Knives are among the most commonly used kitchen tools so having quality ones in a number of shapes and sizes can lead to greater efficiency and safety in the kitchen.
Knives can be expensive depending on the types and brands so unless you plan to be a professional a few top-quality knives that you love using will serve you better than a wide variety of different ones.
Buy at least three types, a large (20-25cm/8-10inch blade), medium (10-12 cm/4-5″) for all-round chopping and slicing, small (5-8cm/2-3″) and a steel to sharpen them with. The sizes listed do not include the handles. Essential ones include a chef’s knife, a small paring knife and most people will already have a serrated bread knife. After the essentials, a well-balanced selection can include a carving knife with a 30cm/12″ blade, a boning knife with a 18cm/7″ blade, a utility knife and kitchen shears. Most people will hardly ever use or need a slicer.
The fit and feel of a knife in your hand is the most important aspect of choosing a knife so compare different brands of the same knife to find the right one. Other considerations before purchasing a knife should include:
- Assess how much you cook. You’ll need a few decent knives even if you cook infrequently. If you cook a lot or plan to, it might be worthwhile to invest in more or better quality ones.
- Weight. A good quality knife should be of substantial weight in you hand with reasonably equal balance between blade and handle. Some are slightly handle-heavy or blade-heavy or even between the two. Choose the one right for you.
- Comfort. Can you get a good grip? Very important.
- Size. Does it feel manageable or unwieldy? Someone with small hands may find a 25cm/10 inch blade too big and an 20cm/8″ size just right.
- Choose forged blades. A fully forged knife is a single piece of metal beaten and ground into shape in several stages involving high heat and tons of pressure, while stamped knives are cut out of sheet metal. Forged is more expensive and stronger because the metal is finer-grained and sturdier without soldered-on parts.
- Blade material. High-carbon stainless steel blades combine the best of carbon steel (which sharpens easily) and stainless steel (which keeps an edge longer, doesn’t stain and doesn’t discolour foods). Although a new material ceramic zirconia is also being used, it reportedly won’t rust, corrode or interact with food and is second in hardness only to diamond. Ceramic blades are lightweight and extremely sharp but also delicate, brittle and more expensive than metal ones – these blades should never touch a steel.
- Price. The price tag on good quality knives can, at first glance, appear really expensive especially with whole sets selling at the same price as one knife. But considering you probably don’t need all the knives in the set and you’ll be using them everyday for the vast majority of cutting in the kitchen, it is worthwhile paying a little more for ones that will last, suit your needs and feel right in your hand.
- Beware of gimmicks. Except for better materials, knife technology hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.
- Avoid serrated knives that are said to never need sharpening. They’re not technically sharp. They work by sawing through food instead of cutting cleanly and can make a mess of many ingredients.