The most important kitchen tool in your kitchen, bar none, is a knife. Before you spend any money on ice cream makers, avocado pitters, or any other single purpose cooking item, stop. Go to your kitchen drawer and pull out your knife. Take a good, hard look at it. If your chef’s knife was part of a 10-part butcher block set you received as a wedding present and/or has a plastic handle, it is time to invest in a better knife, my friend. Confused by all the options out there? We will look at the four things you need to consider when going knife shopping to help you make a more informed choice.
When you hit the stores or the web, the first thing you will notice is that there are really two styles of knife for you to choose from – the more traditional German chef’s knife and the newer Japanese Santoku knife. Neither one is better than the other. It really depends on your preference. Here are the pros and cons of each…
The German knife blades tend to be thicker than the Japanese blades and thus a bit heavier which could lead to fatigue. They also are not as straight along the bottom of the blade meaning that you can get a more fluid rocking motion going with these knives. Because the blades are thicker, they tend to hold their sharpness longer and are easier to sharpen. German blades are softer and less likely to break making them very useful for jobs such as chopping up a chicken.
The Japanese knives tend to be lighter and sharper than German knives but will need to be sharpened more often. Japanese knives tend to feel more balanced since they do not have a full tang. A full tang puts more of the weight into the handle of the knife. Japanese knives will make cutting through tougher materials more difficult but are wonderful for everything else.
Bigger is not necessarily better. Most home cooks tend to choose an 8 inch knife but if that feels a bit small, you may want to consider a 10 inch knife instead. The key is to get into a store that offers good quality knives and try a few of them out. See how they feel in your hand. Practice cutting something. Some stores will actually let you try them out on a few veggies.
Process to Create the Blade
Blades are either forged or stamped. Forged knives are made by pouring the heated metal into a mold. Stamped knives are cut from a sheet of metal. Forged knives tend to be stronger, more flexible and thus more expensive. Stamped knives are lighter, thinner and need to be sharpened more often.
Type of Metal
The last thing to consider when select a knife is the material the blade is made from. Typically you will find two types:
High Carbon steel
Carbon makes steel stronger, so knives that are “high carbon” knives are desirable. However, these knives are more prone to rust than stainless steel.
Stainless steel knives are not as strong as high carbon steel knives but these days you will likely find that knives contain additives like Chromium to increase the strength of the knives while still holding the knife’s edge longer. Other additives you may find are Vanadium which allows the knife to retain an extra-sharp edge, and Molybdenum and Manganese which make the knives more wear-resistance.
While a good quality knife will often run you about $100 or more, it is far more useful than all the kitchen gadgets clogging up your drawers and much safer to use than the cheap, dull knife you may now be using. So while it may feel a bit painful to let that much money leave your wallet, consider it a worthwhile investment that will last a lifetime.
What type of knife do you use now? Do you wish you had a better one or have you found your perfect kitchen partner?