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Equating Cost with Quality

Cooking instructor Peter Hertzmann, author of Knife Skills Illustrated, says many people tend to equate cost with quality when it comes to knives, but the truth is, a $30 chef's knife can give you the same end result as a $400 version. Forged knives (which are molded by pounding heated metal into shape and treating it) are preferable to knives that are stamped out of a sheet; forged knives are less flexible so they keep their edge longer. The most important thing, though, is how the knife feels in your hand; it should be heavy (but not overwhelmingly so) and should feel balanced (i.e., the blade shouldn't feel weightier than the handle, and vice versa).

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Not Sharpening Them Often

Whenever you notice your knives are slipping on food instead of slicing through, that's a sign that the blade needs some TLC. (This can be as often as once a week if you cook a lot.) There are multiple ways to sharpen a knife, and all are effective: you can use a handheld or electric sharpener, or a whetstone. But don't mistake sharpening for honing—the former creates a new edge, while the latter just realigns the microscopic teeth in the blade. You can hone a knife after every use, using a honing steel (it looks like a rod).

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Putting Them in the Dishwasher

Hertzmann maintains that taking care of any knife will make the biggest impact on how it will perform. And when it comes to cleaning, he says that regardless of what the knife costs, you shouldn't put it in the dishwasher, however tempting it may be. Most soaps are too corrosive, and the high temperatures can warp the handle. Instead, carefully hand wash them in hot, soapy water.

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Using a Cutting Board That's Too Small

Chef Bryan Calvert, author of Brooklyn Rustic, sees it all the time: home cooks using high-quality knives on small, flimsy plastic cutting boards. And then, one day, they try out a large, wood board and... wow. Wood boards are usually heavier and sturdier than plastic ones, and the material feels incredibly natural and smooth under a knife (it also won't dull blades as quickly as plastic will). Calvert says a larger size (at least 17" x 11" or, if you have room, an even bigger board, such as one 24" x 18") means the ingredients won't crowd together, so you'll be able to cut food more efficiently. You can also use it to serve food, from sliced roasts to charcuterie.