Cooking knives are a man’s most basic and needed tools in the kitchen. You can split an apple, carve a turkey or even pop open a beer bottle. But there are dozens of styles, hundreds of manufacturers, and lots of money to be wasted. Having run a restaurant, taught graduate level cooking classes, and simply cooked at home, I will share some of that knowledge to help you get the best slicing tool for your money.
Knives Advice #1: Don’t go out and spend hundreds of dollars on knives right away!
Like any expert swordsman, it will take a while for you to get a feel for what type of knife you really like and then also what you really need. If you blow all your cash now, you will end up with a drawer full of hardly used equipment.
We’re here to make sure you get the biggest value for your money. Let’s first give you some insight that will later help you identify the perfect knife.
The 3 Characteristics that Define All Knives
Stamped or Forged- How it’s created.
Stamped knives are just as you might imagine, the shape is “stamped” out of a sheet of metal. A chunk of metal is selected, heated, and hammered to form the blade. Stamped knives are lighter, thinner, and less expensive. Forged are thicker, heavier and more expensive.
Stamped knives do not hold an edge well but are easy to sharpen. Forged hold an edge well but are harder to sharpen.
My suggestion? Stick with forged. Modern technology allows companies to produce thinner and lighter forged blades than in the past. You get the best of both worlds. How to tell which is which? Ask the salesperson. Alternately, if a 10- inch chef’s knife is less than $40.00, it’s probably stamped – they are cheaper.
The Metal of the Blade
For many years, kitchen knives were formed from basic carbon steel. This made for a very sharp edge: it’s what Samurai swords were made of.
But, this metal will rust if left wet, and reacts with many foods, especially acids, so it can leave off flavors behind. Modern kitchen knives are made of “high carbon stainless” steel. This makes for a sharp edge, but will not rust or react. There are a bunch of alloys out there with cool names like “VG 10 supersteel” and “SG2” or “Swedish Vanadium”. There are “Rockwell” hardness ratings which suggest how long the knife will hold an edge. There are “Damascus” clad knives with 10 to 90 layers of beautiful special steel on the outside of the blade. For the professional, all these details are factors in what knife to buy. After all, professionals use these knifes six to ten hours a day. For you, even you GEARHEADS out there, it’s all just too much information. If you really want to discuss knives at this level, jump in on the blog and ask.
The Handle That’s Just Right
This is, to me, the most important detail in making the knife comfortable to use.
You need to get a bunch of different knives into your hand. A knife with a great handle that does not fit your hand is useless. Go to a decent kitchen store (particularly a smaller independent one one, like Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table) and handle as many knives as possible to see how they feel in your hand. Test out knives at every friend’s house. Focus on trying the 8” or 10” Chef’s Knives as these will be your mainstay. How is the balance? Does the end of the handle stick into your hand or stick out? Is it bumpy, textured or smooth? Soon you’ll be able to settle on a handle style you like, and you’ll purchase the knife that makes cutting through the hardest ingredients a pleasure. Remember: the material is not as important as the feel.
I have some knives with cheap plastic-wood handles that I use every day, and some with way-cool, expensive exotic wood handles that sit in a drawer.
You now are equipped with a good understanding of the three main elements that go into creating the most efficient (and suave!) knife for you. Our next article will guide you in selecting the actual knives you should purchase for your kitchen.