Knives, for a chef, are more than tools. A knife becomes a part of you, an extension of the hand itself. You can spend money on an array of fancy equipment and tools that claim to make your work in the kitchen easier, but the most important piece of equipment you can ever own is your knife, so it's important that you make the right decision. But what is the right decision? What is the best knife for you?
Anatomy of a Kitchen Knife
Let's first look at the basic structure of kitchen knives:
Forged vs. Stamped
Bolsters and Tangs
Another topic that can spark heated debate among the knife-obsessed is that of bolsters and tangs. A bolster is basically a byproduct of the forging process, which creates a thick band of metal at the heel of the blade before the handle. Sometimes, these bolsters are cut away for aesthetic reasons. Stamped knives don't have a bolster, and many fanatics will claim that a bolster is a sign of quality and safety. While the bolster can add weight at the top of the blade, which helps the balance, it's not a sign of quality nor safety. It's a sign of how the blade was manufactured.
The above points, as previously mentioned, are all a matter of personal preference. A good quality knife isn't solely dependent on if it's handmade, stamped or if the tang extends to the end of the handle. A good knife is one that feels comfortable in your hand, is sharp, and can hold its sharpness. If you're like me, and you have smallish hands, then a blade with a stick tang without a bolster may be the most comfortable grip.
Like everyone else as a newbie at culinary school, I bought a "Knife Starter Kit", much like the one shown in the picture below. The kit includes:
The above kit is one most culinary students at my institution begin with. Kitchen equipment is expensive, and this kit is around 475 dkk, which is less than $100 CAD/USD. Pretty affordable, right? And they do the trick! They''re sturdy and sharp. They're also cheap. While they tend to stay sharp for a while, they can quickly become dull with daily use, which is why it's a good idea to invest in a honing steel. You may even have one stashed in your knife block already. A steel is used to hone a knife, keeping an already sharp knife from degrading too quickly. However, a steel will not sharpen a dull blade, and if your knife is dull or pitted, take it to a professional for sharpening. Honing is considered non-destructive, while sharpening is not. To sharpen a blade, you need to remove bits of it. My former boss had a boning knife that's been sharpened so many times that it resembles a toothpick with a handle.
There are three main types of honing steels:
Check out this video on how to steel or hone your knife:
Other Types of Knives
You really only need a couple of good, universal knives in your kitchen: A chef knife, a serrated knife and a paring knife. These knives can tackle most jobs thrown your way.
There is a huge array of specialized knives and tools on the market, but I've selected some that I personally own and enjoy using, which you can see below.
Japanese vs. Western Knives
When I talk about Japanese and Western/German knives, there are a few differences that are about more than just style.
Without getting into a huge debate, the main differences between these knives are hardness, shape, blade thickness and steel used. Many would argue that one is better than the other, but it really comes down to preferences and how much you're willing to spend.
Japanese knives are known for their lightweight, hard steel, which can hold an edge (stays sharp) for longer. The drawback is that the blades can get notched, and if you drop one, it can break.
Western knives are known for being durable and heavier, with a softer steel. The weight of the knife can help in cutting through ingredients. The softer blade means it may not hold an edge for as long, but instead of notching or breaking, it may bend instead.
If you're interested in learning more about Japanese and Western knives, you can read this article at sharpen-up.com.
Knives are one of the most important tools in the kitchen, but safety while using potentially hazardous tools is even more important for your own safety and well-being.
Here are some of my top safety tips:
1. The claw grip
Ok, the name may sound a bit silly, but it's accurate. You literally make a claw shape with the hand holding the food being sliced, which means tucking fingertips under your knuckles and keeping your thumb back and away from the blade. When slicing, the blade rests against your knuckles, keeping those soft fingertips on your fingers where they belong, instead of in the food.
2. Use a sharp knife
It may sound silly to say it, but a sharp knife, as scary as it may be, is much safer to use than a dull blade. Sharp blades don't take as much work to use, meaning that not only do you reduce strain to yourself, but you don't need to press as hard for the knife to cut. The harder you have to work to cut something, the more there is potential for that knife to slip, and for your to injure yourself. Unless you're clumsy like I am, and can trip over shadows.
3. Put a damp cloth under your cutting board
When you place a damp cloth under your cutting board, the cutting board is much less likely to move around or slide while using it. This gives better stability (just be sure that the cutting board isn't rocking on the cloth) and reduces risk of accidental cuts.
4. Cleaning knives
Never put a knife into a sink full of soapy water. The next person, or even you, may lose sight of it and cut your hand when reaching in. Place the knife on the side of the sink, wash it immediately, or place used knives into a separate bucket for separate cleaning. Remember to store your knives safely and out of reach of small children.
5. Never try to catch a falling knife
Even if you have superhero-like reflexes, and congrats if you do, never try to catch a falling knife. Put your hands up, step back, and let it fall. It's better to let the floor take a bit of damage rather than chopping pieces of yourself to bits.
A knife is an extension of the arm, and having the right tools to work with can make all the difference. However, you don't need to break the bank to have great knives. Buy the best you can afford, because they will last longer, but be sure to try them out first. It's important that the tools are comfortable in your hands.
Practice proper knife skills, but remember that practice makes perfect.
I hope you enjoyed this post on knives! If you like this content, and would like to see more, feel free to leave a message below or contact me via email, facebook, twitter or instagram. Tell me what you'd like to see next, and be sure to share with your friends.
Until next time, stay chefy!
Hey there! My name is Lea, and I'm a Canadian Culinary student trying to survive chef life in Denmark. I want to share my journey, and some great food and experiences with others. I believe that anyone can be quite chefy!