The "NEXT" Kitchen Knife Buying Guide
Which Custom Kitchen Knives Do YOU Need?
"ULTIMATE" Kitchen Knife Buying Guides typically come littered with links to this or that site trying to sell you a knife. This one does not. This article is simply an attempt to raise the awareness of kitchen knife types and styles, knife steels, and what you may or may not need in YOUR kitchen. No sales attempts, I promise! So enjoy, learn, and if you have a question, please ask via text (828-337-7836) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). OK, here we go!
Which Knives to Buy?
Buy what you can afford, and if you can afford it, buy something your kids will want for an heirloom, something that will last. Something from me? I'd be honored!
But buy what feels good in your hand. I won't pretend to know what you like or how you use your knives! Whether you're a professional chef or a home cook, use knives that are extensions of your hand. My mom has never used a chef's knife for anything but cutting a watermelon. My point is we're ALL different...
For a little background
Here are some optional links that might help you understand some of the terminology if you're unfamiliar. Just skim on down to the CHEFS KNIFE part if you're not into the nerdy stuff! grin
"The Steels" will help you understand that there are many types of steel for knives, and why one is chosen over another. If you take one thing away from this article, take this. If a maker is at all secretive about the steel or can't nail down the Rockwell hardness of your knife, it's highly likely they're using inferior steels or processes. That's fine if you're buying a $10 paring knife for the family picnic, but if you're trying to put together an heirloom set of blades, do some research and ask some questions. Any maker who cares will be happy to discuss their steel choice and heat treat protocol with you!
This is slightly more technical, but a good read if your like knowing WHY things are the way they are!
Covers some of the different types of possible handle choices and why one or another might be better in a given situation.
"Forged Vs Stamped"-
A lot of debate in the knife world gets used up on whether a forged knife is superior to a "stamped" knife or a stock removal knife. While opinions are rampant, the fact is there's no scientifically verifiable proof that a forged blade from the same steel and heat treatment is harder, tougher, or has better edge retention than a knife stamped, or waterjetted, or laser cut, from a sheet. The truth is the steels we purchase for knife making have been forged, rolled, and reduced many many more times than a typical bladesmith would. Properly done, a stamped knife is just as good as a forged or stock removal blade. And here's something to chew on- "drop forged" is literally a stamped knife. Just buy what feels good in your hand. Renowned metallurgist and Knife Steel Nerd Dr. Larrin Thomas wrote a very informative article about just this subject HERE.
Now that we're on a more level playing field, let's dive on into the different styles of knives and uses for each. You can decide whether you need or want any of them, of course!
THE CHEFS KNIFE --
This is the knife that probably no kitchen should be without. It's the workhorse of the cutting board, making short work of most kitchen tasks short of chopping bone! Chef's knives can range in length from as short as 6 (petite) inches all the way up to around 14 inches! The average is between 8-10. Chef's knives come in many profiles such as German, French, Western, and the several Japanese styles we use as chefs Knives. Japanese, and each region has its own traditions and styles of design.
The French Chefs knife
"French knife" or "kitchen knife" has a blade height of around 1.5" or more at the heel(handle side), and the sharpened edge only begins to belly(curve upward toward the spine) somewhere past the midpoint of the blade It tends to be thinner and lighter than its German counterparts.
The German chef's knife
Generally thicker, heavier, and more bulky than their French cousins. With a belly that begins to curve upwards toward the spine well behind the midpoint of the blade's length. They are more suited to heavier uses such as breaking down joints of meat, but are still useful for lighter tasks such as chopping small veggies and herbs. Choosing between a French or German knife would definitely be a matter of personal preference!
Japanese Knife Styles
Come in more profile styles then European blades. From the list pictured, a Gyuto, Santoku knife, Deba, or a Kiritsuke, could ALL make a perfectly serviceable chef's knife. Japanese makers typically run their steels harder and thinner than Europeans, making the knives a little more delicate, but well suited for slicing, dicing, and chopping in the kitchen. Many of the best Japanese knives are made from carbon steel (non-stainless), so require more care than stainless. The advantage of some simple carbon steels is a finer grain structure, easier sharpenability, and higher potential working hardness than European mass produced stainless knives.
THE BREAD KNIFE
This could be a knife you do or don't need, but if you slice bread the serrated edge bread knife is a must. There are several lengths and shapes of bread knives, but they all have one thing in common- SERRATIONS! it's the saw-like action of the serrated blade that allows the bread knife to slice soft breads without crushing their fluffy texture.
THE UTILITY KNIFE
Conveniently situated between the chef's knife and paring knife, the utility can take up all the tasks that are too small for the chef's and too large for the paring. They're typically 5-7" long, slightly thinner and keener than a chef's knife, and a bit more agile since they are smaller. Do you need a utility knife? I suggest you hold one in your hand and imagine what you could do with it in your kitchen!
THE BONING KNIFE
Thin and flexible with a keen point and screaming sharp edge, the boning knife is made to separate meat from bone. It needs to be thin to bend and follow bones, but hard enough to maintain sharpness through the job at hand. Boning knives are available in several different profiles, and varying lengths and thicknesses for a variety of jobs. From longer, heavier blades designed for large cuts of beef to the flexible thin blade of a trout fillet knife, they're all in the boning knife family!
THE PARING KNIFE
The paring knife is the one you reach for to peel potatoes and fruits, or slice root vegetables directly into the pot. These knives are usually 3-5 " long, and have many blade profiles for slightly different jobs. Paring knives are thin, flexible and very keen to handle the delicate chores a small blade should. In the kitchen they pick up where the petite chef or utility knife leave off. Personally, I wouldn't want to work in a kitchen with no paring knife, but I know people do it. A variant of the paring knife is the steak knife we love to see on the table! Personal choice, right?
I think that covers the "standard" knives in the kitchen, but there are a few niche knives that deserve a mention for the unique jobs they do for the home or professional chef, or butcher. Let's go over a few of those now.
We'll talk mainly about the cleaver, slicing knife, the scimitar, and the butcher knife in this category.
Meat cleavers are heavy knives with a more obtuse grind at the edge. They're designed to cut (or chop) through frozen foods, bones, and large tough cuts of meat. Not to be confused with the lighter and more delicate vegetable cleaver.
Sometimes called a slicing knife, these straight edge blades are 8-12" long and about 1.25-1.5" tall. Designed to efficiently slice large cuts of meat.
My friends in the butcher shop at Foothills Local Meats and Butcher's Bar rely heavily on a half dozen or so 10" scimitars to break down large primal cuts of meats. The blade is almost all belly, with a high upswept trailing point. They're essential in the butchery.
If you look at the graphic above, you'll see the edge of the butcher knife looks very much like the scimitar, with a long belly that becomes very pronounced and steeper toward the tip, with more thickness at the tip. The primary function of these knives is breaking down, slicing, and cutting meat.