The right knife makes every task in the kitchen more efficient, safer and ultimately produces a better result. If you’re anything like me, then you probably understand the frustration of trying to cut something with the wrong knife. But what can frustrate me even more than using the wrong knife, is when I don’t know which knife is the right one to use in the first place.
Today I’ll share a little bit about what I know of knives and give you some basic tips on selecting the right one. I hope by reading this you’ll have a better grasp of which knife to use and when to use it. Because really, the right knife makes all the difference in the world! Whether you’re a professional catering services chef, or a stay at home mom. This information can help spare you the headache of not knowing which knife is the right one to use!
Why Choosing the Right Knife is Important
The knife is to the chef what the pen is to the writer, it’s a tool. And like every tool you have to have the right one for the job. If you don’t select the right knife from the very beginning you probably won’t be able to perform at your best and you’ll likely end up frustrated with subpar results.
Because the knife is your main go-to kitchen tool, having the right one is extremely important. After all, knives are responsible for a lot more than just cutting. Knives give food the correct texture. Without a good knife, your food may end up unnecessarily bruised, damaged, or otherwise un-presentable. Just like there is a right knife for every job, there’s also a right knife for every chef.
How to Pick a Good Knife
A knife should feel comfortable in your hands. It should have good balance and not feel flimsy or uncontrollable. If you have small hands you’ll probably want a smaller knife, and likewise, if you have big strong hands you’ll probably want a heavier knife. Once you find the best knife for you, your fingers will be safer, the cooking accomplished quicker, and will ultimately yield much better results with a lot less stress. A win-win for any chef, wouldn’t you say?
Blocked, Forged and Sinter Knives
There are three basic ways knives are made and the method of manufacture directly affects the performance and longevity of a knife. The first and probably most common knife is a blocked knife. Blocked knives get their name because they are cut from a single sheet (or block) of metal that is usually of a consistent thickness.
While still capable of doing a lot of good things in the kitchen, blocked knives are often considered to be of lesser quality. Blocked knives dull easier and probably won’t last too long either. They’re also less balanced and don’t have the same great feel as the higher quality knives.
That being said the second style of knife is a forged knife. Forged knives get their strength and durability during manufacturing. A single lump of metal is pounded and forged using special machines and techniques. The metal used in forged knives is of a better quality and the method used during their manufacture creates a very high-quality, long lasting knife. These knives last so long in fact that they’ll probably end up outlasting you!
The third and final knife style available is the sinter knife. A sinter knife differs from a blocked or forged knife because of the way it’s made. A separate flat blade is fused to a round, tubular handle. These knives are less expensive than forged knives but usually better quality than blocked.
Western Style vs. Eastern Style
The average kitchen in America probably has a lot of western style knives. Western style knives are made from softer steel than eastern styled knives. Although this softer steel tends to dull faster they’re a lot easier to maintain. What the western knife lacks in edge sharpness it more than makes up for in its ability to chop foods. Something the eastern styled knife isn’t very good at.
The sinter described above, with its flat blade and tubular handle, is an eastern styled knife. The blades aren’t as wide as western style knives and the steel used during their manufacturing process tends to be harder. This stronger steel allows the eastern styled knife to hold an edge longer but requires a bit more maintenance; it also takes longer to sharpen.
Short bladed knives are the best knives for cutting small food items in hand. Whether you’re slicing fresh strawberries or cutting a bad spot off a potato, a short bladed knife is the best knife for the job. Because of its small size it’s much easier to maneuver which is safer for your hands and better for your foods.
Long bladed knives are best for items that require a lot of cutting. A longer blade cuts more efficiently than a short blade and minimizes the amount of time required to process food. An added benefit of a longer blade is the ability to make longer strokes while cutting. Longer strokes equal better cuts and that helps keep your food looking presentable.
Thin vs. Thick Blades
Because thinner blades make thinner slices they are perfect for delicate foods that require more care when cutting. These knives are super sharp but can dull quickly. Thicker blades on the other hand are more durable and better suited for cutting through things like bone. The thickness of the blade also makes these knives easier to push down on because the spine of the knife is wider than on thinner blades.
Knives with serrated edges are designed for cutting things with a tough exterior and tender interior. Think most fruit, bread and cakes. These serrations aid in slicing through the tough outer shell while not requiring much pressure to do it. This prevents food with a tender center from being smashed.
Practice Makes Perfect
Although knives are made in three ways and come in two styles they can have any number of variations. In order to find the perfect knife for your hands and style of cooking you’ll want to pick up and hold knives before buying. I’d recommend buying some open stock knives (knives that are sold individually) before purchasing an entire set.
Once you get a feel for some knives you’ll better understand what you need in terms of balance and weight. Like every tool, you can’t expect to become a master of the knife overnight, but with a little patience and some practice you’ll be slicing and dicing like a master chef in no time!