High Life Decoded: How to Buy and Maintain a Chef’s Knife

Brendan McDermott, Knife Skills Expert at the Institute of Culinary Education, says all you need is $100 and a bit of love.

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For those who truly love to cook—whether it's in your home kitchen or on the line—one of the first investments you commit to is a great chef's knife. The entire experience of choosing one can be exhilarating, from picking out the blade to trying it out. Unfortunately, it can also be an intimidating and confusing process. Salesmen are out to up-sell, and pretty packaging can easily draw you down the wrong path. It's really hard to know how much to spend and what to buy.

And even once you've found a knife you like, there is still the question of what to do with your new fancy blade when you get it to the cutting board. How often should you be sharpening the thing, and how exactly do you go about doing it correctly?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about ceramic versus Japanese, or using water stones versus paying someone to sharpen your blade for you, but who is correct? We decided to call in an expert to answer some of our questions on buying the right chef's knife, and how to properly treat it.

The Expert

Brendan McDermott, Knife Skills Expert at the Institute of Culinary Education, teaches more than 80 classes every three months devoted to knives. He has worked from a line cook to an executive chef across various New York kitchens and has been teaching students about proper knife use for more than eight years. "I just have a love for chef knives and taking care of them," says the man who has a three generation-old knife from his grandfather still in mint condition.

Here, McDermott leads us through a basic tutorial on buying knives and maintaining them properly. So toss that plastic thing you got last Christmas from your aunt aside and make an investment—just $100!—that will literally last a lifetime.

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