Let’s face it, the modern kitchen is over hyped. And almost nothing is more hyped than kitchen knives. The knife is the workhorse utensil of the kitchen and everyone wants to tell you have their chopping device is going to make this work easier. I am here to tell you, that with two knives and some practice, nothing will make this work easier. I am not going to keep you waiting. Those two knives are the the Chef’s knife (or French knife) and the utility knife (no not the one with the razor blade). Easy right, well with all the choices in sizes, metals, weight and such, there is still a lot of work to do to get you into the right knives for you. That is what this article is about. Clearing the clutter and into the only two knives you will ever need in your kitchen. If you just want to know what knife to buy and don’t care why, go to the bottom of this post.
The things to consider when choosing a knife are: length, material, blade manufacture, edge construction and the handle. Since we are talking about non-professional cooking here, I am going to present only what is appropriate for the average person that cooks on a regular basis in a home kitchen where they will see abuse. While it would be better to wash your knives by hand and dry them immediately, I know you are going to toss them in the sink where they could sit for at least a day, possibly in water; I’ve taken this into account. We want knives that are optimized for the everyday.
Knife blades can be made from many materials but, the only three we are going to consider are: carbon steel, stainless steel and carbon stainless alloy. While it would be best to go with carbon steel or high carbon stainless, the expense and care factors just are not going to be worth it at first. Just get stainless steel and learn to sharpen it. If you eventually want something more expensive and will care for it, you can get one of the others. They can be made very sharp and hold an edge longer.
The blade can be manufactured in one of two way, forged or stamped. Forged means the steel was heated then beaten into shape. When they say hand forged by craftsmen, they mean a machinist type person operated a machine that smashed the steel into shape while hot. No one I know of it bounding out steel blades. The other way to make a knife blade is stamped steel. This just means the blade was stamped out of a cold steel blank by a machine. A couple of quality knife brands use stamped knives in their premium series. The shunning of stamped knives (cause they are usually cheaper and less craftsmanshipy) is legend and snobbery. Unless you just gotta have that forged blade, save the money and get the stamped one.
Edge construction has its own set of variables. They include grind, profile and indention. The grind is either flat ground or hollow ground. Flat ground is where the knife blade has a flat or slightly convex shape from the spine of the blade to the edge. Hollow ground is where the blade has a concave shape that starts about the middle and goes to the edge. You want flat ground. Profile refers to the shape of the knife’s edge, straight or serrated. You want serrated. Some knives have indentions to help with some foods sticking to the blade less. While this may be helpful, it will add to the cost of the knife.
Handles on kitchen knives are usually made of one of the following: wood, plastic, composite or stainless steel. Stainless steel handles are probably the most durable and sanitary, they can be slippery when wet and they add considerable weight to the knife. This added weight can throw off the balance and lead to fatigue while using. While wood is pretty, it won’t last long in that sink full of water and is a germ haven. Composite handles are made of wood laminate impregnated with plastic resin. Because of their durability, resistance to germs, weight and look, if you were buying a very nice knife (over $100) this is the handle you would want; this is not the handle you are going to get. The handle you are going to get is plastic. That’s ok, this is not the plastic handles of 30 years ago, these are durable, gripable and germ resistant.
This is the workhorse of the kitchen and you will use it for everything (except when you use the utility knife for everything else). This knife comes in sizes 6″ to 12″ with 8″ seeming to be the most popular. Which size is right for you? Unless you have small counters; less than 22″ deep, and the 10″ seems only slightly unwieldy, go with the 10″. A well balanced, right weighted, sharp, 10″ knife will quickly become easily managed with just a little practice and you will be thankful for the extra leverage the length provides as you learn how to use it.
Chef’s little brother. This knife is usually between 4″ and 7″ inches. You want the 6″ blade. Some will argue that this is too big for those in hand cut that you need a paring knife for. Here is my problem with this: Why, in heaven, are you using a razor sharp knife that can take off a finger or slice deep into your palm, to cut stuff in YOUR HAND? The first response is peeling. My reply, invest in a peeler, they are cheaper and more convenient than a hospital visit.
You are now ready to go buy your plastic handle, stamped, flat ground, 10″ Chef and 6″ Utility knives. At the bottom are links to buy the knives your want and move on with your life. But, if you are the kind that has to spend more time on this, you can make a date of it. Go to a knife store, let the salesman try to talk you into a $250 “professional” Chef’s knife. Swing a few blades. Get a feel for weight, balance and grip. Bring a potato and see if they have knives for you to test drive. When you have had your fun, either get the knives I have listed below, or go to your favorite kitchen store and get something that matches.
Victorinox Forschner Fibrox 10″ Chef’s Knife
Victorinox Forschner Fibrox 6″ Utility Knife
Have fun with your new knives. Get chopping.
Now that you have your knives, find out how to sharpen and care for them.
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