The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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The Cutting Edge

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This blog entry will highlight a book I recently picked up that has made a big difference in my prep work. Knife Skills Illustrated - A User’s Manual by Peter Hertzman is a hand illustrated guide on the care and use of knives. It takes the various food categories and shows you step by step how to cut, dice chop, slice, julienne or whatever else is appropriate for that item. It also tells you how to prep and carve meat, fish and poultry. The best part for me is while it it has the typical illustrations appropriate for a right handed person, it also has the same illustrations and verbal descriptions appropriate for a leftie like me.

A bit of history is in order. I seem to follow a pattern. I start doing something and I don’t dive in right away. I buy some moderately priced gear to see if I like it. Then if I do, I move up to more expensive equipment. At that same point I also find I want to get serious about learning how to properly use the items in question. After all I just spent all this money getting good gear, so it makes sense to spend a little more to get the most out of the new gear. While I sometimes will take a class on the subject, more often than not I start buying books and reading up on it. This is what happened 4 years ago when I got my current 6 burner gas grill. I figured if I spent all that money on a grill with all these bells and whistles, I owed it to myself to actually learn how to use them properly. I was lucky enough to find Steve Raichlen’s
HOW TO GRILL which started me down my current path.

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Detailed step by step written and illustrated steps have just the right level of detail (left handed version shown above)

I bought some Cuisinart knives 4 years ago when I started getting serious about grilling, and found I enjoy hand cutting all my ingredients. It was a surprise to me but I find it relaxing. Generally I like the results better than a food processor. So I find I am doing more and more hand prep. Last summer I took a class on what to look for buying knives. This October I bought a set of Wusthoff knives and since then I’ve added a couple more knives to the set. Per my usual pattern: It was time to learn how to use them properly. This meant either get a book or two or take a class. Early this year I found Knife Skills Illustrated. Some of you may be saying what about all of the cooking shows on TV. My answer would be: It is all about best use of my time. Personally I feel most of those shows have strayed well into the realm of flash, fluff, personalities & bam. For the amount of useful info I get out of a one half hour show it isn’t worth my time.

Now as for the book. It has chapters on the knives you may need, how to buy and care for them. But for me the best part of the book is the illustrated step by step directions. There are sections on cutting all varieties of fruits and vegetables. There are also sections on cutting and carving meat, fish and poultry. The format is the same. First there is a description of the item in question. Then a right handed version of getting the item ready to be used-trimming peeling etc. Then it covers the methods of slicing, dicing etc. Sometimes two or three methods are shown. Then the same information is presented from start to finish in the left hand version. Just make sure you are in the section appropriate for you.

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I had to learn to think or more accurately cut different. The author know what he is talking about and my skills are improving

I had zero formal or even informal training on cutting and chopping. I was completely self-taught, so I need to start at the basics. Want to learn how to dice shallots? Look up shallots and you will be taken through the steps to peel them, then slice and dice them. I am finding many of the ways I was cutting or chopping weren’t the best method. As a result there was some adjustment required to my mindset. One example: Many of the dicing methods involve taking a series of slices with the knife parallel to the cutting board. This seemed like it would be awkward and not work well. But the book pointed out the key was good sharp knives. These I had, so I tried things the book’s way and sure enough it worked and worked well. I find I am getting more even pieces and it is easier to get a finer dice when needed. My speed is actually improving too, though with my new sharp knives caution will always win out over speed. The book also set my mind at ease about a lump I had recently noticed on the side of my left thumb. Turns out this was just a callous, typical for many people who use knives a lot. At the time I remember thinking this peace of mind alone was worth the price of the book.

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The left handed version let you concentrate on the task at hand if you are a leftie

I mentioned earlier about there being left handed versions of each item with both the written steps & illustrations. I am long used to mentally reversing the illustrations in my head and swapping the word left for right. But do you know what? I can’t describe how nice it is to not have to do those mental gymnastics and just concentrate on doing the task at hand exactly as shown. Now I suppose it might be nice if there were separate left and right handed version, because I am sure many right handed people may feel like they are paying extra for something they don’t need. But a separate left handed version would probably be a money loser. If you are a leftie this is a no brainer -buy this book. Righties will have to decide if the advice is worth the price. My guess is yes.

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The chops for my recent quesadillas benefited from the skills I learned in this book. I got nice evenly sized pieces whether it was a medium or fine dice. It took less time too- an added bonus

Now everyone is different, so I can’t say run out and buy this book. What I can say is the next time you are out looking at books on food, check out Knife Skills Illustrated. Look through the chapters to see if it covers the food items you use in your cooking. Review a couple of the sets of instructions to see if you can follow them easily. My guess is many people will find this a valuable addition to your collection of books on cooking.


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