How To Choose A Kitchen Knife – All You Need To Know
On this page we’re going to spell out everything you need to know about how to choose a kitchen knife.
Let’s face it, of all the kitchen equipment you’ll ever own, nothing is more indispensable or versatile than a quality kitchen knife.
The problem is that if you’re looking to buy a kitchen knife, a quick Google search is likely to throw up a multitude of options.
Pretty confusing right?
Well don’t worry because in this definitive guide, I’m going to show you how to choose a kitchen knife that suits both your needs and budget and what you should be looking for.
I’m also going to explain the differences between European knives and Japanese kitchen knives, enabling you to make that all-important buying decision.
So without further ado, sit back, relax and let’s get started…
How to Choose a kitchen knife – Firstly, let’s talk size…
Whether you’re looking to slice, dice carve or chop, there’s always a perfect knife for the job.
Naturally, the easy option would be to cover all eventualities and invest in a chef’s knife set that houses an entire range of knives. These vary from paring knives at 3.5 inches, up to 12 inch long carving knives.
This is the route that some people take. However, what can happen with knife sets is that unless you pay a small fortune, it’s likely that you’ll end up with a set of knives of inferior quality.
On the contrary, you can buy an entire range of knives individually but will you use them all? Or will certain knives sit in your drawer gathering dust?
To make it easier, the team at Blade Sharp have put together a quick rundown of the most popular knives you may need – and to all intent and purpose – use
So here goes…
A paring knife is a handy small short-bladed implement typically 3.5 to 4 inches in length. It’s ideal for those intricate fiddly jobs like:
- Peeling and dicing small fruits and vegetables
- Segmenting oranges
- De-veining prawns and,
- Finely slicing herbs
Typically a utility knife is the perfect middle ground between a paring knife (as above) and an 8 inch chef’s knife (more about this in a little while). They usually come in serrated or flat blade form and are typically good for…
- Slicing boneless meat like chicken breast
- Cutting sandwiches
- Cutting pastries or pies
- Chopping medium-sized vegetables such as onions, carrots and mushrooms
In terms of size at least; an 8 inch knife can carry out a multitude of tasks and is typical of the so-called chef’s knife. Perfect for julienning vegetables, chiffonading herbs and slicing meat, it delivers a long enough blade to handle pretty much all the tasks you need to carry out in a home kitchen environment.
It’s a great all-rounder and is arguably the knife you would use most if you were to purchase a knife block and set.
- Cutting meat
- Disjointing and slicing/cutting larger and tougher vegetables such as butternut squash, cabbage and pumpkin.
- Chopping nuts
Longer chef’s knives/carving knives
Typically, these are the largest knives with a 10-12 inch serrated or flat blade. This is the ideal implement for those people who are more confident in their knife skills and is the staple knife of many a professional chef.
- Jointing and carving denser meat
- Cutting and carving larger fruits and vegetables such as pumpkin/squash, pineapples or watermelons
- Dicing vegetables in quantity
- Carving thinner slices of fruits, meats and cheese
Of course, there are way more styles and sizes of knife that you could choose from. In fact, I could go on ad -infinitum talking about ‘this kitchen knife’ and ‘that kitchen knife’.
However, the key point in listing the various blade types is that when considering how to choose a kitchen knife, you also need to take something else into account…
The cooking level you’re at!
Let me explain…
It probably isn’t a good idea to invest in a speciality boning or filleting knife if you aren’t yet up to speed on boning your own meat or filleting your own fish because;
A– you probably wouldn’t use it and,
B – it isn’t cost effective.
On the contrary, if you’re an experienced cook or professional chef then depending upon the type of food you cook, it pays to invest in the appropriate tool.
For example – as a budding pastry chef, you may want to invest in a bread knife or palette knife. Alternatively, if butchery is your thing, then by all means buy a quality boning knife or meat cleaver.
So with this in mind, let’s take a closer look at what chef knife/knives to buy based on your experience.
How to choose a kitchen knife based on experience
The all-round everyday cook
Most home cooks looking to purchase a decent chef knife will probably fall into this category. You cook pretty much every day but you also like to entertain from time to time. In this case you might want to consider opting for the following:
- A paring knife
- A utility knife
- An 8 inch chef’s knife and a
- 12 inch carving knife
These 4 chef’s knives should be sufficient for pretty much all your cooking needs.
A trainee or professional chef
If you’re starting off in the world of catering or you’re a seasoned pro looking to streamline your knives, then ideally, you want all of the above plus…
- A boning knife
- A flexible slicing knife ideal for salmon and hams and,
- A serrated bread/cake knife
A specialist Pastry chef
As a specialist chef/cook who deals in pastry all day every day then the implements you should be looking for are;
- A long-bladed pastry knife ideal for slicing cakes
- A palette or frosting knife ideal for spreading icing/jam or for lifting pastries and cakes
- A bench knife or dough cutter – a rectangular mounted blade with a handle located on the top.
So there you have it…
So far, we’ve learned about the most popular knife types, their uses and what knives to look for with regards to your cooking level. But…
If you were looking to buy just one knife – the one knife that can start you off – the best chef knife for the money – what would it be?
I has to be the 8 inch chef’s knife.
As already stated, it’s a great all-rounder with a long enough blade to handle a variety of cutting, chopping and dicing jobs, so that’s where I would put my cash if I was looking to start out.
That’s covers the basics of the various knives available, but there’s one more factor you need to know and it’s another important aspect of how to choose a kitchen knife
Do you go down the Asian (Japanese) route or do you go European (German) ?
How to choose a kitchen knife – Japanese vs German Chef knives
I’ll try to keep this section short and sweet as we go into a lot more detail on our blog, but the main point to remember about Japanese vs German (European chef’s knives) is this…
Japanese knives are generally made to suit a specific purpose or function while German (European) knives are made – to a certain degree – with versatility in mind.
If you look at any Japanese Global knife for example, you’ll notice that it’s primarily a cutting tool designed to slice first and foremost. Japanese blades are thinner and sharper and tend to taper inside the handle making for a lighter, more controllable cutting tool.
So for precision cutting, many people swear by Japanese chef’s knives with a forged-blade.
Conversely, most German chef knives are more weighty and durable and as such, one knife can often be used for a variety of tasks.
The chef knife Gordon Ramsay uses for example is thought to be by German maker Wusthof. Their increased durability and multi-purpose nature tend to go hand in hand – and if it’s good enough for him… etc, etc.
The truth is that there is no right or wrong choice here.
Provided you buy quality, both Japanese and German knives are highly effective at doing what they do best. The question you need to ask yourself is…do you want a knife fit for a specific purpose, or are you looking for a quality chef’s knife to handle a variety of tasks?
Then of course, it’s all down to personal taste and cost.
Talking of cost 🙂
In this final section, well answer the question how much should you pay for a good kitchen knife?
What should you pay?
Of course, you can pay a few pounds, dollars or euros for a kitchen knife but let’s be honest, while it gets the job done, it’s unlikely that it will last.
On the contrary, you can pay thousands of dollars for one chef knife, but is it really any better than a quality knife from a reputable brand?
The point here is that there tends to be a sweet spot where you’ll pay a fair price for a good knife.
But how much is that fair price?
Experts tend to agree that if you pay somewhere between $50 -$100 or the equivalent currency, you should end up with a quality knife that will stand the test of time.
The caveat here is to understand what you are paying for.
So what impacts the price of your knife?
Let’s take a look…
The most affordable quality knives are made from high-carbon stainless steel. They combine the best of stainless steel knives and carbon-steel varieties. This makes them less resistant to staining/rusting (a la stainless steel) while allowing for a sharper edge (a la carbon steel knives)
Naturally the longer the blade, the more you can expect to pay. A longer blade means more steel. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to add $20-$35 onto the price per extra inch of steel. So when it comes to price, size really does matter!
Knife handles can be made of anything from toughened plastic to fibreglass, and from metal to wood. Naturally a rosewood handled knife is likely to be more expensive than say a rubber grip variety. That said, it’s all down to preference at the end of the day.
When you buy from a top brand you’re buying with the expectation of quality. If you buy that same brand from a retailer, then there is likely to be a mark-up. In some cases a significant one! Alternatively, when you seek out a quality chef knife for sale online, costs can typically be less.
Naturally chef’s knives which are hand-forged involve more time and labour and therefore will command a higher price. Conversely, machine manufactured chef’s knives tend to be cheaper in price.
Of course, there is a bunch of other stuff which can affect the price, but these are the main factors.
The bottom line here is that like most things, you get what you pay for.
The more ‘extras’ a knife has – fancy Damascus steel for example – the greater the price.
Therefore, if you can stay away from all the shiny things that don’t affect the performance then $50-$100 should see a quality knife from a quality name.
So now you know (almost) everything you need to know about how to choose the right kitchen knife for you. But remember…
… what makes a good knife for one person doesn’t necessarily make it the ideal knife for you. We suggest that you visit a store, try some out and then do some homework to find the best price.
Good luck and if you need any more advice, don’t forget to check out the rest of our site or subscribe to our blog. Here you can find a wealth of hints and tips to help you to find the ideal kitchen knife for your needs.
The Blade-Sharp team.