Welcome to Gaining Elevation, a column dedicated to kicking your kitchen game up a notch. We’ll explore classic and often-used recipes, and get professional insight into how to get great results every time. From desserts and cocktails to mains and sides, nothing’s out of bounds!
At the end of the day, chefs don’t really need too many fancy gadgets. Sure, the latest and greatest kitchen tech can be fun, but are by no means critical to culinary success. What does every chef need? Knives.
“Humans have been sharpening implements forever,” says Corey Milligan, owner of Jackson Hole-based New West Knifeworks. “Probably since even before fire.” He’s right; blades are some of the oldest relics of humanity, and they remain some of the most important tools in the modern chef’s toolbox. There are some tips and tricks that can help keep your favorite blades sharp, safe and usable for years to come.
First things first: not all blades are created equal. “So many people derive a lot of pleasure from cooking,” Milligan explains. “Having a fine tool to do the work makes it an all-around richer experience.” At New West Knifeworks, you’ll find a wide array of knives that define excellence. Superior design, expertly constructed and ground, these blades will hold a finer edge for much longer than a cheap version. Milligan sums it up: “Functionally speaking, they simply work better.”
“Knife blocks work great, and magnets are awesome,” says Milligan. Whichever fits your kitchen space is fine, but there are a few things to avoid when it comes to blade storage. Don’t store knives loosely in a drawer; as they bounce around and ricochet off other items, the blade will get dull or damaged. Also, warns Milligan, don’t put knives away damp. Residual moisture can lead to rust, which can spell the demise of even the highest quality blade.
When it comes to cleanup, always hand wash knives. “They really shouldn’t just be left in water in the sink,” advises Milligan. Not only is it a recipe for getting cut, the moisture can seep between the handle and the blade. This permeation – like putting knives away wet – can lead to staining or rust. If you do notice staining on a blade, it’s important to clean it off before the problem escalates. “You can use the rough side of a sponge, or one of the green scrubby pads,” suggests Milligan. Tackling trouble spots before they become rusty can help extend the life of a quality blade significantly.
The dishwasher can be disastrous for blades, too. “It’s about the lifetime of the knife,” explains Milligan. “The superheated water makes the blade and the handle expand at different rates, and over time, that will break down the knife.” Moreover, the blade will dull quickly or even chip as it’s clanged against other items or the interior of the dishwasher.
It’s no news that sharper blades are, in fact, much safer than dull ones. “A sharp knife works better and faster, and it make the food look better. It’s just more pleasurable to use!” Milligan says. So, how does the home chef keep blades sharp? Milligan recommends a combination of home and professional maintenance.
When it comes to keeping things edgy at home, Milligan prefers ceramic honing rods. He says that modern steel blades are best sharpened with either ceramic or diamond. While electric sharpeners are effective, he says, they can easily strip away far more metal than necessary. Manual edge maintenance takes more time and elbow grease, but is ultimately safer.
Milligan also advocates for annual professional sharpening; simply swing by the store with any New West Knives you own, and the staff will sharpen them for free. They’re also happy to sharpen other blades as well, for a small fee.
Finally, Milligan notes, sometimes bad things happen to good knives. “Tips break, blades get dings, it happens,” he says. But don’t give up on that trusty chef’s knife just yet! New West Knifeworks can regrind or reshape the blade to bring it back to functionality. So, whether you’re looking to add some quality edge to your collection or to show some love to your old favorites, swing into New West Knifeworks and stay sharp!