October 1, 2018
Knife Essentials: How to pick your knives for your home.
Our passion for hospitality isn’t limited to large special events. We love to cook and serve fabulous food at home too. And we love to help others step up their home cooking game!
Does the quality of your knives really matter?
Yes. A lot. Good knives are safer and are more likely to avoid mishaps. They’re faster and will save you time. They are also a key gateway to better overall results in the kitchen. Admittedly, as with most things, there comes a point where extra spend doesn’t buy much more function or longevity. But there is still a big difference between cheap knives (that won’t perform and won’t last) and quality knives (that will). If you’re serious about cooking, it’s worth making an investment in your knives.
What knives should you own?
If you visit a cutlery shop or start perusing options online, you’ll be quickly overwhelmed with options and could quickly spend a lot of green. Our recommendation is to start with the basics. With just a few select knives, you’ll be ideally prepared for nearly all kitchen tasks (and still completely serviceable for the remainder too).
It’s much better to have 3-5 great quality knives that will see a lot of use, versus a 18 piece block set of mediocre knives (most of which will just take up space). If you cook a lot and want to add more knives to your arsenal, you can add these one by one over time as your desire and budget allow.
We recommend making your initial investment on the following key knives. If you can afford to invest in 5 knives at once, excellent. If you can’t, start with the first three listed here and add the others later.
Chef’s Knife. Aka Cook’s Knife, this is the most commonly used knife in the kitchen. Features a wide symmetrical blade that tapers to a point. Ideal for a wide array of chores including, chopping, slicing, mincing, etc. Sizes range from 6” -14”. We find that 8” or 10” are most popular / easy to use.
Serrated Bread Knife. Straight or slightly curved blade, often with a single sided edge. Some bread knives are offset which help avoid knuckles hitting the counter or cutting board. Not limited to bread, these knives are also great for slicing fruits with a hard rind and/or soft interior. Sizes typically range from 6” - 12” and we prefer them 9” or more.
Paring Knife. Probably second only to the Chef’s Knife in versatility and frequency of use. Perfect for peeling, julienning, garnishing, and other tasks that require delicate precision. For your first and go-to paring knife, opt for a spear point or sheep’s foot style (put off buying a bird’s beak / tourne style until later or never). Sizes will vary, but will be shorter. We prefer 3-4”.
Utility Knife. Found with both straight and scalloped edges, utility knives could be considered filling the gaps and overlapping the uses between your chef’s knife, paring knife, and slicing knife. Excellent for slicing soft fruits and vegetables. Sizes typically range from 5-8”, with 6” being very common and our recommendation.
Carving / Slicing Knife. While perhaps not used as much as the other core knives listed above, when you have a large whole muscle meat (roasts, whole poultry, hams, etc.) to serve, these are invaluable. Blades are typically straight edged and relatively thin. Granton edges (hollow ground sections along the side of blade to create space and reduce drag) are common and popular on carving knives. Sizes vary and shorter lengths (9” - 12”) often have pointed tips while longer lengths (14”+) often have rounded tips.
Other useful knives.
For many cooks - especially home cooks, the knives already listed will suffice for nearly all applications and needs. That said, there are lots of other styles out there that can be helpful (or just fun to collect). Options include:
Boning Knife. Just like sounds - ideally suited for removing meat from bone, skin, and other tissues. Boning knives are generally either classified as flexible (great for staying close to bones and getting into odd shaped areas) or stiff (great for making straight cuts and jointing).
Santuko, Nikiri, Gyoto, and other Japanese style knives. Increasingly popular in Western kitchens, these knives are often alternatives to the traditional Chef’s Knife or Utility Knife. Typically these are single edged, and ground to a narrower angle than European style knives. The narrow angle is sharper and slices better with more precision, but requires more maintenance. Unique blade styles offer different ergonomics and function which many chefs prefer for certain tasks - especially very thin slicing and chopping.
Cleaver. Not common in home kitchens, since these are thick and heavy knives designed to chop through thick meat and bone when butchering. Also great for opening lobster shells and other similar tasks.
Cimeter. The staple knife for professional butchers, but not commonly used in home kitchens.
What to look for and consider when buying knives.
Stamped vs forged construction? Stamped knives are made by cutting the knife shape out of a flat sheet of metal (like a cookie cutter). Forged knives are made by hammering heated bar metal into the knife shape. Once the basic shape is formed, both types of knives will be ground and honed to create the cutting edge. Stamped knives are typically thinner, lighter, lacking a bolster, and are generally less expensive. Forged knives are thicker, heavier, stronger, well balanced, and are usually more expensive to purchase. For most long lasting knives, we prefer forged construction. That said, for some knives (a long granton edge meat slicer or a heavily used and often replaced butcher cimeter, we opt for stamped).
Type of steel? Nearly all high quality knives are made from some type of high carbon stainless steel designed to strike a balance between hardness and durability, ease of sharpening and honing, resisting stain and decay, and cost. German steel (often 420 or 440 C stainless) is common for European style knives. It’s excellent at resisting corrosion, and very easy to sharpen. German steel is durable and holds an edge well, though not as well as some harder steels. Japanese steel (often VG-10 or San Mai) is common in Asian style knives and is increasingly seen in European styles as well. This layered laminated steel is exceptionally hard which offers excellent sharpness and edge retention. They can be more difficult to sharpen well and sometimes offer slightly less corrosion resistance compared to the German steel. As noted earlier, these steels are all striking a balance between different factors. The best steel for you depends on your personal preferences and priorities.
Handles? Wood handles are not only very comfortable, we think they’re the prettiest options. They can also last longer than the blade of the knife, but require more maintenance than other options. Stainless handles are popular for the seamless styling and the ease of maintenance. The notable drawback is than many stainless handles can become slippery when wet, though many steel knives have textured stainless handles to mitigate this. Synthetic resin and Polyoxyethylene (POM) handles are very common on riveted full tang knives. They’re very durable, easy to clean, and although simple, very nice looking. Plastic, nylon, and rubber handles are popular in commercial kitchens because they are affordable, easy to clean, and fairly durable. We don’t find them nearly as attractive as other options though and many home chefs want something with more aesthetic appeal.
Edge type? Straight edge (aka flat ground) is the most common and applicable. Granton edge (see the note on carving knives above) reduce drag and are very nice in certain situations. Serrated edges (aka scalloped) have small “teeth” which help to penetrate a tough exterior without pressure that might harm a soft inside. Hollow ground edges are are concave to create a very thin and narrow cutting edge. They are very sharp and wonderful for delicate tasks, but not recommended for heavy duty chores.
Edge angle? European style knives usually have a 20 degree angle which is great for edge retention and durability. Asian style knives have usually have a 15 degree (sometimes even narrower) which is excellent for sharp precision slicing.
Full Tang design? Full tang refers to the entire knife being a single piece of metal end to end. The core of the handle is simply an extension of the blade. This can easily be seen on knives where the core of the handle is the same metal as the blade and the handle material is double or triple riveted to the metal. In general we prefer full tang knives because they are sturdier, longer lasting, and more reliable. If you’ve ever had a partial tang knife break apart at the handle during use, you know how frustrating and dangerous it can be. Heavy full tang construction is particularly important for knives that see a lot of heavy use and cutting. For lightweight knives that will be used primarily for delicate tasks, this is less crucial.
Caring for your knives.
Always hand wash with warm soapy water after use, rinse well, and dry thoroughly immediately. Avoid leaving knives dirty for long, machine washing, and extended air drying.
Hone your knives regularly - practically with every use.
Keep your knives sharpened. Frequency of sharpening will depend on the steel, type of use, and frequency of use. See our separate post about knife sharpening for more info and tips.
Store your knives safely and properly. Though popular and convenient, we do not recommend traditional knife blocks. These take up a lot of counter space, tend to dull your knives, can collect hard to remove particles, and often encourage buyers to purchase more knives than they need. We much prefer a magnetic wall strip which saves space, offers easy access, is easy to clean, and when used correctly, doesn’t dull the blade. There are also some great in drawer solutions that can protect your knives. If you need to frequently travel with your knives (like us), a nice bag or roll with a soft interior is great. Individual blade protectors can also be well worth getting depending on how you store your knives.
January 25, 2018
Knife Cutting Skills: A Step-by-Step Adventure
Knife skills are something that every home chef could benefit from. Sometimes the thing that takes a dish from good to great is simply the presentation! I'm going to show you some tricks of the trade and help you to easily take your dishes to the next level. We'll be working with an onion, an apple, a squash, and an orange! Before we begin, make sure you are using a sharp knife. Dull knives are actually more dangerous than a sharp knife because of the amount of pressure that is needed in order to use a dull knife! This can cause more frequent and more severe accidents. So be safe, use a sharp knife!
Alright, now from this point forward I want you to trust yourself and trust your knife!
I used a standard issue chef's knife for everything. Nothing fancy, this is just a good quality knife!
When it comes to knives, one of the most important things is to hold it at the hilt (where the blade meets the handle). You're going to want to get a good grip without getting white knuckles. Firm but not the grip of death!
Another important part of correct knife holding involves your other hand. When chopping, you want to curve your fingers inward and rest the middle of your fingers on the blade. Make sure that your fingers are curving inward, or else you risk cutting the tips of your fingers off!
When you're not doing a close dice, chop or slice, your hand should be resting on your cutting board like so:
Let's start with the onion. First, we dice! Slice the onion in half through the end bulb, like so. Remove any unwanted layers, but keep the bulb in tact.
Next, you'll slice the onion perpendicular to the bulb without slicing all the way through the onion near the top portion. You should be left with an onion fan of sorts.
You'll also want to slice the onion once in half parallel to the cutting board. Again, do not cut all the way through!
Now rotate the onion and chop perpendicular to your first slices. You will be left with the perfect diced onion!
Next is the julienne cut–also known as the french or straw cut. This is good for salads, soups, caramelizing, etc. This time, the first thing you'll want to do is cut off the bulb at the end. Cut far enough in so that your onion slices will be a uniform length.
And you're done!
*IMPORTANT* In between every use you should wipe down your knife with a clean rag. You always want to work with a nice, clean knife. Additionally, when you're done using your knife it should be hand washed and put away. Never put a knife in the dishwasher as it will cause the blade to rust and deteriorate, the handle to break down, and will eventually ruin your knife.
Next I'm going to show you how to cut a butternut squash! These can be a pain to cut if you don't do it the right way. But, once you know how to do it they are a quick and delicious addition to soups, salads, or any dish!
For easier handling, we're going to start off by cutting the squash in half. The best way to do this is to make sure you've got a sharp knife and simply break the flesh of the squash with the tip of it. Then, work your knife back and forth with a good amount of pressure until you make it all the way through.
Next, we're going to get rid of all the skin. Start from the top and make a downward cut along the squash. Rotate the squash and repeat until all the skin is removed.
After you have your squash completely removed of the skin, trim off the curved edge of one side of the squash. You will be left with a flat surface. Now cut a few slices off at your desired thickness, mine were about 1/2 inch thick.
Place a couple slices on top of each other, flat on the cutting board. We're now going to do what chef's call "squaring off." You don't have to do this, but it makes a more uniform dice and a prettier presentation!
To square off, simply trim off any edges that aren't straight. You will be left with a "square," although with a squash it's more like a rectangle.
Now we slice!
*TIP ALERT* To keep your squash stable while you're slicing and dicing, place your pointer finger over the knife so that it rests on the squash and holds it in place while you slide your knife through the squash.
Begin the slice
Place finger over the knife to hold the squash down
Slide your knife through while your fingers are in place. Repeat!
Now for the dice we're going to turn our sticks the other way and do the same thing. For a good, square dice you'll want to chop at the same thickness of your sticks!
Okay, now for the apple. I'm going to show you how a professional would slice an apple. First, cut your apple in half through the core.
When slicing an apple, I like to hold my knife a little more on the blade than I would usually. I also hold it at a higher angle than normal (maybe a 60° angle). I begin the slice and then drag the knife through the apple, never leaving the board with my knife.
The reason it is so important to slice and drag instead of chop, is because when chopping an apple the slice gets stuck to the blade. Like this:
When I use the slice and drag technique, the slice simply falls to its side. Like so:
It the end I am left with some BEAUTIFUL slices. Perfect for salads, desserts, garnish, or whatever else you might use them for!
Next up I'm going to grab an orange. First, I cut off the ends and peel the orange using my chef's knife.
Once I have the orange peel completely off (including all of the white pith). I switch to my pairing knife to do a cut called a supreme! If you're not familiar with this, basically what we're going to make this orange look like is like those little bare slices of fruit in a can of Mandarin oranges!
For this cut, I'm going to cut between the little membrane segments and only get the flesh of the orange.
This can be done with any citrus fruit and can be used in a variety of ways, or just for a fancy snack.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to reach out with any questions.
Check our more Salt Lake City, Park City, and Utah County catering at www.culinarycrafts.com!
June 29, 2017
How to Smoke Cheese the Cool Way
When most people think of smoked foods they think of barbecue — brisket, ribs, etc. However, limiting smoky flavors to barbecue is like limiting the use of lemons to lemonade. Can you imagine a world without lox and bagels? We can't. Smoked salmon, chicken, tofu, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, nuts, even ice can be cold smoked!
Hot Smoke v. Cold Smoke
The secret that unlocks the ability to smoke almost anything is cold smoking. Unlike traditional hot smoke, cold smoke does not always intend to cook the food as it’s smoking it. Cold smoke can be used to cure foods that need to be cooked, but it also can simply add a gentle, smoky flavor to the surface of your ingredient.
Cold smoking must keep the food cold during the smoking process. This can be achieved by distance from the heat source and an insulating barrier between the ingredient and the heat, a cold layer for the smoke to pass through before it gets to the food for example, or, by keeping a very, very low heat.
"You want your smoke to be a very thin, grey (almost bluish), wispy kind of smoke.
If your smoke is thick and heavy, the combustion levels
of your fire may be too cold."
-Ryan Crafts, Grill Master
Options for Cold Smoking
If you don’t have a traditional smoker, and even if you do, you may not know your options as far as cold smoking. Here are a few easy ones:
A smoking gun sounds a little suspicious, but it’s actually the simplest, quickest, and cleanest way to smoke foods at home. All you do is insert the tube into a sealed space with your food, put wood chips in your gun, turn it on, and start smokin'. In a matter of minutes you can add that smoky flavor to almost anything.
Here’s one we recommend:
Here's how we use a similar smoking gun and a glass chamber to flavor a beverage:
Here we're using them at a Smoke themed station at our YouTube Channel launch party:
Smoking Maze or Cylinder
This would probably be your most versatile option for cold smoking. Simply fill the chamber with sawdust or pellets and light it from one end. All you need is an enclosed, outdoor container. A gas or kettle grill would work just fine! Our favorite is the A-MAZE-N Smoker, it comes in a maze or cylinder form!
Kettle or Gas Grill
When cold smoking in a kettle or gas grill one must utilize space and temperature to create enough heat to smoke, but not enough to cook. For easily melting foods like cheese, you might want to place your food on top of a container filled with ice. Keep the heat very low and off to one side to ensure for the lowest heat possible. Wood chips can be put directly on top of the charcoal or, in a gas grill, the wood chip drawer or box. Here's a graphic of what that would look like in a charcoal grill:
Much like the kettle grill, in order to cold smoke in a traditional smoker you must create a barrier between the heat source and your food. Ice in a tin could work (above), or filling up your drip tray with ice every 20 minutes or so will also do the trick. Many traditional smokers also have attachments for cold smoking, like this one for a Bradley Smoker:Yes, that's right, you can smoke pretty much anything, and we do!
Have a Happy Forth of July weekend, and this year enjoy smokin' as well as grillin' --
Ryan and the Culinary Crafts Team