If the knives you own are blunt, rusty, stained or just unsafe to use, they can add a lot of time and stress to the cooking process. By investing in one or more high-quality kitchen knives you can make food preparation quicker, easier and safer. There is a wide range of knives specially designed to perform specific tasks in the kitchen, including models made to effectively cut through meat, fish, bread and even bone.
Once you've experienced using a sharp and well-balanced chef's knife from a reputable manufacturer, you'll wonder why you persevered with your old and cheap kitchen utensils for so long.
However, you might be surprised at just how long decent-quality kitchen knives will last if they're looked after properly. If you're having trouble chopping and slicing with the knives currently in your kitchen drawer, consider whether a little bit of TLC and maintenance could improve their performance.
What types of kitchen knives are available?
There are many different types of kitchen knives to choose from, each of which is designed to perform specific tasks:
Also called a cook's knife, this is the most important knife to have in your kitchen. The chef's knife is a versatile all-rounder and can be used to chop, slice and dice a wide range of foods. These usually have a blade length of around 20cm, and the blade's curve allows for a smooth rocking motion when chopping.
This small knife is used for delicate tasks like peeling and cutting small vegetables and fruit or trimming fat from a piece of meat. Maximum blade length is usually around 10cm.
This is similar to a chef's knife in that it's designed to perform a wide range of everyday tasks, for example, chopping an apple. However, it's usually more compact than a chef's knife.
With sharp blades of between 10cm and 15cm, boning knives are used to cut through bones, ligaments and tendons when preparing meat, poultry and fish.
If you cook a lot of fish or work with raw meat often, the thin and sharp blade of a filleting knife is useful for removing skin and small bones and performing other fine tasks.
With a long, thin blade leading to a sharp tip, carving knives are designed to help you cut thin slices of meat. Blade lengths generally range from 20cm to 40cm.
A long blade with a serrated edge helps this knife cut through bread easily.
This Japanese-style knife is an alternative to a chef's knife. It features a blunt tip and dimples on the blade to help prevent food sticking to the knife.
These are the most popular choices, but there are plenty of other options you may like to consider depending on the type of cooking you do. For example, you may want a cleaver for chopping meat and poultry bones or a palette knife for preparing pastry.
How to compare kitchen knives
Cook's knives start at around $10 and go right up to over $300. You may prefer the performance and feel of a high-quality knife and be willing to pay a premium for improved cutting ability, or you might find that a budget knife does everything you need. But cost isn't the only factor you should consider.
The best way to test the quality and suitability of a knife is to physically pick it up and hold it. You'll need to determine how comfortable it is to use – some people prefer lightweight knives, others prefer something that feels more substantial – and whether it feels evenly balanced between the blade and the handle.
Before buying a kitchen knife you'll need to take into account the blade and handle material, how comfortable the knife is to hold and how easy it is to clean. Consider the following features:
Material and length
The material used in the blade affects the knife's price, performance and durability. Stainless steel and carbon steel are the two most popular choices. Stainless steel is affordable and resists stains but requires regular sharpening whereas carbon steel is hard and sharpens easily, but is expensive, has no stain resistance and requires special maintenance to prevent rust. There's also c, which is essentially designed to offer all the benefits of stainless steel but with extra durability. Other options include ceramic blades (very hard and sharp but can chip or crack), Damascus steel (looks beautiful but can be expensive) and stainless steel.
Check the length of the blade to see whether it will be easy and practical to use for all the tasks you need. Chef's knives usually have a blade length of 20cm, but shorter and longer blades are available. If you have smaller hands, a shorter blade length may feel more comfortable.
Knife handle materials include stainless steel, plastic, wood and composites. They all have their pros and cons – for example, wood can warp over time but stainless steel can be slippery when wet – and in terms of which one feels the most comfortable to hold, it's all down to personal preference.
It's also important to check the size of the handle, as people with large hands may find some smaller handles difficult or even unsafe to use.
The tang refers to the metal part of the blade that extends into the handle. A full tang is when the blade runs through the entire handle, and this design offers better balance and control. Knives with a partial tang are also available, with the tang either extending along the top of the handle or as a thin strip of metal which is enclosed in the handle.
Forging or stamping. Forged knives are created by taking a piece of molten steel and then cutting and beating it into the right shape. They're heavier, more durable and stay sharper than stamped knives, which are made by machine and punched out of a sheet of steel. Stamped knives are a more affordable option and can still offer performance that is more than adequate for most home cooks.
Safety. Does the blade have a smooth heel? Is there a finger guard to help prevent any nasty accidents? If the handle is slippery, does it have a unique shape or textured surface to make it easier to grip?< li>
Cleanability. Many kitchen knives are not dishwasher safe. Even those manufacturers that do claim their knives can go through the dishwasher still recommend hand washing as the preferred cleaning method.Is there anything else you'll need to do to look after your knife? For example, carbon steel requires regular maintenance to prevent corrosion.
Warranty. Check the length of the manufacturer's warranty and what it covers. Some knives come with a lifetime warranty, ``but make sure you check exactly what that covers so there are no nasty surprises.
Choosing a kitchen knife set
If you're thinking of buying a new kitchen knife, you may be tossing up whether you should just buy a standalone knife or invest in a whole new knife set. The answer to this dilemma really depends on your personal needs. For example, if your entire knife drawer is in need of an overhaul, buying a set that features a chef's knife, paring knife, utility knife, bread knife and more could be a good idea.
However, there's also the risk of paying for knives that you don't need and will never use, so make sure that you actually require every item in the set before handing over your hard-earned cash. There's also the fact that you may not get the chance to physically hold each knife in the set and test its balance – something that is an important part of the knife-buying process.
If the price of a cheap knife set seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Tim Falk is a writer for Finder, writing across a diverse range of topics. Over the course of his 15-year writing career, Tim has reported on everything from travel and personal finance to pets and TV soap operas. When he’s not staring at his computer, you can usually find him exploring the great outdoors.
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