Tag Archives: paring knife

Kitchen Tool Upgrades to Take You to The Next Level

My list of handy ‘next level’ kitchen tools so you’re not caught without “the right tool for the right job.”

There’s an old saying about using “the right tool for the right job.” It isn’t just about odd jobs around the house – it’s about EVERY job – the right tool makes whatever the job is so much easier and that includes the tools in your kitchen.  When it comes to making sure you have the right tools, there’s no difference between fixing a leaky faucet and cooking up a lovely dinner for guests.

This is my list of handy ‘next level’ kitchen tools. None of these ideas are expensive – almost all are under $35. But having these tools around the kitchen could make all the difference between a fun cooking adventure or enduring what could become an unnecessarily difficult kitchen experience.

Read: The 10 Essential Tools for Beginner Cooks

My goal is to help you avoid the situation where you’ve already started a recipe and suddenly you realize that the simple task of grating Parmesan cheese is not going as planned. Or, you need the wine opened for your pot roast and that old handy wine opener (the one you’ve had since college) suddenly jams. Some of these items you know you’ve talked about replacing the last time you reached for them. A few of them you don’t think about until the day you need them.

This is why I urge all cooks, whether you’re a new or inexperienced cook or are very comfortable in the kitchen, to be proactive about all your tools. You don’t know the pain until the simple tool you need is either missing or broken!

Here’s the easy part about all of this—it doesn’t take much to upgrade the standard tools in your kitchen—you just have to remember to do it. And, I’m here to help:

A good citrus squeezer. Seriously, this is the one everyone forgets. Remember, you just can’t get as much juice out of the lemon or lime using only your hands.

A two-step Waiter’s Corkscrew. This is a pro tool, used by waiters everywhere and will make getting the bottle of wine open that much easier.

A good quality microplane. You’ll never have to mince garlic or ginger with a knife ever again.  And, this tool is perfect for Parmesan cheese!

A sturdy dough or bench scraper. Bakers use it to scrape the dough off the counter, but here’s the thing—it’s actually perfect for transferring chopped anything (meat or veggie) into pots and pans without picking up the cutting board.

An insert rack for your pan. If you ever plan to fry anything and want to keep it crispy, get a cooling rack that fits your sheet pan.  Air can flow underneath your fried items and keep them crispy – they don’t sit in the oil from the fryer.

A set of nesting mixing bowls. Stainless or glass, because everyone needs mixing bowls, right?

A cast iron skillet – 10-12”.  This will become your favorite skillet in the kitchen.  Nothing sears meats better and it can go from stovetop into the oven with no worries.

REAL kitchen shears. Not scissors you also use for cutting paper. You want shears that can cut through chicken bones AND that sheet pan pizza you just made. Important feature—make sure you get the ones you can easily take apart for thorough cleaning.

A serrated bread knife. The thing is, this is not just for bread but also any hard-skinned vegetables like Squash – AND tomatoes (perfect for any thin-skinned soft fruit because it won’t tear the skin!)

A paring knife. Small and sharp, for the little cutting jobs that require precision.

Read: The Essential 5 Must Have Knives for your Kitchen

A fish spatula. Characterized by the extra-long part that does the scraping or picking up. Usually made of thin stainless steel.  This one is not only for fish but for just about anything that needs a little extra flexibility to pick up the food in one piece.

A stainless ladle. This is for that pot of chili you’re going to make on Sunday or the favorite soup for dinner.

Watch my video to see these tools and get the feel of the way they work. And remember—maybe you already have some of these tools. But, check them out and make sure they’re ready for your next cooking adventure.

The Essential 5: Must-Haves Knives for your Kitchen

Essential 5 kitchen knives

Make your kitchen functional and safe with sharp knives that can get the job done!

Maybe you’re thinking it’s time to get a nice block of knives for the kitchen. I couldn’t agree more. MOST kitchens need an upgrade. But let me put a stop on snagging those knife sets you see on special at the department store (usually on sale). You know the ones I’m talking about: the nice wood block set with eight or more knives, kitchen scissors, and steak knives to boot. Save your money. Those sets are a complete waste.

It’ll be better to purchase what a chef would get: what I call “the essential 5”—everything you need to get just about any job done in the kitchen. Watch my video so you can see what these look like and how they handle.

Most important is what we call a “chef’s knife.” They come in different lengths. I recommend a size between 8” and 10”; mine has an 8” blade. However, the more blade you have, the more knife there is to work with. This knife can deal with about 90% of what you do in the kitchen, including slicing and dicing. I wouldn’t use a chef’s knife for butchering or cutting up poultry or even to remove the skin of large hard vegetables like butternut squash. You’d never use a knife like this to punch a hole in a can, either. A good chef’s knife will probably be the most expensive one in your set–maybe close to $100 for good quality. Things to look for: full-tang (one piece of metal with the two handle pieces); pins that hold the handle to the tang (not glued into the handle). Why is “full-tang” important? It gives you a more balanced, longer lasting knife, and it’s heavier than cheaper partial tang knives. The weight gives you a little more chopping strength when you have to cut through firm veggies like carrots and squash.

A decent paring knife with a blade about 3” to 3 ½“ long.  Paring knives are used for those tasks that need more attention to detail like mincing garlic cloves or peeling fruit. They won’t do you much good for cutting carrots or parsnips, that’s what your heavier knives (e.g., chef’s knife) are for. You don’t need to spend a lot on this knife – maybe $20. By the way, remember this all-important safety rule: the right blade does the job efficiently. If you have to use a lot of force, it’s a signal that you’ve got the wrong knife. Be very careful because your knife may slip out of your hand.

Serrated “trimming” knife with a blade length of about 6”. This knife is great for smaller loaves of bread, and they’re great for things with slick surfaces like tomatoes, watermelon, citrus, and peppers. You can even use them on layer cakes! Use your 6” serrated trimmer when you need to slice with a sawing motion. Do not use it for chopping and definitely not smaller items like fresh herbs, garlic or berries. A good quality one will cost around $30-40. If it goes dull, just replace it; they’re challenging to resharpen without losing the serrated edge. Look for teeth that aren’t too big (it’ll tear up soft interiors) or too small (not so efficient).

The last actual knife is a boning knife. Boning knives are not used to cut THROUGH bones, we use them to cut AROUND them. It’s the best blade for cutting up or boning fish, meat or poultry of any size.  This is the one knife not designed to cut a straight line but one to cut “around” things like joints or a ribcage. Good ones have a bit of flex to the blade which will allow you to separate the meat from the bone and it will cut through joints and cartilage. A decent boning knife will cost about $30, but if you plan to give it some heavy use in your kitchen, you may want to spend a bit more.

The last of the Essential 5: honing steel. It’s not a knife, but it’s essential to keep your blades sharp. A dull knife is the most dangerous tool in your kitchen.  Knives should be honed every time you use them. It doesn’t actually sharpen the blade, it realigns the fibers in the metal, so they keep a sharpened profile. But don’t forget to get your knives professionally sharpened once a year. Honing steel can be used on any straight blade but never on a serrated knife.  They’re very often included in a set, but if you’re buying it separately, they will cost about $25 – ceramic or steel.

Now you have “the essential 5”—go make something marvelous!

Tips for kitchen knives: which ones do you really need?

Which one is right? Do you need more than one? Do you need a full set?

Everyone needs a good set of kitchen knives. I mean everyone! But there are so many different types of knives to choose from made by so many companies that offer great quality. So, the question is how do you pick the best ones for your kitchen?

I learned from all my years as a restaurateur that you do not go for the prettiest nor do you necessarily need the most expensive. Most important, you don’t absolutely have to buy every knife that a sales person suggests. The most important thing that you will always want to look for in any knife you’re buying is a “full tang” – that means that they have been forged from a single piece of steel – one piece that goes from the tip of the knife all the way through to the end of the handle. Very often you can see that the handle looks like a “sandwich” but sometimes with a synthetic handle you won’t be able to see it (ask them to be sure). Once you’ve found the knives in your price range that have a “full tang” you can narrow your choices down if you follow these simple steps:

The first thing to think about is comfort. No matter if you cook a lot or a little in your kitchen, you’ll want to pick the one that feels the best in your hand. Pick it up, hold it – you don’t ever want it to slip.  If it feels good in your hand, you have a candidate.

The next thing to think about is ease of control. Some knives can be fairly heavy. Especially some of the newer “pro” versions. Heavy is not always good but you also don’t want one that’s too light for your hand. What you need is one that balances well in your hand and is easy for you to control.

Once you find the kind of knives you like, don’t feel pressed to buy a full “set” just because they’re on sale. You don’t need all of them. There are only three types of knives that are essential to any cook – four if you’re like me and like some variety.

Fran's Knives

Fran’s choice of knives, from left to right: paring, santoku, chef’s, and serrated, all from Zwilling J.A. Henckels.

  • 3.5″ Paring Knife – a real necessity for picking and fine trimming and cutting.
  • 8″ Serrated – useful for cutting crusty bread.
  • 8″ Chef’s Knife – excellent for chopping and perfect for ‘rocking’ while slicing. Or…
  • 5-7″ Santoku – an alternative for the chef’s knife, also good for chopping and slicing but a completely different shape.  I find that I usually reach for my Santoku before I reach for my Chef’s Knife but it is personal preference between the two.

Whatever knives you select, remember that comfort and control are the two most important things to consider. Don’t believe for one minute that you must pick knives from the same company. If you find that you like different knives from different companies, be bold and mix and match them.  I happen to like the knives from Zwilling J.A. Henckels. You should also look at Wüsthof, Shun, and Global – all offer very practical, well made, and – in my opinion – high-quality tools.

Now for some tips on the care and use of your new kitchen knives.

Don’t let knives ever go dull – learn how to sharpen them – you can use either a sharpening stone or even an electric sharpener. Contrary to popular myths, even serrated knives can be sharpened (but, you will probably need to have these done professionally). Dull knives are not just a hassle; they can also lead to injury. You should never have to work hard to slice and chop. Dull knives will cause you to grip not only the thing you’re cutting but also the knife. Cutting, chopping, and slicing should be easy tasks that take little physical effort. If you force a dull knife to do a job, it can cause you to make mistakes or slip, and you will probably end up cutting things that you don’t want to cut, like your fingers!

I hate to harp on a list of ‘don’t do this, ‘ but there’s another big don’t for your new kitchen knives: don’t ever put them in your dishwasher and don’t drop them in your sink to wash later. Good kitchen knives are precision tools. It doesn’t take much to bump and dull them. Learn to wash them by hand – blade side away from you – and wash and dry them right after you use them. Washing them right away keeps food from drying and crusting on the blade, which forces you to scrub. You don’t want to scrub a sharp knife!

Think about how you’re going to store your knives. At the least you’ll use the safety covers that may come with the blades. The last thing you want to do is grope around in a drawer full of uncovered and sharp knives. Seriously! What you’ll find is that there is a quite a diverse number of ways to store knives – countertop blocks, wall mounted blocks, magnetic strips, in-drawer inserts. There are dozens of systems and methods, and each has their pros and cons. The best idea is to look around at all of them to see what’s best for your kitchen. Like your knives, select one based on what makes you feel the most comfortable.

Enjoy your kitchen knives – safely – and cook lots of great meals with them. Most of all, have fun.