The importance of a good cutting board

June 28th, 2010

What to consider when buying a cutting board. What’s the best material for a cutting board? How do I care for my wood cutting board? What is an end grain cutting board? What about cross contamination when using a cutting board?  What about chopping mats?

A cutting board can have more effect on how long a knife stays sharp than any food being cut. A hard cutting board (made of glass, natural stone – such as marble & granite, artificial stone and acrylic) can dull a knife quickly.

What’s the best material for a cutting board?
Soft plastic cutting boards such as those made of polypropylene and polyethylene are easy on the knife’s edge and can be bleached in a sink or placed in the dishwasher for easy sanitizing.
Wood and bamboo make good second choices. They have a natural resistance to bacteria and are pleasing to the eye. Bamboo technically is a grass; it grows much faster than wood, making it a good “Green’ alternative. Bamboo is actually slightly harder than wood. Some bamboo cutting boards are made to be placed in the dishwasher. While a heavily scarred plastic cutting board should be discarded or retired to the garage for other cutting purposes, a wooden board can be sanded or planed back to a smooth finish. Wooden Cutting Boards have tradition behind them; they’ve been used for hundreds of years and can actually be passed down generations as an heirloom. Rubbing oil into a wooden or bamboo cutting board can enhance it’s appearance, help it resist absorbing flavors, and keep it from drying out and cracking. An oil specifically designed for food grade wood should be used,  cooking oil can go rancid while on the board. Click for Cutting Board Oil

Click to see Polyethylene Cutting Boards

Click to see Polypropylene Cutting Boards

Click to see Wood and Bamboo Cutting Boards

End Grain Cutting Boards
End Grain cutting boards (as you look at the top of the board you are looking at the ends of the grain, the grain runs up and down) have a self healing property. When drawing a sharp knife across the surface of an end grain cutting board, the knife’s edge seemingly cuts between the fibers (like drawing a knife through bristles of a hair brush) leaving less noticeable marks.

Click to see end grain cutting boards

Cutting mats
A cutting mat or chopping mat is a thin piece of tough, flexible plastic, designed for cutting. Their flexibility makes them  handy for cutting a quantity of ingredients, picking it up, slightly folding the mat and pouring the items into a skillet, or into the garbage for easy cleanup. They are great for small kitchens, camping and travel. Often sold in multi-packs, they can be used for organizing a sequence of items to be cooked, and as a second cutting board placed over the primary cutting board.

Click to see examples of Chopping Mats

Prevent Cross Contamination
Cross contamination – the primarily concern is to prevent food poisoning. As an example using a cutting board to cut raw protein, like chicken which has a tendency to carry salmonella, then using the same board to cut something that may not be cooked, like salad ingredients. Cooking will kill the salmonella, but if was spread to the salad – disaster is on it’s way.    To minimize the chances of cross contamination, it’s a common practice to have two cutting boards, one designated for cutting meats and another for vegetables and breads. A blood or juice groove in the board used to carve meats, can prevent messes. It has been found that wooden cutting boards actually draw bacteria into the board where it quickly dies, adding another layer of contamination prevention.

Why Dishwashers are bad for good knives

June 17th, 2010

Dishwashers are not recommended for any knives that you wish to keep sharp.

Knives with wooden handles should never be put in the dishwasher. The humidity, extreme heat and subsequent cooling is very bad for the wood. The wood can crack, the rivets will loosen, and the quality of the fit of the blade to the handle suffers.

Family heirloom knives and some specialty knives made of high carbon steel will rust. Most of today’s quality knives are made of stainless steel and rust is not an issue. The ‘Stainless’ in stainless steel is a misnomer, it is stain and rust resistant, harsh chemicals and coming into contact with rusting metal can stain, stainless steel. Above and beyond the rusting factor, is the interest of keeping the best edge on your knives for as long as possible – there are too many things in a dishwasher that the knife edge can come into contact with, that can damage the knife’s edge and be damaged by the knife’s edge. It’s best to hand wash each blade individually, dry them well, then place them in a knife block, sheath, special drawer knife block, or place an Edge Guard on them.

Knife Block – dry your knives well before placing them in the block to prevent bacterial growth. Choose a block that holds the knife blades in a horizontal position, so the weight of the blade is resting on knife’s side and not on the knife’s edge. Many knife blocks have a space to hold a Kitchen Knife Steel as well as a pair of Kitchen Shears, and many have a spot that will hold a set of steak knives.

Click for recommended Knife Blocks

Drawer Knife Block – is an insert for a kitchen drawer (preferably a shallow drawer so that there’s not much space wasted) knives are placed in this block – dried well and edge up.

Click for recommended Drawer Knife Blocks

Sheath – if you have a sheath that came with the knife – this is best. Be sure the knife is clean and dry before placing it in the sheath. Common sheath materials are leather, plastic, and nylon as well as exotic materials. A good sheath will hold the blade and or handle firmly to prevent the knife from accidentally slipping out and exposing the sharp edge, causing a safety issue as well as the possibility of damaging the knife’s edge.

Knife Edge Guards – Edge guards come in many forms but they basically take the form of a folded over piece of rigid material with tension at the opening to grip the knife’s blade towards the middle of the blade for the length of the blade. They are very handy for kitchens that don’t have the counter space for a knife block or the drawer space for a Drawer Knife Block. Knife Edge guards are also handy when traveling with knives or for camping. Most knife edge guards are made of a material that can be trimmed to a custom length.

5 Things you need to know about your Kitchen Knife Steel

May 18th, 2010

Got a dull knife? Put an edge on it you’ll be proud of! What is the difference between sharpening and honing. Find out how to use a Kitchen Knife Steel. Why your Grandfather’s Kitchen Knife Steel may not sharpen your knives. How to care for, and maintain your Kitchen Knife Steel. Buying tips for Kitchen Knife Steels.

Kitchen Knife Steels – The Basics, Sharpening vs Honing
Your goal is a sharp knife – right? How do you get there?
First some terminology. The act of making a knife sharp isn’t always called “Sharpening”
Grinding and forming or reforming the knife’s edge is called sharpening.
Once the knife‘s edge is formed – “honing” will put the final cutting edge on the knife.
Microscopically the very edge of the knife is like a small saw with teeth. Honing straightens those teeth and makes them line up – giving you the fine cutting edge you desire. Each time you use the knife or it’s stored improperly, those little microscopic teeth can get misaligned – dulling your knife. Professional Chefs and Butchers, will hone their knives before every cutting chore and sometimes in between long cutting jobs. Eventually the knife’s edge will get worn down and the knife will need to be re-sharpened – having the edge reground. Frequently used knives may need to be sharpened once or twice a year. You can take it to a professional or do it yourself with a good quality knife sharpening machine.

Recommended Home Electric Knife Sharpeners

How to sharpen – hone a knife using a Kitchen Knife Steel
Drawing the knife’s edge across the steel at the proper angle will align those microscopic teeth.

There’s 2 methods commonly used:
The Correct Honing Angle for a Kitchen knife steelFirst let’s get the correct angle – if you held the steel straight up & down and held the knife horizontally as if to cut it – that would be a 90 degree angle, now imagine that angle in half – that would be a 45 degree angle, half that again and you’ll have 22 ½ degrees – the proper angle to hold the knife against the steel – as if shaving a sliver off of the steel.

The safe method of honing a knife – commonly used by Chefs. If you are right handed, hold the Kitchen Knife Steel in your left hand, with the tip pointed down as if you are stabbing the cutting board, start with the handle of the knife closest to the steel, hold your knife at the correct angle and slice down while at the same time pulling back sweeping the entire edge of the knife against the kitchen knife steel. Do 8 or 10 strokes on one side of the steel then place the knife against the other side of the steel and do 8 or 10 strokes at the correct angle on that side. Your knife should now be properly honed. It’s a good practice to wipe the knife blade on a towel or sponge as there are tiny shaving of metal produced with this action

The old fashioned way of honing a knife – commonly used by Butchers.
Be aware that honing your knife in this manner makes it easier to cut yourself – a kitchen knife steel with a good hand guard is advised and maybe even a glove. Holding your steel in your left hand (if right handed) Start your knife at the tip of the steel with the handle of the knife close to the steel, hold the knife at the 22 ½ degree angle as described above, Hold the steel firmly with your left hand and making a cutting action, while  pulling back with the knife at the same time. Then placing the knife under the steel, angling your right wrist so that the edge of the knife is aimed properly at the steel and slicing at the steel from the bottom – Either make several strokes on one side then the other or, many people use alternating strokes, slicing down, then turning the wrist and slicking up. After much practice you can build up speed.

Why won’t My Grandfather’s Steel sharpen my new knives?
First of all is grandpa’s Steel worn out? Metal Kitchen knife steels are manufactured with tiny grooves running the length of the steel. Run your fingernail over the surface – can you feel the grooves? If it’s smooth, it’s worn out. Time for a new one.
Grandpa’s Kitchen Knife Steel was probably made of carbon steel – if you have a nice set of high end stainless or even ceramic knives Grandpa’s Kitchen Knife Steel isn’t gonna cut it (pardon the pun)
In order of hardness is: cheap stainless steel, carbon steel, hardened stainless steel, ceramic & glass, finally diamond. You want a steel made of equal or harder material than your knife blade.

Care and maintenance of your Kitchen Knife Steel
Kitchen Knife Steels are rather low maintenance items. Simply keeping it clean dry and keep it from getting scarred, bent or otherwise damaged. Ceramic and glass Kitchen knife steels require a bit more care to ensure they don’t become chipped or otherwise broken.
Diamond Kitchen Knife Steel – as you stroke your knife across the diamond surface you should feel a slight drag. If your Diamond Kitchen Knife Steel becomes “slippery” the microscopic pieces of the knife being removed have clogged the openings in the diamond grit – the steel can easily be cleaned by washing with liquid dishwashing soap and a sponge.

Buying tips
You want a Sharpening Steel that is as long or slightly longer than your longest knife. If your largest knife’s blade (just the blade) is 12”, then you want a 12” to 14” sharpening steel.
As with most things you get what you pay for – this holds true with Kitchen Knife Sharpening Steels, your steel needs to be made of equal or harder material than your knife blade.
Click for Recommended Honing Steels