The One Tool a Chef Says to Banish from Your Kitchen Counters

published Apr 17, 2023
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Some days, it feels like I’m on a never-ending quest to optimize the organization of my small kitchen. If I can’t find another way to occupy my weekends, I end up taking everything out of my cabinets and drawers and squeezing them back in a new configuration, only to end up less satisfied than before. I even asked a culinary expert for advice on how to streamline my countertops, and I was shocked to learn that his number-one complaint was, of all things, my knife block.

Initially, I didn’t understand the issue. I always figured it was a bonus that such critical utensils came with their very own storage! Chef Jacquelyn Lord, owner of The Dinner Belle in Chicago, breaks down the issue: “Knife blocks are less than ideal. Most people just cram them in the block, without thought for how the blades scraping on the wood can affect the sharpness.”

Not only do blocks dull knives, but they also come with excess supplies. “Every person that cooks (professionally or not) needs three knives: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife,” Lord says. “You could also throw in a slicing/boning knife for someone that likes to work with whole fish, or if you’re the person that cooks the turkey for Thanksgiving. Kitchen shears are also good to have on hand if you’re breaking down a chicken.” (Sidebar: I’m thrilled that the popularity of kitchen shears is expanding — they’re truly fabulous!)

If you, like me, aren’t brave enough to tackle Thanksgiving or break down a bird, you can further downsize. Nebraska-based private chef and consultant Costa Lapaseotes says, “Unless you’re deboning a rib roast or putting on your paper hat to slice prime rib at the country buffet, a well-maintained chef’s knife is all you need.” As a true one-size-fits-all knife enthusiast, Lapaseotes swears you don’t need to be a formally trained chef to maneuver one. “If you keep the chef’s knife sharp, it can handle tomatoes, it can peel potatoes,” he says, adding that “a chef’s knife can [even] slice a roast or debone a chicken.”

Once you’ve identified which of your block’s knives to maintain, you can identify the best alternative storage for your kitchen and lifestyle. Drawers are always an option, but it’s crucial for the knife’s sharpness and for your safety to properly stow them away. Lord says, “For the home cook, there are magnetic sleeves for knives that won’t damage the blades.” 

Lord and Lapaseotes agree that a magnetic knife strip affixed to the kitchen wall is a simple solution. Says Lapaseotes, “With a magnetic knife holder, you get to keep the knives on display, which not only lets you know which one you’re going for, but also looks badass.” (And after binge-watching The Bear this past year, I wholeheartedly agree that the back-of-house grind is, in fact, badass.) Lapaseotes recommends this knife strip from Sur La Table and uses it in his own kitchen.

And if you love the look of a knife block but are worried about the wear-and-tear on your knives — and also whatever bacteria is lurking in the slots of your classic knife block, blech! — Lapaseotes points out that magnet blocks exist. The more you know! Whatever the configuration of your home’s kitchen, there’s a knife storage option that should fit your household’s culinary and organizational needs. Just remember: A sharp knife is a safe knife, no matter how you slice it!