Caring for your chef knives is the single best way to protect the investment that you have made. This means of course that you should only use them on a surface that is suitable for cutting. Modern hard plastic polypropylene is probably the best surface to use, but the old standard wooden cutting board is certainly fine. The difference is that a very sharp blade will get less resistance on the plastic and hold its edge for a longer period of time. On wood you tend to cut into the board a little deeper and the blade can stick into the groove you have just created. This will wear the blade and make it dull a slight bit more quickly. Aside from those two surfaces you should refrain from cutting on anything else.
As aside in commercial kitchens, health departments strongly encouraged to only use the polypropylene boards on the theory that these were able to be more thoroughly cleaned after usage. Later studies disproved this when they were able to show that in fact maple and oak cutting boards were so tightly grained that the residual bacteria was unable to penetrate and live in the board. So much for modern technology, the good old maple butcher-block is still the best surface for cutting.
I know that the tradition is to cut the “Holiday Turkey” on the serving platter. That is fine as long as the blade is touching only meat and air, but you should avoid cutting into the platter itself. Speaking of ceramic there are a few shops that sell a glass or ceramic style cutting board; do not use these if you value the edge on your knife.
Always clean your knife with a wet towel that has a hint of disinfectant on it. I recommend a cap-full per gallon of water of clorox or other type of germicidal. Be sure to carefully dry the knife after cleaning. Good chef knife sets usually have wooden handles and these will be ruined, to say nothing of the corrosion of the steel, if you try to send them through a dish-washer so… don’t do it! After you are finished using the knife the best way to protect it is to use some kind of sleeve.
Most cutlery stores have plastic knife guards available for a couple of bucks. You can buy these in the exact length of the blade and it will keep them from rattling around in your kitchen drawer. It is certainly a good investment and it will save you several sharpening’s. If you decide to buy a new set of knives the chances are good that they will be advertised with a knife block as well. Get the block size that will be the best for the number of knives that you commonly use. It is a great way to decorate your kitchen. It is also a great way to protect the blades. Look for a block that will hold your favorites as well as the ones that come with the set.
An addition or alternative to a counter-top knife block is the “In Drawer” type of wooden protector. This will fit into your cabinet drawer and keep your knives from running into each other. It will also keep them sorted so you can simply look in and pick out the exact one that you need. Of course you will want to make sure that the size is right for your cabinets, but this is certainly a good option to keep the blades protected.
Another option is the use of a magnetic knife bar. I would recommend this only if you have available wall space above a counter. I had one that was attached on a wall with nothing but floor beneath it, when I accidentally bumped it one time and the knife fell point down to the floor I had second thoughts about the placement. Above a counter is fine where it cannot fall on an unsuspecting foot is much better.
When you start looking around you will see all kinds of interesting solutions including under the cabinet holders that slide out horizontally. I am sure that you can find the right set of protectors for your knives. Anything that you do to keep the edges from hitting un-wanted surfaces will also keep you from having nicks in the blades or having to sharpen them as often. The Chef’s Catalog has a great selection including the simple sleeves you should take a look at their online catalog for more information
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