Among the skills required of a good cook is the ability to take care of all the kitchen tools you can’t do without. It helps ensure meal-making is not only easier and more efficient, but also safer. Take a weekend to look after some of your most-used kitchen regulars — and then keep up the good work.
Knife maintenance is a two-step process. Sharpening, which is only occasionally done, grinds a blade to a razor-thin edge. Honing, which is often done before each use, straightens the edge’s slight misalignment that occurs every time you make a cut.
How to sharpen depends on the knife’s quality. For everyday blades, a manual or electric sharpener is good enough. Just lightly pull the edge through the v-shaped slots, moving from the coarsest slot to the finest.
A better job can be done with a sharpening stone, also known as a whetstone. But some skill is required to use it properly. For high quality knives, treat yourself, and the knives, to an occasional visit to a professional sharpener.
Honing is done with a honing steel, a metal rod with a handle on the end that makes it look something like a magic wand. There’s a technique to honing, but basically a few light strokes on the steel can make a slightly dull knife sharper than new. Keep it that way by not storing it loosely in a drawer.
While the argument over wood versus plastic cutting boards goes on, a majority of serious cooks prefer wood, for aesthetic reasons and because wood doesn’t dull a knife as quickly as plastic does. Whichever you chose, the need to ensure food safety requires that the board is cleaned frequently.
As soon as you have finished with a wood board, scrub it with warm soapy water or a mix of lemon juice and salt. Wipe it clean, then let it dry. Don’t soak it, and don’t put it in the dishwasher. Every month or so, after the board is dry, seal it with a coat or two of mineral oil and wipe it off with a dry cloth. Do the same thing with wooden utensils.
The main advantage of a plastic cutting board is that it can go in the dishwasher. But after a while, the knife grooves left in the plastic’s surface harbor bacteria more tenaciously than even those in a well-used wood board. Which means that a plastic board should be replaced more often.
For increased protection against food contamination, consider using two boards. One for raw meat, especially poultry, and one for everything else.
Pots and pans
The key to making an easier job of cleaning almost any cookware is to avoid procrastinating. Start while the pot or pan is still warm, and you may need nothing more than soapy water and a sponge or gentle scrub brush. Immediately wipe it dry, as that can help prevent rust on cast iron, pitting on aluminum and stainless, and tarnishing on copper. In general, avoid steel wool, abrasive cleaners, or harsh detergents, and don’t put cookware in the dishwasher, even though some is labeled dishwasher safe.
For cast iron skillets, don’t scrub so hard that you scour away its seasoning, which is a protective layer of baked-on vegetable oil that should be applied to the cast iron before first use and then periodically renewed. How often to re-season varies, but if you notice rust, or that food is sticking, it’s time.
Whatever the type of metal, if a gentle scrub with soap and water doesn’t do the job, scour lightly with a toothpaste-like mix of baking soda and water.
Most of the time, cleaning a cheese grater is just a matter of running it through the dishwasher. But cheese residue often clings to the grater’s blades and then gets baked on during the washer’s drying cycle. So, without letting it sit, begin by soaking the grater in water, but not so long that rust has time to form, then scrub it with a brush (even a toothbrush works fine), rinsing before it goes into the dishwasher.
Not so much a kitchen tool as a kitchen fuel, a good cup of coffee can be a valuable asset for many cooks. That means keeping the coffeepot clean is a necessity. A common method, and an effective bacteria killer, is about once a month to brew up a half-and-half pot of water and white vinegar, let it sit for a while, then repeat the process only using water. For some people, though, a taste of vinegar lingers. In that case, replace the vinegar with a quarter cup of baking soda, fully dissolved, and cycle the water all the way through, which should eliminate any odors.