how to

The KNIFE Guide by Anthony Michael Contrino

Some of my favorite knives.  Photo by Andrea Patton Photography.

Some of my favorite knives.  Photo by Andrea Patton Photography.

Aside from your hands, knives are the next important tool in the kitchen.  I am often baffled by how many people do not own a quality knife.  I’ve come to discover that people are too overwhelmed by all the choices out there and just pick any old thing off Amazon.  However, it you spend a little bit of time researching what’s out there, you’ll find a knife that will last for years to come.


While there is a knife for practically everything these days, you can get away with owning only three: a paring knife, a chef’s knife and a long serrated knife.  Paring knives are great for small jobs, such as cutting fruits and small vegetables, scraping out vanilla seeds, and cutting garnishes.  A serrated knife comes in handy when you need to cut bread and cake into layers.  A chef’s knife is used to cut larger sized fruits and vegetables, meats, for general chopping, and basically everything else!  If you can only afford one knife, the chef knife is the one to go with.


Just like it took Harry Potter a few tries before finding the perfect wand, buying a knife involves some trial and error.  The first step is heading to a shop that allows you to handle, or even better, test, the knives.  The knife that works for me may not be the one that works for you.  

A knife is an extension of your hand and should feel both comfortable and balanced.  Some cooks prefer there be more weight towards the front, the blade, and some towards the back, the handle.  Once again, it should feel comfortable in your hand - the weight, the shape of the handle, the length.  A comfortable knife is a safe knife, as you will have better control of it.  

Shops like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma often staff a knife specialist.  Take advantage of their knowledge.  You should never be pressured to purchase a specific knife or brand.  If you find yourself in this situation, abort mission; they are probably doing so for a reason - higher commission or kick-back of some sort.

Most new knives will cut through almost anything like butter, even the crappy ones, so be wary.  Make sure the knife is made of quality materials.  The blade should be firm and run through the entire handle (full tang,) held in place with rivets.  The most common blade materials are carbon steel and stainless steel.  I prefer stainless steel.  It is not as tough as its carbon-enforced counterpart, but, in my opinion, holds up better at the end of the day.  As long as you properly care for your knives, they should last a lifetime!

Once you find a chefs knife you like, there is a good chance you will like the sister knives.  Most knives come in sets with a matching style, therefore the balance and feel of the knives should all be similar.  

Happy with you findings?  Do some research.  Where is it cheapest?  If you buy directly from a dealer, is there a warranty, etc.? 

Congrats, fancy knife owner!


My Small Knife Roll.  Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

My Small Knife Roll.  Photo by Andrea Patton Photography


Welcome to my mom’s house.  Open the top drawer and you’ll find a plethora of knives clattering around, unprotected.  DO NOT do this!  You’ve done the research, found a knife that you’re comfortable with and spent some hard-earned cash to buy one.  So, let’s take good care of it. 



To protect the blade, knives should be stored in a knife block, on a magnet or in sheaths.  A knife block is the most convenient, but if you only have a few knives and limited kitchen space, this is probably not your best option.  

Knife magnets are great.  They're an efficient way to store knives and they’ll always be at an arm’s length.   Ensure that a knife magnet is properly installed.  The last thing you need is a ripping off the wall and having knives fly all over.  Carefully read the installation instructions that come along with the magnet, and be prepared to drill through that precious backsplash.  

No choice but to keep those knives in a drawer?  Buy heavy plastic knife sheaths.  Available where knives are sold, and of course online, they come in varying sizes and typically are meant to fit universally. 

Going camping or to a friend’s house to help cook dinner and need to travel with your knife?  No problem.  You can invest in a nice carry case or knife bag, but be sure to always keep the knives in their protective sheaths.  An alternative is to wrap the knife in a thick kitchen towel secured with a rubber bands.


#NotDishwasherSafe  Knives should be hand washed only.  Always keep the knife, blade pointed away from you, on the opposite side of your cutting board.  Clean the knife as soon as you are done with it to prevent staining or blade erosion.  

If you’ve purchased a knife with a wooden handle, rub it with wood wax or a neutral oil every so often to keep it from splitting.   This will help keep it looking brand new.

Sharpening & Honing:

These are two different things, both of which are important to the overall care of your knife.    Sharpening is more invasive than honing.  When you sharpen your knife, you are filing off a portion of the blade.  I recommend having your knives professionally sharpened as needed.  The overall quality of the blade and how often you use the knife will determine when a knife needs to be sharpened.

When you hone your knife, you are re-straightening the blade to maintain its sharpness, therefore, honing occurs more frequently.  Read the instructions that come along with the honing steel for further information.


-NEVER put a knife in the sink.  It can get hidden underneath something or, if the drain gets clogged, become submerged.  If someone comes along who doesn’t know it’s in there, they can be seriously injured.  

-Cut on knife-safe surfaces, such as plastic or wood surfaces or cutting boards.  Never cut on glass, cement, or stone surfaces.

-If you accidentally drop your knife, let it go and step away as fast as possible.  As unfortunate as it is to damage the blade, it’s better than losing a finger or getting stabbed in the foot!

How to Properly Hold a Knife. Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

How to Properly Hold a Knife. Photo by Andrea Patton Photography