Having the right knife makes a world of difference when working in the kitchen. If you have ever chopped, diced, or sliced anything before, then you know what good knives can do. They make food preparation so much easier, faster, and safer, so cooking is more fun! But with a plethora of choices in the market, how do you select the perfect one for your needs?
Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all knife. It’s like a dancing partner–one that feels comfortable and graceful in your hand might feel awkward to others. So, when shopping for a chef’s knife, it’s important that you identify your personal preferences. This may take some time, but you will know when you have found the one.
Where to find a knife
While almost everything can be found online, it is best to shop for a chef’s knife the old-fashioned way–at cookware or cutlery stores. This is where you can actually get the feel of the knives and consult with someone who can guide you and explain the differences between the features of various knives. Good stores will help you play with their range of knives, so you can better evaluate the shape, size, weight, etc. of each one. Here is how you can narrow your choices down to the best products that fit your budget.
Test the knives
When shopping for chef’s knives, it is best that you test them and get a feel of the blade in your hands. Some stores will let you try using the knives with common kitchen ingredients. You can carve melons, cut carrots, dice onions, mince parsley, and slice some squash to see how a knife performs. You may also try things not usually cut by a knife to test for its flexibility, for example when you are implementing your latest vegan protein cookie recipes.
What to look for
When you find the right one for you, it will feel comfortable and effortless, like a natural extension of your hand. It should give you confidence in the kitchen, not fear. If it doesn’t feel right, then you can simply move on. Here’s what to look for:
1 – Material
Most knives in the market right now are made of stainless steel. They are durable, strong, and sharpen easily. They’re also a lot cheaper.
Some high-end chef’s knives, on the other hand, are made of carbon steel. They’re almost indestructible and they’re used for cutting food on metal or natural stone surfaces. They’re easy to sharpen and they hold their edge well, stay sharp for a long time. However, the blade will turn black over time. This discoloration doesn’t affect its performance or the taste of food, but the knife becomes highly susceptible to rust, which means you have to constantly clean it using a stainless steel pad to keep it shiny.
High-carbon stainless steel is a good alternative. It’s highly durable and can maintain sharpness for a long period. It is resistant to stains imparted by the chromium in the steel. This is common among Japanese knives, which are thinner and lighter than American and European blades.
Ceramic knives are less common. They’re light and extremely sharp. However, once they start to dull, you need to send them to a professional who can resharpen them using special tools.
2 – Construction
There are two main types of construction for chef’s knives: forged and stamped.
Forged knife – This is made when extreme heat is applied to a piece of steel. The hot steel is then molded into the right shape. This type of knife is considered high-quality and is usually more expensive than a stamped one. The process of heating and shaping the steel creates a strong blade that bends less over time.
Stamped knife – This is made by a machine. The machine punches a piece of steel, then the edges are sharpened and formed in the shape of a knife. While this process doesn’t necessarily create high-quality knives, there are stamped knives that perform well in the kitchen. When you opt for this type, you should know that you may need to sharpen it more often. You may also have to replace it sooner. Fortunately, many stamped knives today are heat-treated and go through a method called ‘stock removal’ to give the blade a nice geometry that mimics forged knives.
3 – Weight and balance
Weight plays a big part in the equation of finding the right knife for you. You may have to test several knives before you can find the ideal or comfortable weight. Traditionally, a hefty knife cuts through food more easily, as it simply “falls” with more force. On the other hand, lighter knives flow freely and effortlessly, so they’re easier to maneuver with skillful hands. Obviously, this is a matter of personal preference.
In the future, when you gain more experience and skills in using knives, you may need to buy different weights for different purposes.
Find the “perfect balance” by simply holding the knife by the handle. If it feels uncomfortable, weighted towards the back, or to the blade, then it’s probably not the right one for you. An unbalanced knife will feel awkward and make your hands work harder than needed. Side-to-side balance is important as well. The knife should feel stable and should not teeter to either side.
Balance and weight go hand in hand when determining the comfort of using a particular knife. Obviously, this depends on your preferences.
4 – Size
A standard chef’s knife is eight inches long. It’s a standard for a reason; it’s versatile, easy to hold, and maneuver. There are, of course, longer blades (10 inches) that can cut bigger items or more quantities of food. They may feel intimidating for some, but larger individuals with bigger hands prefer them.
There are also smaller knives (six inches), and they offer agility and better maneuverability for paring. Unfortunately, they fall short when it comes to slicing larger items.
5 – Sharpness
A dull knife is not only inconvenient, but it is also dangerous. It requires more pressure to use when cutting, which increases the risk of the knife slipping from your grasp due to the huge force applied behind it. The best knives are sharp and stay sharp for a long time before you need to sharpen them. They bite and cut effortlessly without needing a lot of force. So, be sure to check the sharpness carefully and opt for a knife made from a metal that can keep an edge for longer periods even with consistent use.