Every great craftsman knows that importance of using not only the right tools – but the best quality tools for creating a masterpiece. Whether it be an artist and his choice of brushes, a sculptor who has the finest chisel, or the chef who has the best kitchen knives to bring his or her culinary creations to life. It is also true that to create the finest dishes at home – one must take special care to mimic as closely as possible the operation of the finest kitchens.
As any chef knows – every dish begins in the prep kitchen – and knives that do the preparation of the ingredients. Vegetables are sliced, diced and cubed with the right knife for the job – often called a chefs knife.
The finest cuts of meat are trimmed to exact specification in the prep kitchen but require a different knife than do the vegetables – most use a filleting knife – while smaller knives like paring knives are best for delicate jobs including peeling and fine cuts.
Regardless of your culinary task, our goal with this special website is to guide you through the selection and use of the right knife for which ever task you may demand of it. We will discuss the best brands of knives, the best value and of course the best knives for each job. We will also tackle how to sharpen your knives and care for them. So let’s get started…
What Makes a Great Kitchen Knife ?
Every chef has a different opinion on what makes a knife their favorite – the main common denominator though is the feel of the knife in one’s hand. It is an extension of the hand and arm – and the knife must do exactly as the user commands it to. There are a multitude of considerations to choosing the perfect kitchen knife including
- Knife Weight
- Blade Material
- Blade Length
- Blade Thickness
- Thickness of the Handle
- Shape of the Handle
- Length of the Knife Handle.
Let’s start with the weight and balance of the knife
Most quality knives are heavier in weight than their cheaper, non gourmet cousins. A typical chef’s knife from Walmart weighs about half what a quality knife is going to weight – but don’t get fooled into thinking just because the knife is heavier that it is of better quality. In larger knifes such as Chef’s knives, what you really want to achieve is balance between the weight of the handle and blade which should balance where the two meet. This is less important in a utility or paring knife, but balance is a key factor for bigger jobs. The actual weight factor can be a personal choice as well – I prefer a heavier knife that requires less effort when cutting vegetables such as large roots ( potatoes / yams etc ) as well as for slicing carrots which can be very tough depending on the thickness and age of the carrot.
Blade Material and Thickness
The next critical factor is the material the knife is made out of – and in particular the blade itself. The top chef’s knives are typically made out of either what is called Japanese Steel, or German Steel. Every manufacturer uses different steel alloys in the forging of the blade – but the main differences in the two variations are that best japanese knives in the world are usually thinner and are much sharper thanks to their blade angle of 16 to 18 degrees. German steel is usually thicker and sharpened to a 22 degree angle making them more resiliant to abuse than their thinner Japanese cousins which can lose their sharpness quicker or become damage if dropped and can also be prone to breaking the tip off.
There is some debate among Chefs ( well lots of debate ) as to how many knifes a chef even needs. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer. A simple kitchen that focuses on prepping dishes of similar nature will have a reduced need for knife variety than a more complicated menu that has extensive prep needs. The starting point though for any chef is a high quality chefs knife with a blade of 10 inches, a utility knife with a blade of around 6.5 inches and a filleting knife typically of 8 to 10 inches and a paring knife with a 3 to 4 inch blade. Old School Chefs may argue you only need a 10 inch chef knife and a 6.5 inch utility knife – but that is ridiculous as there is no black or white answer.
An exquisite example of a heirloom chef’s knife is this masterpiece from Shun produced in the Japanese city of Seki – the ancient home of Samurai Sword making. Featuring a hand crafted hammered Tsuchime 8 inch blade as well as a pakkawood hand carved handle. The blade is made of VG 10 Japanese Steel with a 16 degree edge.
As important as the blade is to a knife – the handle is of equal importance. How the knife fits into your hand will determine how it performs and obviously a woman with small hands will have a different preference than a man with large hands who is able to wrap is fingers around a much thicker shaft. The contour of the handle also is important – and the grip itself plays an important role.
My name is David Nolen and I am a Red Seal Chef with more than 30 years fine dining cooking. Over this time, I’ve owned and operated some of the finest restaurants in the world. I’m a fanatic about using the right tools to get the job done and when it comes to kitchen knives – there is a big difference between a knife from your local department store and a true chef quality knife. In this article, I’ll help you figure out the best kitchen knife for you.