Tag Archives: Kitchen safety

The Essential 5: Must-Haves Knives for your Kitchen

Essential 5 kitchen knives

Make your kitchen functional and safe with sharp knives that can get the job done!

Maybe you’re thinking it’s time to get a nice block of knives for the kitchen. I couldn’t agree more. MOST kitchens need an upgrade. But let me put a stop on snagging those knife sets you see on special at the department store (usually on sale). You know the ones I’m talking about: the nice wood block set with eight or more knives, kitchen scissors, and steak knives to boot. Save your money. Those sets are a complete waste.

It’ll be better to purchase what a chef would get: what I call “the essential 5”—everything you need to get just about any job done in the kitchen. Watch my video so you can see what these look like and how they handle.

Most important is what we call a “chef’s knife.” They come in different lengths. I recommend a size between 8” and 10”; mine has an 8” blade. However, the more blade you have, the more knife there is to work with. This knife can deal with about 90% of what you do in the kitchen, including slicing and dicing. I wouldn’t use a chef’s knife for butchering or cutting up poultry or even to remove the skin of large hard vegetables like butternut squash. You’d never use a knife like this to punch a hole in a can, either. A good chef’s knife will probably be the most expensive one in your set–maybe close to $100 for good quality. Things to look for: full-tang (one piece of metal with the two handle pieces); pins that hold the handle to the tang (not glued into the handle). Why is “full-tang” important? It gives you a more balanced, longer lasting knife, and it’s heavier than cheaper partial tang knives. The weight gives you a little more chopping strength when you have to cut through firm veggies like carrots and squash.

A decent paring knife with a blade about 3” to 3 ½“ long.  Paring knives are used for those tasks that need more attention to detail like mincing garlic cloves or peeling fruit. They won’t do you much good for cutting carrots or parsnips, that’s what your heavier knives (e.g., chef’s knife) are for. You don’t need to spend a lot on this knife – maybe $20. By the way, remember this all-important safety rule: the right blade does the job efficiently. If you have to use a lot of force, it’s a signal that you’ve got the wrong knife. Be very careful because your knife may slip out of your hand.

Serrated “trimming” knife with a blade length of about 6”. This knife is great for smaller loaves of bread, and they’re great for things with slick surfaces like tomatoes, watermelon, citrus, and peppers. You can even use them on layer cakes! Use your 6” serrated trimmer when you need to slice with a sawing motion. Do not use it for chopping and definitely not smaller items like fresh herbs, garlic or berries. A good quality one will cost around $30-40. If it goes dull, just replace it; they’re challenging to resharpen without losing the serrated edge. Look for teeth that aren’t too big (it’ll tear up soft interiors) or too small (not so efficient).

The last actual knife is a boning knife. Boning knives are not used to cut THROUGH bones, we use them to cut AROUND them. It’s the best blade for cutting up or boning fish, meat or poultry of any size.  This is the one knife not designed to cut a straight line but one to cut “around” things like joints or a ribcage. Good ones have a bit of flex to the blade which will allow you to separate the meat from the bone and it will cut through joints and cartilage. A decent boning knife will cost about $30, but if you plan to give it some heavy use in your kitchen, you may want to spend a bit more.

The last of the Essential 5: honing steel. It’s not a knife, but it’s essential to keep your blades sharp. A dull knife is the most dangerous tool in your kitchen.  Knives should be honed every time you use them. It doesn’t actually sharpen the blade, it realigns the fibers in the metal, so they keep a sharpened profile. But don’t forget to get your knives professionally sharpened once a year. Honing steel can be used on any straight blade but never on a serrated knife.  They’re very often included in a set, but if you’re buying it separately, they will cost about $25 – ceramic or steel.

Now you have “the essential 5”—go make something marvelous!

Kitchen Safety Tip – avoid food borne bacteria and clean that sponge!

Clean your kitchen sponge

Kitchen sponges can be as dirty as your toilet! So clean or replace them regularly.

I like smart people, but intelligent kids make me smile. Even when the smile is a tad uncomfortable.

My friend and I were sitting in her living room chatting over coffee and cheesecake when her teenage daughter, Isabella, literally bounced into the room with good news: she got an A+ on her biology project.

“What was your project about?” I asked.

“Bacteria in the home,” Isabella answered.

Mom didn’t look too happy.

Without skipping a beat, Isabella explained how she and her lab partner set out Petri dishes all around her home and the homes of four other families (with permission, I assume). After exposing the dishes to the open air for a few hours, the young researchers sealed them and waited to see what kinds of bacteria grew.

“We found 22 forms of mold and bacteria,” Isabella reported flatly. “And you know which room had the most?”

Mom squirmed.

“It was the kitchen!”

Hand to heart, I resisted glancing down at my slice of homemade cheesecake, expertly drizzled with chocolate syrup and dotted with a slice of strawberry. I kept my attention on Isabella, who went on to explain not only did they find more variety of bacteria and molds in the kitchen, there were three times as much of it than in any other room.

Before mom could intervene, Isabella said it: “Even more than the bathroom.”

Breakpoint reached, mom smoothly reminded Isabella about a task that would take her far into the house for an extended period. I suppressed a big grin (for me, that’s hard, I can tell you).

“She’s such a brilliant girl,” I said, taking a big bite of that lovely slice of cheesecake, adding, “Oh, this is so delicious!”

From the scientific perspective, researchers agree with Isabella’s findings. The kitchen is “dirty” like this because it has the most human traffic. It’s not that the kitchen itself is so dirty, it’s that WE’RE dirty. The human body is a veritable magnet for bacteria, molds, and other stuff. And the kitchen is a place where it collects, grows, and prospers.

Luckily Isabella didn’t use the kitchen sponge as part of her study. Mom would have been catatonic.

A couple of years ago, a group of microbiologists released a study about the health dangers of the ordinary kitchen sponge. According to the study, the researchers found more than 300 different kinds of bacteria with literally trillions of those little bugs in ONE sponge. The only other place in your whole house where you’ll find such a concentration of bacteria is – you guessed it, the toilet.

EWWW! I’m not sure it gets any grosser than that. And imagine what you’re doing when you use the kitchen sponge to wipe up a spill on your dining room table!

I have tips for kitchen safety. A few of them are my own that I’ve collected over time. Some you’ll find on the internet that seem to work very well.

First – get cellulose sponges. Williams-Sonoma sells some nice ones that are a handy size that I use in my kitchen all the time. You can also find cellulose sponges on Amazon as well. Cellulose sponges are organic so you can toss them into your compost. They’ll hold up better to when you need to clean them than the artificial ones (e.g., Scotch Bright urethane foam).

Second – this one is passed down from the ages: never use your regular kitchen sponge to clean up after handling raw meat – especially chicken. If a kitchen sponge comes in contact with raw meat, toss it out. Don’t even try to clean it.

Third – speaking of cleaning – bleach doesn’t work on the harmful bacteria. It will wipe out the bacteria that causes the smell, but not the stuff that can make you and your family really sick. For effective cleaning, you must keep up with cleaning sponges every day with any one of these recommended methods:

  1. Microwave your sponge for 1-3 minutes. There’s some disagreement among the researchers about the time length, but they do agree that microwaving for 1 minute will kill most harmful bacteria. In two minutes, you’ll kill the rest. Three minutes and you’ll end up with a very hot and very clean sponge. Important note: make sure your sponge is wet (not dry) when you put it in the microwave and also note that artificial sponges won’t last as long as cellulose (they tend to flatten out after each cleaning). And, don’t put sponges that have metal (hint: sponges with abrasive pads) in the microwave oven.
  2. Put your sponge in the dishwasher when you run the heated dry cycle or boil it for about five minutes (but I’m not sure I want that sponge boiling in my good stockpot!). Heat is critical for cleaning sponges and wiping out colonies of harmful food bacteria
  3. Regularly replace your sponge – at least every month. But some researchers say (and I also agree) that active kitchens should replace all sponges every two weeks at a minimum.

I love those really smart girls who can dig up important facts. But it doesn’t take rocket science to know how important it is to keep your kitchen as clean as possible. Stay safe!