With everybody tightening their belts and eating at home more often, and with a certain cooking-heavy holiday coming up, many people are rethinking the cheap, clumsy, mushy-steel chef’s knife they bought when they landed their first apartment. The good news is that buying a grown-up chef knife doesn’t have to cost much. While you can get an ugly, plastic-handled version at one of the kitchen stores on the Bowery for around $10, it’s well worth the extra $30 to buy one that doesn’t make you look like a cafeteria lady. My favorite for the money is the eight-inch Forschner with rosewood handle ($44.95, from Broadway Panhandler, 65 E. 8th St, nr. Broadway; 212-966-3434). The blade is tall, thin, and tough, perfect for chopping onions and celery for Thanksgiving stuffing. The weight balance between the blade and the handle is nearly 50/50, which is ideal for carving up a turkey. And if properly maintained, the knife should last you a decade or more.
Part of proper maintenance is to buy a sharpening steel and use it often, drawing the blade lightly across the steel at a twenty-degree angle; use about ten strokes on each side, more if the edge is really beat-up. Remember that steels don’t actually sharpen; they realign the edge as it is knocked down with use. When your knife does get dull (probably every six months) you should take it to be sharpened professionally at a reputable housewares store like Broadway Panhandler. It will lengthen the edge and prolong the life of your knife. Most important, learn how to use your knife well. Buy a knife-skills DVD like Knife Skills Series Toolkit put out by the Culinary Institute of America ($25 at prochef.com), or take an inexpensive class, like the 90-minute “Knife Skills” seminar at the Brooklyn Kitchen ($25; 616 Lorimer St., nr. Skillman Ave., Williamsburg; 718-389-2982). Then practice your knifework until the idea of thinly slicing a bag of onions fills you with joy instead of dread.