Knife Know-How: Which Knives to Register for
Knives are the unsung heroes of every kitchen. Today's knives are ceramic, stainless steel or carbon steel—making them long lasting with proper care. They can also be a bit of an investment, which is why they're a great add to your registry.
How to Choose Your Knives
Your knives will be one of the few things you use on a daily basis in your kitchen, so it's important to pick them wisely. Take a trip to your local kitchen retailer and hold a few different knives to see how they feel in your hand—this is a crucial step in the process. Don't try and register for knives before handling a few styles and brands. A knife should feel solid and secure in your grip. Believe it or not, two different chef's knives from the same company will feel differently in your hand. If you can, test them out too. Some retailers will allow you to chop a cucumber on site to get a real feel for how the knife handles.
The Business of Blades
There are three main types of knife blades: carbon steel, stainless steel and ceramic. Each has their own set of pluses and minuses, most of which can be attributed to the sharpness of the blade. Ceramic knives are rust proof and impervious to acids, which means they're easy to maintain over time, but they also can be prone to chipping due to their hardness. They don't need sharpening often, but it must be done professionally, and they'll never get as sharp as their steel counterparts. Stainless steel knives are easy to maintain and offer sharpness, durability and versatility. Carbon steel knives are the sharpest of all and the easiest to keep that way. To avoid developing a patina, they need to be cleaned and dried immediately after each use (no leaving them in the sink overnight). “Like picking out the right knife line, this is a personal decision," says Joanna Rosenberg of Zwilling J.A. Henckels.
Your Cooking Style
“The knives couples choose should reflect their cooking style and the meals they're preparing," says executive chef Michael Garaghty of Wüsthof-Trident of America. If you're big meat eaters, a boning knife or a honesuki blade (the Japanese-style boning knife) might be good to have. Vegetarians might benefit more from a santoku—great for handling fresh vegetables—or a tomato knife. In general, the bread and paring knives probably get the most frequent use regardless of cooking styles. Also try and think about the future—someday you may have a large family, or your may need to carve a Thanksgiving turkey. You can't always predict food trends or how your tastes will change, but don't be afraid to register for knives beyond the basics, like a set of steak knives or kitchen shears.
Individual or by the Set
Knives are generally purchased one of two ways—individually or as part of a set, which usually comes with a knife block. If you're an experienced cook with some knife know-how, you may be better off selecting individual knives that suit your kitchen needs—you can also mix and match your preferred brands that way. If you're new to cooking, a block set will provide you with the basics plus some extras to play with. Once you're more comfortable, you can expand your set to include specialty knives, like for boning or sashimi. Another perk of opting for the set: “You often get kitchen shears and a honing steel, which are nice to have," Rosenberg says.
Cook's or chef's knife: According to Garaghty, this "workhorse of the kitchen" can do it all—slicing, dicing, mincing and chopping. Register for two so you and your spouse can work together.
Utility knife: Smaller than a chef's knife but bigger than a paring knife, the size of this blade and its lightweight design makes it one of the most convenient to use.
Serrated or bread knife: Think of this knife as the “saw of the kitchen," perfect for crusty bread, cake or tomatoes and anything with an outer layer you need to pierce and tear through.
Paring knife: This precision tool is designed for tasks that require close cuts such as peeling apples, slicing strawberries or mincing fresh herbs.
The board: Knives and cutting boards go together like salt and pepper. You should always use a cutting board, even for quick cuts. “Using a cutting board will ensure edge retention on your knives and keep them from damaging your countertops," Garaghty says. Never use glass, granite or hard acrylic boards, as these surfaces will quickly dull blades. Some couples like to invest in two cutting boards—one for meat and poultry, another for veggies and bread.
If you've registered for a block set, you're good to go—storage is part of the package. But if you've gone the “custom" route and hand-selected your knives, you'll need a safe way to store them. You can invest in a wood block or a magnetic strip, or you can opt for an in-drawer insert that keeps knives from jostling around and dulling blades. Find a good solution for your kitchen and then make a habit of tucking knives away when they're not in use—both for safety's sake and to keep knives in top condition.
Knives dull—all the chopping, dicing and slicing leads to little imperfections in the blade over time. And those can make cutting more challenging, which can also result in nicked thumbs. The best defense is a honing tool. This handheld steel dowel can realign the blade, smoothing worn edges between sharpenings. “If you properly hone your knives after every one to two hours of use and use the proper cutting surface, you should only need to sharpen your knives one or two times a year," Garaghty says. You can take your knives to kitchen retailers (think: Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table) to restore their razor-sharp edge, or invest in a sharpening device you can use at home.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but good knives should never be washed in the dishwasher. The clanking of silverware, high pressure of the water and changing temperatures can dull the blades and even cause the handles to deteriorate. Hand-wash and dry your knives after each use, and safely store them to reduce the chance of accidents. Warm water and soap will remove bacteria and keep knives in pristine condition.
The Superstition of Knives
Don't be surprised if the cutlery you chose sits a little longer on your registry than, say, your stemless wine glasses. Sure, knives aren't as fun a gift to give, but there's also an old superstition that gifting a knife is bad luck—especially for weddings. We assure you, this old wives' tale holds no more merit than the belief that rain on your wedding day is good luck. The thinking behind the superstition: A knife cuts things, thereby symbolizing severing of ties in a friendship or relationship. To avoid any bad outcomes, the gift-giver can tape a penny to the outside of the knife box. When the recipient receives the knife, he or she uses the penny to "pay" the giver for their gift, canceling out any bad juju—problem solved.