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The Ultimate Guide to Buying Kitchen Knives

August 14, 2012

 

CUT TO THE CHASE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BUYING KITCHEN KNIVES

 

What are some of the most important tools in your kitchen? If you didn’t answer “knives”, it might be because yours just aren’t up to the task.  A good knife cuts easily, keeps its edge, has enough heft to enable you to work efficiently, feels comfortable in your hand, resists corrosion, and is a worthwhile investment that will be used and enjoyed for many, many years to come.   Your knives should do their jobs easily, whether it’s slicing, paring, peeling, chopping, etc., with minimal effort from you.  If you find yourself having to saw or hack away at something, you’re using the wrong knife.  And that just doesn’t cut it!

Knife Construction

When you talk about the qualities of the perfect knife, you’re talking about the preferences for East vs West, i.e. Japan vs Germany.  Both countries are acknowledged to be the leaders in knife design and manufacture, representing two long-standing traditions of quality craftsmanship.  Although Germany is most widely represented among home cooks and most professionals, Japanese knives have been steadily gaining in popularity.
Each knife, whether of Western or Eastern style, is made up of four basic components:

  • Blade
  • Handle
  • Bolster—the raised area between the handle and the blade which creates weight balance and  ensures safety
  • Tang—metal extension of the blade enclosed by the handle, giving strength to the knife

How these are constructed and the materials used determine the quality of the knife, of course, but when it comes to choosing between Eastern and Western style knives, it’s primarily a question of personal preference and what style you are used to.  Many professional chefs will use both in their repertoire.

Western Knife Design

  • Blade should be high carbon steel to resist stains, rust, and corrosion
  • Blade generally has a straight cutting edge and tapers evenly from spine to cutting edge and from handle to tip
  • Best handles are made of polypropylene and triple riveted through the tang.

Eastern (Japanese) Knife Design

  • Blade usually has beveled edge, making it extremely sharp
  • Bolster is smaller than on Western knives and is separate from the blade, allowing blade to be sharpened to the heel.
  • Handles are generally rounded to better fit in hand
  • Handle often includes an end cap for better balance
  • Evolved from tradition of Samurai sword making
  • Extremely hard, yet flexible, steel forged and hand ground, resulting in super-sharp blades
  • Handles made either from resin treated wood or extension of metal blade with textured surface
  • Must be sharpened with specially designed tools
  • Each knife shape designed for specific purpose

Ceramic Knives

Another type of cutlery enjoying growing popularity is the advanced ceramic knife, known for being lightweight, yet extremely durable and sharp.  These knives are ideal for straight slicing fruits, vegetables and boneless meats, and are intended to complement -not replace – your other cutlery. (Use steel knives for carving, prying, boning, cutting frozen foods, and slicing cheese.)

  • Up to 50% harder than steel for durability
  • Exceptionally sharp, an advanced ceramic blade will hold its edge up to 15 times longer than steel blades
  • Rust-proof, will never brown foods, impervious to acids and oils, no metallic taste or smell
  • Typically half the weight of metal-based knives, offers total ease of use with the most difficult cutting tasks
  • Easy to clean.  Because advanced ceramic does not absorb any food element, all it needs is just a quick rinse and wipe with a kitchen towel.

Any way you slice it, having a great set of knives is one of the most important ways to enhance your cooking experience.

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