Tag Archives: kitchen knives

Time to Clean out the Kitchen Drawers?

Kitchen Updates

Out with the old tools and the odds gadgets – and make sure you get these must-haves.

It’s true that there’s a list of ‘must haves’ that every good home cook should have at their fingertips. But for me, after twenty years in the restaurant business, I’ve become clutter intolerant. Especially in the kitchen. So that list of must-haves has gotten shorter and shorter. Of course, I have a little story.

Several years back, I went to a friend’s home for a dinner party. I volunteered to help out with some of the preparations. Big mistake.  My friend was very proud of her gadgets – she had one thing that automatically chopped veggies, another thing that sliced them, and yet another weird thing that diced. She had drawers and drawers of more things that I seriously doubt she had ever used but maybe once. But here’s the thing: she didn’t have a single peeler that worked. Nada! Worse yet – no sharp knives or any way to sharpen them, which is a little pet peeve of mine. How can anyone cook without sharp knives?  A dull knife is the most dangerous tool in the kitchen.

I’ll admit that the more you cook, the more likely you’ll accumulate a collection of kitchen tools and gadgets that could fill two or three drawers. My mother was like that. She had so much stuff! And some of it was great – but I knew she only used most of it once or twice at a Thanksgiving dinner – while I was still living at home! At some point, you really have to take a cold hard look at some of this clutter and get rid of it.

I’m not talking about tossing out a favorite spoon (I have a short wooden spoon that’s over 20 years old!) or any of the big items like mixing bowls and cookware. I’m talking about the small stuff that fills drawers and clutters the kitchen. Another point – while I’m at it – tools and gadgets don’t last forever. Even favorite peelers eventually get dull and stop working. Worse yet, some tools have been used so much that they’re hard to clean, which is not good.

My solution! Start over. Dump everything that has aged or simply doesn’t work, and replace it with new stuff.

I did that last year. And it was fun. I went to one of my favorite stores – Crate and Barrel – and bought a brand-new set of kitchen tools by OXO. And what did I get? What I call, my ‘Must-Have Five’:

1.        Measuring cups and measuring spoons – yes both. This is one item that I seem to accumulate over the year. Most of the extra cups and spoons I get are from friends who came by to help cook (experienced home cooks often bring their own tools). I like the metal ones – I just feel like I’m getting a better measure from a metal spoon or cup.

2.        I love my wooden mixing spoons. Good ones are keepers. But like all things wood (example: cutting boards), eventually, you’ll have to part with them. You may see me in my videos also cooking with bamboo paddles. At any given time, I may have four or five of each of these extremely handy tools.

3.        Tongs – because who doesn’t need tongs? They’re indispensable for turning meat and veggies in a fryer, broiler, grill or pan. They’re handy for all sorts of reasons. So, I’ll have two or three of these – different lengths. And if you have non-stick cookware, make sure that you get the ones with coated tips so they won’t scratch.

4.        Can Opener – Oh yes. Have you ever tried to open a can without one? I have a funny story I’ll tell you sometime about a friend who went out to the desert with his family without one. But there are so many types! I like the basic hand crank edge opener.  These are the ones that open the can under the ridge so there are no sharp edges on the lid.  They’re easy to clean, and they’re small enough that they fit in a drawer easily.

5.        Peeler – If you cook at home, you must have at least one sharp and functioning peeler. Remember that these gadgets break or dull often. A peeler should be able to peel a raw carrot easily. If it skips or gouges, time to replace. Peelers are also great for making lemon zest that goes with quite a few recipes I know.

Last word – this list does not include what I think of as the essential tools like spatulas, sharp knives, whisk, potato masher, and rubber scrapers. If you bake, you want a good rolling pin. If you grate cheese, a nice box grater is good to have. But please – try to resist buying that electronic chopper on the clearance table. You’ll never use it again. Just sayin.

Tips for kitchen knives: which ones do you really need?

Which one is right? Do you need more than one? Do you need a full set?

Everyone needs a good set of kitchen knives. I mean everyone! But there are so many different types of knives to choose from made by so many companies that offer great quality. So, the question is how do you pick the best ones for your kitchen?

I learned from all my years as a restaurateur that you do not go for the prettiest nor do you necessarily need the most expensive. Most important, you don’t absolutely have to buy every knife that a sales person suggests. The most important thing that you will always want to look for in any knife you’re buying is a “full tang” – that means that they have been forged from a single piece of steel – one piece that goes from the tip of the knife all the way through to the end of the handle. Very often you can see that the handle looks like a “sandwich” but sometimes with a synthetic handle you won’t be able to see it (ask them to be sure). Once you’ve found the knives in your price range that have a “full tang” you can narrow your choices down if you follow these simple steps:

The first thing to think about is comfort. No matter if you cook a lot or a little in your kitchen, you’ll want to pick the one that feels the best in your hand. Pick it up, hold it – you don’t ever want it to slip.  If it feels good in your hand, you have a candidate.

The next thing to think about is ease of control. Some knives can be fairly heavy. Especially some of the newer “pro” versions. Heavy is not always good but you also don’t want one that’s too light for your hand. What you need is one that balances well in your hand and is easy for you to control.

Once you find the kind of knives you like, don’t feel pressed to buy a full “set” just because they’re on sale. You don’t need all of them. There are only three types of knives that are essential to any cook – four if you’re like me and like some variety.

Fran's Knives

Fran’s choice of knives, from left to right: paring, santoku, chef’s, and serrated, all from Zwilling J.A. Henckels.

  • 3.5″ Paring Knife – a real necessity for picking and fine trimming and cutting.
  • 8″ Serrated – useful for cutting crusty bread.
  • 8″ Chef’s Knife – excellent for chopping and perfect for ‘rocking’ while slicing. Or…
  • 5-7″ Santoku – an alternative for the chef’s knife, also good for chopping and slicing but a completely different shape.  I find that I usually reach for my Santoku before I reach for my Chef’s Knife but it is personal preference between the two.

Whatever knives you select, remember that comfort and control are the two most important things to consider. Don’t believe for one minute that you must pick knives from the same company. If you find that you like different knives from different companies, be bold and mix and match them.  I happen to like the knives from Zwilling J.A. Henckels. You should also look at Wüsthof, Shun, and Global – all offer very practical, well made, and – in my opinion – high-quality tools.

Now for some tips on the care and use of your new kitchen knives.

Don’t let knives ever go dull – learn how to sharpen them – you can use either a sharpening stone or even an electric sharpener. Contrary to popular myths, even serrated knives can be sharpened (but, you will probably need to have these done professionally). Dull knives are not just a hassle; they can also lead to injury. You should never have to work hard to slice and chop. Dull knives will cause you to grip not only the thing you’re cutting but also the knife. Cutting, chopping, and slicing should be easy tasks that take little physical effort. If you force a dull knife to do a job, it can cause you to make mistakes or slip, and you will probably end up cutting things that you don’t want to cut, like your fingers!

I hate to harp on a list of ‘don’t do this, ‘ but there’s another big don’t for your new kitchen knives: don’t ever put them in your dishwasher and don’t drop them in your sink to wash later. Good kitchen knives are precision tools. It doesn’t take much to bump and dull them. Learn to wash them by hand – blade side away from you – and wash and dry them right after you use them. Washing them right away keeps food from drying and crusting on the blade, which forces you to scrub. You don’t want to scrub a sharp knife!

Think about how you’re going to store your knives. At the least you’ll use the safety covers that may come with the blades. The last thing you want to do is grope around in a drawer full of uncovered and sharp knives. Seriously! What you’ll find is that there is a quite a diverse number of ways to store knives – countertop blocks, wall mounted blocks, magnetic strips, in-drawer inserts. There are dozens of systems and methods, and each has their pros and cons. The best idea is to look around at all of them to see what’s best for your kitchen. Like your knives, select one based on what makes you feel the most comfortable.

Enjoy your kitchen knives – safely – and cook lots of great meals with them. Most of all, have fun.