In my time blogging, cooking, chefing and catering I cannot count the times someone has asked me to recommend a set of knives. This is a very difficult recommendation to give because not everyone’s needs are the same and not every knife is the same. The best knife to buy is the best knife for you.But, how do you know which is the best knife for you? With this post I am going to break down the uses of the most common knives, tips to buy them and how to care for them.
First let me say that there is no tool more important in the kitchen than a good knife. I am very particular and protective of my knives and they go with me where ever I cook. It makes your time in the kitchen easier, more efficient and a believe it or not a sharp knife makes it safer. A dull knife is a dangerous knife, because of the force that is needed to make a dull knife cut you are more likely to injure yourself than if you used a sharp knife.
So, let’s talk knives.
Types of Knifes
1. Chef’s Knife
The work horse in your kitchen and my personal favorite. Also, referred to as a cook’s knife or a French knife. This knife is probably the most commonly used knife. Chef’s knives range from 4 – 12 inches in length, 8 inches being the most versatile. The slight curve on the cutting edge of the blade and the weight balance between the handle and blade allows for a rhythmic and efficient rocking motion when slicing and chopping. EVERY kitchen should have one.
The Japanese version of the Chef’s knife. Increasing in popularity and replaces the Chef’s knife for some. Santoku means “three benefits”, referencing the multipurpose blade. It’s blade is great for mincing, slicing and dicing. Also, because of it’s construction can be used as a light cleaver. The oval indentations on the blade reduce friction and helps prevent food from sticking to the blade.
3. Boning Knife
This knife is very narrow with a blade 5 – 7 inches long. It’s long, narrow and curved-edge blade is designed to maneuver easily around bones, between joints and through tendons and cartilage of raw meat and poultry. If you like to buy whole cuts of meat and break them down yourself, this is a knife worth investing. A flexible boning knife can also double as a fillet knife in a pinch.
4. Pairing Knife
Your little helper. This knife usually measures 3 or 4 inches in length. Used for small work like peeling, trimming, coring and slicing small fruits and vegetables. It’s also great to test vegetables for doness by piercing the vegetable. And, if you like to make elaborate garnishes this knife comes in very handy. Whenever I work a catering or demo, I like to keep one in the sleeve of my chef coat.
5. Fillet Knife
Resembling the boning knife, these are used to fillet raw fish. A flexible and sharp fillet knife is able to easily move through the bones and follow the contours of the whole fish. Fillet knives measure 6 – 8 inches long and generally have a blade no wider than 1/2 inch.
6. Fillet Knife
This is another version of the fillet knife. It’s highly pointed tip is helpful for cleaning fish and removing bone. Also because of the flexibility and size of the blade it is optimal to take along when fishing or hunting.
7. Serrated Slicer
I love this knife. Great for large cuts of meat, thin skinned fruits like tomatoes, slicing citrus, cutting blocks of chocolate and bread when in a pinch. The blade can measure 7 1/2 – 12 inches long.
8. Bread Knife
A bread knife blade can measure 7 1/2 – 12 inches long. It is optimally designed to easily cut through tough crusts and tender interiors of bread loaves, leaving you with even slices of bread with minimal crumbs. Every bread lover should have a bread knife.
9. Off-Set Bread Knife
Like the serrated knives above it’s great for bread, tomatoes and citrus. It’s off-set handle is designed to allow for more knuckle clearance when slicing bread.
10. Honing steel (not shown)
A honing steel is not a knife, but it’s an important part of a complete knife set. It does not sharpen your knife. The honing knife is used to realign a sharp cutting edge and keep the knife working at its best. I hone my knives before and after every use. After honing your knife be sure to wipe the blade with a clean rag to remove any fine particles.
Tips for Buying Knifes
First, I believe everyone should have a good quality Chef or Santoku knife. These knives can almost do it all and I promise you it will be the knife you reach for the most.
Before going out and just buying the first full knife set you see, think about how you cook. Do you really need that knife set that comes with a cleaver? I know it looks cool, but how often will you really be hacking through whole cuts of meat and bone? Do you want to pay for a whole knife set with “okay” quality knives when you will probably only used 3 out of the 8 knives, or is it better to invest that money into 3 quality knives that you know you will get a lot of use from? A quality well cared for knife can last you years!
Hold the knife, hold the knife, hold the knife. Did I mention you need to hold the knife? Don’t just buy a knife off the internet because it looks cool. The differences in handles, blades and weights are too many too count. Everyone’s hand and rhythm are different. You want the knife to feel like a natural extension of your hand. Pick the knife that feels the most secure in your hand. The weight should be enough to get the work efficiently, but not too heavy that it quickly tires your hand.
Hone, hone, hone
As I mentioned before, a honing knife is not used to sharpen a knife, but to maintain the edge of an already sharp knife between uses. It’s an essential part to maintaining a sharp blade.
DO NOT CUT ON GLASS OR MARBLE!! This is guaranteed to dull, chip or break your knife. Not to mention the horrible sound it makes! When ever a knife hits a surface microscopic burs form on the metal, causing the edge to dull. To avoid this, the best cutting boards are wood cutting board or plastic cutting boards.
DO NOT PUT IN DISHWASHER! The high temperatures of the dishwasher will dull your knives and getting that sharp edge back is near impossible. Instead, clean with dish soap and hot water. Dry the WHOLE knife, not just the blade.
A knife should be stored where the blade cannot be damaged. So, don’t just toss it in your kitchen drawer to bang around with other utensils. If your only option, is to store it in a drawer buy blade sleeves to protect the blade. In my humble opinion the best storage is a magnetic strip. It keeps the knives protected and easily accessible. A wood block is also a popular option, but with time the taking out and putting in of the knife can dull the blade. When in doubt go magnetic strip.
Cut the right way
The straight up-and-down motion of chopping or what I call hacking dulls the blade edge. It is better to use a rocking or sliding motion, always maintaining contact with the cutting board. And when scraping food off a board, flip the knife and use the spine, not the blade.
If your blade is starting to slide right off the skin of an onion, it’s time to sharpen. Avoid electric sharpeners, they strip away too much metal. The best way to sharpen a knife is with a wheatstone or oilstone. Sharpening a knife with a stone can take a little getting use to. Soak a wheatstone in water for 15 minutes if using an oilstone lubricate with mineral oil instead of water. Holding the knife’s cutting edge at a consent 15 – 20 degree angle to the stone, draw the blade repeatedly back and forth across the stone, alternating sides. There are sets that come with a clip to help maintain the right angle. When the edge is fine and smooth wash with hot water and dry thoroughly.
Now, when the time is right ditch that dull knife and get yourself a new best friend.
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