The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Perfect Kitchen Knives
Kitchen knives are essential tools for any home cook or professional chef. They are the workhorses of the kitchen, allowing you to slice, dice, chop, and mince with ease. A good kitchen knife can make all the difference in your cooking experience, saving you time and ensuring precision in your cuts. But with so many options available in the market, how do you choose the right one? In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know about kitchen knives, from the different types and styles to the key factors to consider when making a purchase. Let's dive in!
Types Of Kitchen Knives And Their Uses
Cooks/Chefs Knife -
The versatile, all rounder. A chef’s knife is one of the most versatile and important tools in any kitchen. Any professional chef will tell you this is a must-have. It’s a go-to for chopping and dicing vegetables, fruits, and herbs. As well as cutting a variety of other ingredients like meat, poultry, and fish. They are usually 20 to 26 cm long, and the blade rounds at the tip. Don’t use it to peel small produce (it’s too large to be precise) and avoid using it to carve cooked meat.
Utility Knife -
Utility knives are smaller than chef’s knives but not quite as small as paring knives. They’re great for slicing and chopping small to midsize vegetables and cuts of meat. A serrated utility knife comes in handy for slicing sandwiches as well. A straight-blade utility knife is helpful when peeling produce, though sometimes that’s better left to paring knives.
Paring Knife -
Paring knives are proof that you should never judge a knife by its size. This little piece of cutlery has a very thin blade that’s super sharp. It expertly peels, chops, slices, minces and removes seeds. It’s a go-to for slicing fruit or cutting up vegetables. Though you don’t want to cut large meat or large produce with it, you can use it for just about everything else and you’ll find yourself reaching for it a lot. It’s available in either a straight or serrated edge.
Santoku Knife -
The Santoku Knife is a close relative of the chef’s knife and is the Japanese equivalent. Like a chef’s knife, it’s also very versatile, great for chopping, dicing, and mincing ingredients, or slicing cheese. You can use it for just about anything you’d use a chef’s knife for; both are great all-purpose knives. A santoku knife can be scalloped (Shown Above) or non-scalloped.The word Santoku means ‘Three Uses’ for slicing, dicing and mincing.
Turning (Tourné) Knife -
This type of paring knife has a short blade that is curved, like a bird’s beak. The use might not be obvious at first, but the shape has advantages for shaping, trimming and peeling vegetables. The classical turning knife has a distinctly curved blade that makes for easy turning of vegetables: that is cutting it into a barrel shape.
Nakiri Knife -
A nakiri knife has a rectangular blade and is mostly used for chopping vegetables whereas a santoku knife is more like an all purpose knife. The Nakiri knife is a traditional shaped knife, used for a variety of kitchen cuts. Nakiri means ‘Knife for cutting greens’.
Kiritsuke Knife -
The kiritsuke knife is a Japanese style slicing knife that is used mainly for thinly slicing fish, vegetables, and fruit, using push/pull cutting. It is traditionally only used by executive chefs because of its difficulty of use and significance as a symbol of status in the kitchen. Kiritsuke means ‘The Executive Chef Knife’.
Carving Knife -
A carving knife has a long, narrow blade to cleanly cut through meat and a pointed tip to manoeuvre around bones. The blades will generally have some flexibility to allow for movement when making precise cuts.
Filleting Knife -
Fillet knives are specifically designed for cutting fish and removing bones. A wide array of fish knives with various cutting edges exists - but the most common ones are fillet knives, large serrated knives and those designed for cutting tuna.
Slicing (brisket) Knife -
Similar to carving knives, slicing knives have long, thin blades with either a round or pointed tip. With a more flexible blade than a carving knife, they are used to cut thinner slices of roast, fruits and vegetables. Ideal for: Slicing and carving thin cuts of meat, such as chicken, pork, beef, venison, fish.
The large knife with a rectangular shaped blade has many functions and 2 different variations. The first is a cleaver like the one pictured above which many people use like it is a chef’s knife to slice, dice, chop, fillet, pretty much everything. The flat side can be used to crush garlic to make it easier to remove its peel before mincing. The second type is a heavy duty cleaver used to chop through bone.They come in various sizes and weights, so you can purchase a size that feels comfortable to you. The big blade can be intimidating and a little dangerous if not used correctly.
Steak Knife -
Steak knives are less for cooking and more for eating. They should be set at the table with any good steak dinner. They are sturdy and sharp so that you can enjoy those expensive steaks with ease, cutting it like butter. They are often sold in sets, with a straight or serrated edge.
Boning Knife -
A boning knife has an extremely narrow and flexible blade that tapers to a pointed tip. It’s used to debone cuts of meat more efficiently and reduce waste in the process. It can cut through those tough connective tissues and joints that other knives struggle with. Just remember, cut around bones, not through them. It can also be used to remove the skin from fish as it helps to easily separate the flesh.
Bread Knife -
Bread knives are usually a long knife with serrated edges. They easily carve through soft or crusty bread without sacrificing its integrity. When using, move it more like you would a saw than a chef’s knife. In addition to slicing bread, they can be used with other baked goods, too like cake. Other than bread, you can use them to cut large melons where straight blades often get stuck.
Carving Fork -
Carving forks are used to hold foods securely in place as well as keeping hands away from the sharp blades of the knives as food is being prepared. Longer tines will allow the fork to go deeper into the food so the larger pieces of meat can be kept stable as they are carved.
Yanagiba Knife -
Yanagiba knives are primarily used to slice boneless fish fillets for Sashimi and Sushi dishes, but they can also be used to fillet small to medium-sized fish and are often used for skinning fish.
Butcher’s Knife -
A butcher knife or butcher's knife is primarily used for the butchering or dressing of animal carcasses. That is to say, if you need to cut a large piece of meat into smaller (for instance, retail-sized) cuts, a butcher knife is the type of knife you need.
Rockwell : The Rockwell scale is a hardness scale based on the indentation hardness of a material. So the higher the rockwell, the harder the steel, the lower the rockwell, the softer the steel.
First Made- 1995
Made in- Seki, Japan
Type of steel- The Miyabi birchwood range has 101 layers of Damascus steel surrounding a SG2 (Super Gold 2) steel core which is a high-carbon stainless steel ice hardened to 63 Rockwell. The Black range has 48 layers ice-hardened to 61 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- Miyabi knives are currently the sharpest and most beautiful knives available to buy. Miyabi knives are extremely sharp, boasting a 9 to 12-degree angle per side compared to Shun with 16 degrees per side. The Miyabi factory is relatively small and every knife is handmade with each knife going through 130 production steps. Miyabi blades are also harder than most knives, which improves edge retention but makes the blade more brittle. Rated #1 for Sharpness.
Made in- Seki, Japan
First Made- 2002
Type of Steel- The Shun Classic range has 34 layers of Damascus steel surrounding a hard VG-MAX steel core. Shun Premier Range has 68 layers of steel hardened to 61 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- Shun knives are beautifully handcrafted, aesthetically pleasing, and ultra-sharp. If you're looking for premium Japanese-style kitchen knives, Shun should be at the top of your list. They are pricey but absolutely worth the price because you get gorgeous handcrafted knives that perform as well as they look. All Shun knives are made in Japan using age-old Japanese knife-making techniques. Shun knives are sharpened at a 16 degree angle. Rated #1 for Traditionality.
Made in- Solingen, Germany
First Made- 1814
Type of steel- Chromium- molybdenum-vanadium steel hardened to 58 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- Wusthof has a solid reputation, and their knives give enormous value, they hold their edge very well, and their edge is very sharp. While you are paying a premium for these knives, they are an extremely durable knife. 14 degree angle. Rated #1 for Overall.
Made in- Esslingen, Germany
First Made- 1778
Type of steel- "Double X VG 12" carbon steel hardened to 56 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- These knives are designed using high-quality steel alloy and their material composition grants them top-level functionality, the fdick knives come very sharp out of the box, and with frequent honing on steel or ceramic rod, they remain EXTREMELY sharp. 15 degree angle. Rated #1 for Durability.
Made in- Osaka, Japan
First Made- 1965
Type of steel- Embossed MAC Solid Steel (AUS8) hardened to 60 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- MAC knives are precision tools that are shaped, assembled, polished, and sharpened by professional Japanese craftsmen. Every step in Mac's knife making process is performed in Japan using only Japanese materials, manufacturing ffor over 50 years. 15 degree angle.
Made in- Solingen, Germany
First Made- 1985
Type of steel- Chromium- molybdenum-vanadium steel hardened to 58 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- Messermeister, German for ‘Knife Master’ have been handcrafting and producing the highest quality German knives and cutlery for over 30 years. 15 degree angle.
Made in- Niigata, Japan
First Made- 1985
Type of steel- CROMOVA 18 Stainless steel hardened to 58 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- Global is one of the best kitchen knife brands due to the unique steel design, high-quality materials, razor-sharp edges, and commitment to traditional Japanese knife-making techniques. Global knives are amazingly light and easy to hold. 10-15 degree angle. Rated #1 for Lightweight.
Made in- Seki, Japan
First Made- 1908
Type of steel- Molybdenum Vanadium Stainless Steel (1K6) hardened to 56 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- Wusthof has a solid reputation, and their knives give enormous value, they hold their edge very well, and their edge is very sharp. While you are paying a premium for these knives, those that buy them love them and feel they were worth it. 15 degree angle.
Made in- Ibach, Switzerland
First Made- 1891
Type of steel- High-carbon stainless steel hardened to 57 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- The Victorinox knives are an affordable and well-known knife which does not disappoint on quality, lifetime and sharpness, also popular among chefs due to their high durability. 18 degree angle.
Made in- Brazil
First Made- 1931
Type of steel- High-carbon stainless steel hardened to 56 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- Mundial knives are great quality knives and excellent value if you don't want to make the jump to the high end knives. You do have to commit to sharpening the knives regularly as they lose their edge quicker than other knives, Mundial Knives are a great Medium-level knife. 20 degree angle.
Made in- China
First Made- 1956
Type of steel- German stainless steel hardened to 56 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- Scanpan knives are a great starting and affordable knife, although they do lack in quality and the steel is weaker than most knives. 20 degree angle. Rated #1 for Value.
Made in- China
First Made- 1998
Type of steel- Japanese Stainless Steel hardened to 56 Rockwell.
Quality of Knife- The blades of Furi Knives are made of high grade Japanese steel that is considered a great, medium-level choice of knife. Furi kitchen knives are known for their higher durability, corrosion resistance, stain resistance and affordability. 20 degree angle.
Difference Between Damascus Steel and Stainless Steel
When shopping for knives, you may encounter terms like "Damascus steel" and "stainless steel," but what sets them apart? Let's explore the dissimilarities between these two types of steel.
Contrary to popular belief, stainless steel isn't a single material; it's a family of steel types resistant to corrosion from heat, water, and acidic compounds.
Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, stronger than plain iron but prone to rust. To prevent corrosion, it is combined with at least 10-30% chromium.
Features of stainless steel include:
- Resistant to Corrosion: The presence of 10.5% chromium enables stainless steel to resist corrosion. Chromium reacts with oxygen to form a protective layer of chromium oxide. Scratches or dents trigger self-healing, as the chromium reacts again to form another protective layer.
- Durability: Stainless steel shares the same sharpness and durability as Damascus steel. Its combination of elements results in strength and longevity, allowing for thin blades with excellent edge retention.
- Multi-purpose: Stainless steel's strength, durability, and ease of maintenance make it suitable for various applications. It is commonly used in kitchen cutlery, appliances, outdoor knives, hospitals, and construction.
Damascus steel is renowned for its distinctive wavy or watery pattern, dating back to 500 BC. Originally used for sword blades, it gained fame for its sharpness, durability, and beauty. However, the origin of the name remains disputed with several theories:
- Steel made in Damascus.
- Steel sold in Damascus.
- Named after the damask fabric pattern featuring intricate wavy designs. The word "damask" possibly derives from the Arabic word "damas," meaning watered.
The secret to forging Damascus steel blades was so well guarded that it was lost in the 18th century. Modern attempts to reproduce it have had varying degrees of success. Here are the main characteristics of Damascus steel:
- The Material: Damascus steel, like stainless steel, is an alloy formed by forging different types of stainless steel together. This process creates the swirling patterns. Examples of materials used include VG10 steel and VG2 steel, which incorporate carbon, chromium, nickel, copper, and other elements.
- Unique Patterns: Unlike the plain surface of stainless steel, Damascus steel exhibits distinctive swirls and waves. Originally caused by impurities like tungsten in wootz steel blocks, the patterns are now replicated using modern materials and forging techniques.
- Many-layered Blades: Damascus steel blades are forged from multiple layers of steel. A simple multi-layered blade typically comprises a hard steel core sandwiched between two soft steel layers, with the core exposed at the cutting edge. The soft layers enhance durability, while the hard core provides a sharp, long-lasting edge. The twisting, folding, lengthening, flattening, and hammering of the steel during forging reveal the patterns.
Durable: Damascus steel, like stainless steel, combines flexibility and hardness, resulting in durability, sharpness, and long edge retention.
Uses: Unlike stainless steel, which has various applications, Damascus steel is exclusively used for making knives. Consider this distinction when selecting your next set of knives to experience the difference firsthand.
In conclusion, while Damascus steel and stainless steel differ in their composition, appearance, and usage, both are strong, durable materials suitable for knife making.
Secondary Knife Materials
Carbon gives extra strength, sharpness, and edge retention.
Nickel confers a silver colour and enhances corrosion resistance.
Manganese improves the structure of the grain.
Chromium makes steel corrosion-resistant and improves tensile strength and hardness.
Molybdenum like chromium, makes steel corrosion resistant and increases the strength and hardness.
Vanadium increases the tempering stability of quenched steel and produces a secondary hardening effect.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Kitchen Knives
When shopping for kitchen knives, there are several key factors to consider to ensure you find the perfect fit for your needs. Let's take a closer look at each of these factors:
The material of the blade plays a crucial role in the knife's performance, sharpness, and durability. Here are some commonly used blade materials:
- Stainless Steel: Stainless steel blades are popular due to their corrosion resistance and easy maintenance. They are less prone to staining and require minimal upkeep.
- Carbon Steel: Carbon steel blades offer exceptional sharpness and edge retention. However, they are more susceptible to rust and require regular maintenance.
- High-Carbon Stainless Steel: This type of blade combines the best of both worlds, offering the sharpness of carbon steel and the corrosion resistance of stainless steel.
The handle material affects the knife's comfort, grip, and overall balance. Common handle materials include:
- Wood: Wooden handles provide a traditional and comfortable grip. However, they require regular maintenance to prevent damage.
- Plastic: Plastic handles are lightweight and easy to clean. They are a popular choice for commercial kitchens.
- Composite: Composite handles, such as those made from fiberglass or G-10, offer durability and a secure grip.
- Stainless Steel: Some knives feature stainless steel handles, which are sleek and easy to clean but can be slippery when wet.
The construction of the blade affects its performance and durability. Here are some common blade constructions:
- Stamped: Stamped blades are cut from a single sheet of metal and are typically thinner and more flexible. They are less expensive and great for everyday use.
- Forged: Forged blades are created by heating and shaping the metal. They are known for their strength, durability, and balance. However, they are usually more expensive.
- Full Tang: A full tang blade extends the full length of the handle, providing better balance and stability.
Blade Shape and Size
The shape and size of the blade determine its suitability for different tasks. Consider the following:
- Blade Shape: Different blade shapes excel in specific cuts. For example, a curved blade is ideal for rocking motions, while a straight blade is great for precise cuts.
- Blade Size: Blade sizes range from small paring knives to large chef's knives. Choose a size that feels comfortable and suits your cutting needs.
Weight and Balance
The weight and balance of a knife can impact your comfort and control during use. Some people prefer heavier knives for more power, while others prefer lighter knives for increased maneuverability. Look for a knife that feels balanced in your hand and suits your cutting style.
Sharpness and Edge Retention
A sharp knife not only makes your cutting tasks easier but also safer. Look for knives with a sharp factory edge or those that are easy to sharpen. Additionally, consider the blade's edge retention, as you want a knife that will stay sharp for longer periods between sharpenings.
Comfort and Ergonomics
A comfortable grip is essential for extended periods of cutting. Look for knives with ergonomic handles that fit comfortably in your hand. The handle should provide a secure grip, preventing slippage during use.
Price and Budget
Kitchen knives can vary widely in price, so it's important to set a budget before you start shopping. Consider how often you will use the knife and invest in a quality option that suits your needs and budget.
Maintenance and Care
Different knives require different levels of maintenance and care. Some blades need to be hand-washed and dried immediately, while others are dishwasher safe. Consider your willingness to care for the knife and choose accordingly.
Brand and Reputation
Choosing a reputable brand can give you peace of mind in terms of quality and customer support. Look for brands with a history of producing high-quality kitchen knives and positive customer reviews.
Choosing the right kitchen knives is essential for every home cook or professional chef. By considering factors like blade material, handle material, blade construction, and size, you can find the perfect knife to suit your needs. Remember to prioritize comfort, sharpness, and maintenance requirements when making your selection. And don't forget to rely on expert testing and insights to guide your decision.
Investing in high-quality kitchen knives will not only enhance your cooking experience but also ensure the longevity and performance of your tools. So, equip yourself with the right knives and elevate your culinary creations to new heights! Happy cooking!
"A Kitchen Without a Knife, Is Not A Kitchen." – Masaharu Morimoto