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Monday, March 12, 2012

Public Enemy #1 for Knives

The next time somebody tells you, “You're not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” you might want to reply, “Thank you! The sharpest knives aren't kept in the drawer.” I'll tell you why at the end of the blog.

The sharpest cooks have the sharpest knives. Knives are actually fragile tools that require much care. When used properly, a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife, so keep it sharp and keep it safe.

 Maintaining your chef knife and cutlery can be a challenge, but your reward is safer food handling, better looking and better tasting food, says cutlery expert Robert Ambrosi, owner of Ambrosi Cutlery, founded in 1930. Here are some ideas that will keep you cutting and chopping, and not mashing and squeezing.

Before you slice that tender corned beef this weekend for St. Patrick's Day, think about your knife. What is Public Enemy #1 for your expensive knives? It's your dishwasher. Never put your chef knife in the dishwasher. Dishwashers blunt your knives with high temperatures, abrasives and acidic food remnants. Electrolytic conversions from other metallic items in your wash can dull and pit the blade, Ambrosi says.

 “Start with the handle,” Ambrosi advises. “The American dishwasher has a booster coil, and it gets too hot for a wood handle. It will shrink, and the wood will separate from the tang on a good knife.” (The tang is the metal extension of the knife that connects to the handle). “Composition handles pretty much hold up. When you look at the blade, some people say the heat alters the molecular composition or melts the edge. That's not the case. The way blades are tempered, the heat will not affect them that way. “There are other issues,” he says.

“A sharp knife should come in contact only with the item it is cutting. Anything else will contribute to it dulling. For that reason, it is not okay to put a knife in a dishwasher. The next reason is the chemicals and hardness in the water can create pit marks. I've had people bring knives in for sharpening that had small holes, indentations, in the steel blade from the water and chemicals.

“Aluminum against stainless steel causes a chemical reaction,” he explains. “It causes pitting and corrosion. I see tiny black spots on the blade edges.

 “All in all, it's not a good idea to put a good knife in the dishwasher.”

Automatic dishwashers heat to 160 to 180 degrees F, and while debate rages among manufacturers and chefs, Ambrosi says it's not hot enough to re-temper most steel knives. However, he acknowledges that the knife's extremely thin edge does change with heat, and may become pitted or re-aligned due to the abrasive soaps and chemicals in the dishwasher.

What is the best way to treat your best knives? Ambrosi recommends a simple procedure. “Take it to the sink,”Ambrosi says. "Wipe it down with a sponge and soapy water. Do this with the edge facing away – sometimes people forget that and get cut. Wipe it dry immediately with a cloth. Then, put it away.”

 Ambrosi suggests that storing knives in a drawer is a bad idea for two reasons. First, they slide in the drawer against utensils or other knives, blunting the blade. Also, reaching into a drawer with exposed knives can be extremely dangerous.

The Atomic Kitchen will tackle other cutting edge kitchen issues and proper knife storage in future blogs.

Next week: Coffee and Asthma
Last week: Carmelizing Onions

The Atomic Kitchen is a blog by Kerry Gleason that explores the science of cooking. For more information about Kerry, visit .


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