiency sake, but for safety. A dull knife is far more dangerous than a sharp one. And let me tell you, a sharp knife is so much faster than a dull one. Have you ever tried slicing bread with a dull knife? How about a tomato? It takes forever, right? Statistics actually show that it can take up to twice as long to chop fruits and veggies with a dull knife than with a sharp one. You can take your knives into any hardware store or nice kitchen store and get them sharpened.
A common question is what type of knife to use for what items. When it comes down to it, it's all about personal preference. Some knives are designed for certain types of foods, like serrated knives are best for soft skinned tomatoes or bread. When you look at the typical knives in a standard chopping block you have:
- a couple paring knives (I use my 3.5 in paring knife far more than my 4.5in). Used for skinning fruits or mushrooms, or detail cutting.
- a boning knife, which doesn't get used in our house
- a chef knife, which can be quite large and the blade is curved so the person wielding the knife can rock it and chop things quickly
- a Santuko, either a 5 or 7 inch, it has little divots in the metal to help the knife not get stuck in harder-to-cut items, like potatoes or onions, it's the Japenese version of the Chef knife
- a standard utility knife, very similar in shape to the pairing or chef, my mid-sized. It's my back up when my Santuko is dirty
- a serrated knife for tomatoes, bagels, etc
- a bread knife, which is serrated and larged than the tomato knife
- a slicer -- a HUGE knife that comes out when I need to slice a watermelon. If it's supposed to do something else, I don't know what it is!
For me personally, I don't ever touch my chef knife. I don't know how to rock it to make it cut things quickly and I much prefer the Santuko. In fact, it's the knife I reach for when I'm prepping meals. From celery and onions to potatoes and peppers, it's my go-to knife. I have the 5-in, so it's smaller and I have better control over it. I also feel like it slices better than any of my other knives. For some, though, the chef is their go-to when prepping. If you don't have either of these knives, find a friend who does and prep dinner for her one night to figure out what feels better to you.
When looking to buy knives, the most important things to remember are these: 1) German steel is the best. It's the strongest and doesn't bend and 2) you want the metal to go all the way through the handle. Don't buy a knife set where the metal stops and the handle begins, you'll end up with a broken knife. Also, forged steel is better than stamped.
A wonderful little overview can actually be found here on Wikipedia. It covers much more. Another note while we're on knives. Cutting boards. Whether you prefer the good-old-fashioned wood board or the eco-friendly bamboo, both are porous which means bacteria can get stuck in their. Some feel that since bamboo is harder than wood (harder on your knives, too!) that they don't/won't harbor bacteria as much. I tend to believe that, but you have to weigh it out. With either wood or bamboo, they need to be cared for properly: washed well, oiled, and replaced when they get cut up or "fuzzy". Wood boards are best for fruits and vegetables.
Also, those wonderful BPA-free plastic flexible mats are some of my favorites for the sheer fact I can bend them and slide whatever I just chopped directly into a bowl or skillet. Just make sure if you go this route, that again, you make sure to clean them well and change them out when they start getting really marked up. (Also know, though, they're not as kind to your knives as either wood or bamboo.)
If you cut meat, make sure you use a designated cutting board (preferably plastic so you can put it in the dishwasher) for meat only as to not cross-contaminate, and wash it very well with very hot water. If you chop a lot of onions and garlic, you may want to consider having a separate board/mat so other items not being cooked with the garlic and onion don't pick up the transfer of flavors.
Best bet? Have 2 boards. A wood/bamboo option as well as a plastic one. For those of us who only chop fruits and veggies, wood is probably the way to go as it's the kindest to our knives.