As in other areas of product design, form follows function when it comes to most kitchen knives.

That’s why cleavers — which butchers use to process bulk meat, cutting even through bone — are heavy, with a broad blade.

And that’s why a boning knife — used to remove cooked meat from a roast turkey, for example — has a slender blade, allowing it to fit easily between small bones.

But form and function in knives are affected by personal fancy, too.

One cook may prefer wooden handles to man-made materials. Another may want a deboning knife blade to be flexible rather than rigid.

That’s why people knowledgeable in cutlery, including Bellagio executive chef Grant MacPherson and Lynn Bonds of Bonds House of Cutlery, say that no matter what advice they give on choosing knives, it all comes down to individual preference.

The two do agree, at least, on the most essential trio of implements for the knife drawer of any well-equipped home kitchen: a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a bread knife.

The first, also known as a French knife or cook’s knife, can cut meats and vegetables in large or small strokes. A paring knife is often the best choice for doing fine cuts of small objects, such as fruits. A bread knife has a straight, fairly narrow blade with a serrated edge.

Serration is a series of sawlike notches. A serrated blade often helps a cook cut through delicate foods, such as bread, without crushing them. But a bread knife can also cut through a lobster shell, MacPherson points out.

Beyond that trio, a cook may expand his or her bladed arsenal with one or more of the following: a utility knife, deboning knife, carving knife, forked tomato knife, cleaver, sashimi knife, potato peeler and kitchen shears. The last is a two-bladed scissors.

The most expensive knives are not necessarily the best, but generally price does reflect a knife’s quality. Bonds¹ store offers various 8-inch chef’s knives for prices ranging from $29.35 to $130.

“I was the one that went to the dime store to buy cheap knives,” says Bonds of her habit before she started the House of Cutlery, 3540 W. Sahara Ave., which she has owned and run for more than 20 years.

If a knife is made solidly of good materials, it will probably last at home long enough to put in a will to one’s heirs.

“Unless you lose them, they should be there forever,” Bonds says.

But in a commercial kitchen, even a good-quality knife will wear out from frequent sharpenings.

Bonds¹ personal favorite kitchen knife is a discontinued line by Gerber, which now makes only hunting knives and tools. She describes their weighted, balanced handles as an asset.

“It was a trade secret,” she says of the line’s demise.

MacPherson likes Victorinox, a Swiss line of kitchen knives by the makers of the famous Swiss Army Knives.

“You can keep (a sharp) edge on them very well,” he says.

Other knife brands valued highly by the commercial cooks who patronize the House of Cutlery include Mundial from Brazil, Wüsthof from Germany, F. Dick from Germany and R.H. Forschner from Switzerland.

Knives by German manufacturer J.A. Henckels are also popular, according to MacPherson and Bonds, although Bonds notes that International, the cheapest Henckels product line, is made in China rather than in Europe.

Global is a Japanese knife-maker with some blades designed for Oriental-style cooking. Its products have modern, stark lines. Each knife is made entirely of metal, from blade tip to handle tip. For good gripping with wet hands, Global knives have indentations on the handles, which create a suction effect, says Rob Roberts, an employee at Bonds House of Cutlery.

When shopping for knives, examine the heft. The overall weight and the size plus shape of the handle will determine a knife’s appeal to different people. In large stores that sell boxed knife sets, a consumer can’t test for grip, while small dealers usually let customers handle knives and compare.

“It’s very important to be comfortable,” MacPherson explains. If it’s a strain to use, a knife becomes more dangerous since discomfort can distract the cook.

A serrated blade stays sharp longer than an equivalent nonserrated blade, Bonds maintains. The notches actually push seeds and bone chips out of the way, while a nonserrated blade gets small dings from constant contact with hard particles, which eventually makes cutting harder.

Most professionals prefer a nonserrated chef’s knife, but Bonds says some of her customers, who make a lot of sandwiches for a living, prefer a serrated chef’s knife.

To straighten out the microscopic dings caused by seeds or bone, take a knife blade to a sharpening steel before each use, Roberts recommends.

Beware, however, that most sharpening steels just realign a blade’s edge. A steel doesn’t truly sharpen unless it is a diamond-surfaced steel, Bonds says.

A steel should have a collar at the handle, to protect the hand holding it from a slip of a blade. A longer steel, 10 or 12 inches long, will also minimize accidents.

Retailers stock knife-sharpening equipment for do-it-yourselfers, but Bonds urges home cooks to take their arsenal of blades to a professional at least once, to get the knives back in good shape and to learn how to properly sharpen them.

Care is crucial to the longevity of a knife, particularly if the handle is wood.

“Don’t leave it in water,” Bonds warns. That also means don’t put a good knife through a dishwasher cycle and don’t let it air dry.

“Hand-wash your blade and towel-dry it off,” she says.

Wood swells with water and then shrinks, which can cause a handle to eventually loosen, allowing bacteria to build up between the blade and handle. Also, prolonged water exposure will change the coloring of a wooden knife handle.

Storage is also important, not just to protect the knife, but for home safety.

Knives purchased as a set often come in a wooden block holder for countertop storage. But chefs often buy special carrying cases, which resemble a satchel. Individual blade covers are also available for knives to be stored in a drawer.

Asked about the risk of bacteria accumulating in a wooden block, MacPherson and Bonds downplayed it as long as knifes are dry when put away.

Knife 1: An Alaskan ulu has a short blade that is usually rocked against a cutting board or bowl for chopping.

Knife 2: The J.A. Henckels paring knife has a short blade to cut or peel small objects.

Knife 3: This R.H. Forschner knife is called a tomato knife, because the forked tip permits a cook to stab and lift a tomato. It can also be used to spear olives in a jar or to transfer freshly sliced cold cuts.

Knife 4: J.A. Henckels bread knife’s serrated blade has notches to saw through delicate breads without smashing them.

Knife 5: The R.H. Forschner carving knife has a 10-inch granton blade, which means there are recessed areas on the blade to hold meat juices, so they don’t accidentally spurt out when meat is carved.

Experts advise home cooks to stock their kitchens with quality cutlery
By JOAN WHITELY
REVIEW-JOURNAL

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