5@5 - Knife-maker Joel Bukiewicz
October 7th, 2010
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Behind every great chef, there is a great knife - and behind every great knife, there is a great knife-maker. That's where Joel Bukiewicz cuts in.

Bukiewicz is the owner and operator of Cut Brooklyn, where he artfully crafts high-carbon supersteel into handmade kitchen knives for professional and recreational cooks in New York City and elsewhere. Consider him the Hattori Hanzō of the knife world.

He's even loaned one to our managing editor Kat, who says his knife is the best she "has EVER used" - and she's no paid shill. It may have nearly sliced her thumb off – but boy, was it a clean cut!

Kitchen mishaps aside, Bukiewicz is here to enlighten us on how to slice and dice with the best of 'em. Shall we edge onward?

Five Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Kitchen Knives: Joel Bukiewicz

1. Choose a knife you'll enjoy using and are prepared to maintain
"Get your knife from a reputable kitchen store where they’ll allow you to test drive before buying. Pick something from the wall that appeals to you aesthetically and try cutting with it and several others before choosing.

The one you choose should look great and feel great in your hand - the blade’s balance, speed and power should complement your strengths and shade your weaknesses. It should be a sexy, well-thought-out and well put-together tool, ground to a thin edge and finished befitting your budget. Quality will vary, so if you see something you don’t like in the finish of your chosen knife, ask to see another of the same model from behind the counter.

If you choose a non-stainless Japanese blade, be comfortable with the idea of spending some real time learning to sharpen it on water stones. If possible, get the stones you’ll need right there by recommendation and get to work learning. If you learn to do it well, it’s a skill that will give you a great deal of pleasure for the rest of your life. There are tons of great learning resources online.

If the knife you choose will respond well to a hone (without micro-chipping as very hard Japanese carbon steel will), ask for a recommendation and try out a few hones right there in the store on your knife. Get a quick lesson/demonstration on the correct way to hone if need be. The right hone should make for an edge with just enough tooth to bite into a soft tomato, but not so much that it feels ragged. Your knife should stroke easily and evenly down the hone. Long, even, consistent strokes, alternating sides with very little pressure. None of that zip-zip-flash-flash bologna you see on T.V."

2. Make friends with your knife
"Cook something that requires a whole bunch of chopping (a big batch of hearty vegetable soup is always fun) and take your time enjoying learning the way your knife performs and wants to cut - where it balances and how it likes to be held.

For almost everything you do, you’ll be holding your large chef's blade in the control grip, pinched between thumb and forefinger just forward of the handle. Steer your knife, don’t muscle it - it should always be sharp enough to do so.Get in tune with the knife’s power and balance.

Work slowly and learn the edge’s zones of contact with the cutting board and how you need to hold it to make even, consistent cuts that you’ll later be able to repeat more quickly. Your knife will have tendencies, strengths and weaknesses - learn them and learn when to set it aside for a blade more suited to the task. Feel the weight of the heel as it drops on the board, get to know the speed and accuracy of the tip and how the whole piece moves in your hand so that when your eyes pick a target, your knife follows."

3. Stabilize your cutting surface
"Always, always set a damp paper or cloth towel beneath your cutting board to keep the board from sliding around while you’re working. It should be sort of stuck to the countertop and hardly move around at all.

If the board moves, your hands move and your food moves - you might as well be working blindfolded. You’ll never get any better with your knife and sooner or later you will cut the hell out of yourself. If your cutting surface is immobile, your accuracy is dependent on your skill and attitude and you’ll be firmly astride a learning curve. You will get better and you will have fun."

4. Get an end grain cutting board
"Composite and long grain cutting boards are brutal on the edge you’ve worked so diligently to maintain. They’re also bacteria traps. A wooden end grain cutting board works like a bristle dartboard - the edge slips just slightly between the wood fibers of the board instead of tearing across their length. And when you finish your cut, those bristles slip back together and heal the cut so there’s no slice or gap where bacteria can gather. Your edge will last far longer and require less maintenance - and you won’t get food poisoning."

5. Be nice to your knives and keep them sharp
"You’ve made good friends with your knife so treat it like a friend deserves. If your edge is sharp, it’s also fairly delicate, so it should never come in contact with anything harder than the steel from which the blade is made.

Never, ever cut on a glass, marble or metal surface. Don’t toss your knives into the sink, or throw them down on the counter in a rush where they can bang into a jar, bowl or other knives.

Clean your knife with a cloth or sponge and warm water and soap when you’re done working. Be very aware where your fingers are while you’re washing - if it’s well-kept, it wants to cut and will lop off a fingerprint in no time.

Never, ever put your knife in the dishwasher. Dry it carefully and immediately and hang it on your wall magnet or set it in your block. If you’re honing to keep it sharp, give it one or two strokes on each side before or after every use. Eventually you’ll need to have it re-sharpened professionally but the more diligent you are about honing, the longer your edge will last between sharpenings."

Are you in a long-term relationship with your chef's knife? Or - got any handy-dandy cutting tips to share? Let us know in the comments.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Think


soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. B

    Jdizzle Mchammerpants. Ive read alot of your posts, but you butchered (pun intended) that quote.

    October 12, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      =(

      October 12, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  2. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    "That's a knife?.......That's not a knife. THIS is a knife...."
    – Crocodile Dundee

    October 8, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  3. LgMcB

    It took investing in one good knife to see the difference it makes. Now, if I could only get my mother-in-law to understand that they don't go in the dishwasher...

    October 8, 2010 at 7:59 am |
  4. David

    I talk to my knife everyday, but it's been very depressed lately. I think it's jealous over the new meat tenderizer I just bought. Any advice?

    October 8, 2010 at 7:57 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      Introduce your knife to the new mistress "tenderizer". Who knows, maybe you can all play?

      October 8, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  5. Sara Moore

    Store knives in a knife block with the sharp edge up ... preserves the sharp edge. Using knives per suggestions in knife feature really makes a difference in overall performance and sharpness. Along with making use of knives per feature suggestions, good knife cutting skills are most definitely "skills" improved over time. A sharp knife, with good balance does make a difference in the use of these skills .... My collection of 40 year old Chicago Cutlery knives (2 chef's knives, paring knife, filet/boning knife, carving knife/fork, bread knife) was well worth the initial (and, at that time, seemingly) high price. Good knives are an essential part of one's kitchen "tools" inventory.

    October 7, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
    • CHP

      Aren't You in prison for trying to kill Prez.Ford?

      October 7, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
  6. YerKiddinMe

    Thanks Bukiewicz, but do we know what O.J. would recommend for a good, all-purpose knife?

    October 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • CHP

      Yes Sir It would be called the Nicolette!

      October 7, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
  7. Slasher

    I want my knives sharp enough to cut the Balls off a Turkey without having to call "Butter Ball University"!

    October 7, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  8. robot chop

    dude, send me a knife. do you make cleavers? if not i prefer a 10" chef's blade.

    October 7, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
  9. CSnord

    I order my knives from Japan. I really like the asymmetrical edge of Japanese traditional and western style knives. I learned to care for my knives by sharpening them on water stones and they are just great. It is a whole lot more fun to cook with really sharp knives that are tuned to your style of cutting.

    October 7, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  10. deathbydonuts

    Never knew you could test drive a knife. Seems a bit overkill unless you're a master chef.

    October 7, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
    • robot chop

      a true master chef (there are only about 80 or so here in the US) does not do a lot of knife work and thus does not need a knife like this, nor to test drive knives in a kitchen store. They have used an immense amount of knives in their career. An instrument like this would be a great benefit to a working sous chef, a working chef of a small independent restaurant, or a highly driven line cook who has the stuff to someday become a chef. Or even a very enthusiastic home cook, who has the disposable income to purchase commercial grade equiptment.

      October 7, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
      • DR.Chopoff

        I work in a Jewish Hospital in upstate NY. Thankfully Nascar has stepped up along with Firestone to purchase our by-products and produce a new rain tire to protect Dale Jr. as he speeds around the tracks.

        October 7, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
      • Agee

        "They have used an immense amount of knives…"
        Shouldn't that be an immense NUMBER of knives to be grammatically correct?
        'Amount' designates volume. 'Number' designates anything that's countable.

        October 8, 2010 at 9:03 am |
        • Jerome

          Oh my god. Shut up.

          February 8, 2014 at 9:42 am |
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