Using the right knives is essential to success in the kitchen. Whether you’ve just invested in a set of knives or are looking for advice on the right things to add to your collection as you start cooking more, we’ve got you covered. The first part of our Knife Skills series will focus on how to choose the right chef’s knife: what to look for when purchasing a good-quality knife, the price range and how to care for your knives.
A good chef’s knife is an investment. It is the one ‘go-to’ tool in your kitchen that can perform a myriad of tasks and, if treated correctly, will last a lifetime. I’ve had some of my knives for over 20 years and they are still going strong. This in, in part, because of the initial financial investment I made in them and also because of the way I care for them.
Step 1: Test the Knives
When purchasing a knife, be it a chef’s knife or other type, it is a good idea to go to a store where you can test out the knives – physically hold them and see how they feel in your hand. Some knives are heavier than others and have different handle configurations. Some handles are made of wood, others of plastic, and some are metal. When you are using your knife, you want it to feel comfortable, like it is an extension of your arm.
What to Look For
Weight: You will notice, when you actually hold the different knives that there is a marked difference in the feel and the weight of them. German made knives tend to be heavier, and the blades thicker while Japanese knives are lighter and the blades are thinner. Ceramic blade knives are very light as are some of the less expensive (read: less well-made) knives.
Knives that are forged of high carbon or high carbon stainless steel are the choice of many professionals and home cooks alike. The have many pluses, including their quality and durability, their ability to keep an edge and ease in sharpening and a few drawbacks, the most notable being the price.
Sturdiness: When you hold the knife, you want it to feel solid, and when you engage the blade, it should remain strong and firm. If it wobbles or bends at all, set it down and move to then next one.
The exception to this is if you are purchasing a fillet, slicing or boning knife. We’ll talk about those in the next post. As you hold the chef’s knife, notice the blade. It should be smooth and sharp, with a definable edge to it. If it has serrations on it, again, set it down and move along.
Blade Extension: Look at the blade as it meets the handle. A good knife’s blade will extend all the way through the handle. This helps to balance the knife and reinforces the blade.
You will notice some knives that have handles that are simply attached to the blades. These are generally less expensive than full-tang knives making them a budget-friendly option. They are also lighter and made of stamped stainless steel. Their main drawbacks are that they are not as strong as high carbon forged knives and they are difficult to sharpen. They range in price from $30 to $100.
Ceramic blade knives are also very light and have super-sharp blades. They are budget friendly also. Their main drawback is that the blades can chip very easily and some are less durable. They range from about $20 to $70.
Step 2: Set a Budget
A good chef’s knife, one that will last you for years and years with proper care, will cost anywhere between $75 and $300. I advocate for one closer to the $75-$150 range. Some of the better known manufacturers are Wusthof, Henckels, Victronix, Miyabi, Global and Shun.
$150 for one knife may seem like (or be!) a lot of dough to lay out. Again, if you think of it as an investment, it may ease the initial wallet shock. Many of the better made knives come with lifetime warranties as well. Good to know when you’re considering which knives to buy.
Step 3: Set up a Care Routine
To ensure that your knife will last you a lifetime, proper care is in order. If I can impress one thing upon you it is to never, EVER put your knives in the dishwasher. EVER. Hand wash them with hot, soapy water (no steel wool!) and dry them. Store them either in a knife block, in a knife sheath or on a magnetized bar. This is to protect the blades and also for safety.
Next post we’ll learn about the different knife types and their applications and I’ll offer suggestions as to which knives will provide a good, solid foundation for all of your kitchen adventures. Until then, happy chopping!
- Chef Holly Pierce