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Restaurant Resource Center

Knife Care & Maintenance for Chef's Knives & Other Cutlery

Knives or Knife Sets? Get the Best Tools for You

Acquiring a knife set enables you to have a selection of blades, each honed to a specific purpose. Like a quiver full of arrows, this puts you at the ready for whatever target chef assigns—be it turning potatoes, boning fish or butterflying legs of lamb.

Spend Strategically

Cost is often a major factor when purchasing knives or a knife set. “I rarely ever see people buy a set, because most young cooks have no money when starting out,” says executive chef Timothy Fischer of Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, NJ. “However, if done right, and with some guidance from your chef on what you will be doing in the kitchen, you can find a better deal sometimes.”

Fischer does caution against buying “a set with a bunch of knives that you won't be using.” All cooks need good chef's knives, of course. But a cook in a steakhouse doesn't need an oyster knife, for example, or a meat cleaver in a vegan restaurant. Learn more about different types of knives.

Getting the Right Fit

Cost isn't your only consideration. Perhaps even more important is the knife's fit. “It should feel like an extension of your hand,” says Charles Ramseyer, culinary director of research and development at Tai Foong USA in Seattle, WA. Too large and it becomes unwieldy; too small a handle or too heavy a blade, and it causes hand fatigue. “There's a natural rocking motion that takes hold when chopping,” he says. “You want to make sure your fingers don't get knocked against the cutting board, so the shape and size of the handle makes a difference.”

When you're shopping, try out a number of knives for their feel and functionality. Chop some veggies, mince some ginger and section some citrus. Once you've found several brands that work for you, compare costs and choose individual knives or a knife set best suited to your work, your hand and your wallet.

What's Your Skill Set?

As you gain skills in the kitchen, you update your résumé accordingly—you should do the same with your knives. The blades you use fresh out of culinary school won't be satisfactory to a seasoned cook. Upgrading your knife set, or one or two particular knives, is a natural progression as you learn new skills or focus on specific types of work, like fileting fish or butchering meat.

“More and more, knives are so personal,” says Hugh Acheson, chef/owner of 5 & 10 and The National in Athens, GA, as well as Empire State South in Atlanta, GA. “Chefs are artisans, and, like a fine wood worker, they want quality tools to match their skill level.” He admits to being partial to hand-forged Japanese knives, though he recognizes they might not be practical for everyone. You can spend thousands of dollars on hand-forged blades. Luckily, modern manufacturing techniques produce stamped knives of exceptional quality and lower price.

Stay Sharp

Don't forget about the maintenance of your investment. Many sets include a knife sharpener (or steel), but if yours doesn't, or you're buying an individual blade, add a sharpener to your shopping list. Keeping your knives sharp is critical to their performance—and yours. Learn more about caring for your cutlery.

Anne Nisbet has spent her career working with chefs in restaurants, catering and event production, absorbing their tips, tricks and tales along the way. She is the culinary director for the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, OR, where she lives and dreams of some day having chickens and honeybees. You can find her at Google +Anne Nisbet.