How to Choose a Kitchen Knife

July 27, 2015

How to choose a kitchen knife

Chef James Beard once said that next to his hands, knives were the most important tools in the kitchen. Follow these easy steps to ensure you find the right knife to make the perfect meal.

How to Choose a Kitchen Knife

Cooks differ in their preferences for particular knives, but most agree that a good knife feels balanced and comfortable in your hand. It must also be very sharp. A dull knife will cut badly and may cause accidents because you have to press harder.

Knives are made in one of two ways. Forged knives are hammered into shape out of a thick piece of steel; stamped knives are cut out of a sheet of steel. Forging is a time-consuming process requiring craftsmanship, which means that forged knives tend to be expensive.

Stamping is automated, so the knives are less costly. You can see the difference: a forged knife has a thicker bolster (the area right in front of the handle) than tip, while a stamped blade is even throughout. When it comes to performance, many cooks can't tell the difference between high-quality knives of either kind.

Types of knife edges

There are two types of knife edges:

  1. A flat-ground edge has a strict V shape when viewed in profile.
  2. A hollow- ground edge has a slight curve on both sides of the blade, like the prow of an ocean liner. There is less steel in a hollow ground blade; as a result, it will wear faster. However, a hollow-ground edge is usually sharper, and its shape forces food to fall away from the knife as it cuts. The type of steel used to make a knife can make a difference in its performance.

Nearly all first-rate knives today are made of steel mixed with chromium, carbon, nickel and other metals to make them strong, durable and sharp. The goal is to find a knife that's hard enough to last, but soft enough that it can be honed to a razor edge.

Types of steel alloys

Most new knives are made of one of the following steel alloys.

  1. High-carbon steel. High-carbon steel knives have a durable edge and can be sharpened easily. They won't rust or discolour as older knives used to do. While they come with a moderate to high pricetag, you can count on them to last a lifetime. They are sturdy, hard-working kitchen tools.
  2. Stainless steel. Stainless steel is used for less expensive knives. It's easy to clean, but the blade can't really be sharpened once it looses its edge.

Finding the right knife

Cutlery for cooks include:

  • chef's knife for chopping
  • paring knife
  • serrated bread knife
  • boning knife
  • carving knife and cleaver

The first three are basics for any kitchen; add the other knives only as you need them.

How to sharpen knives

  1. Using the medium-grit side of a combination stone, hold the knfe blade at a 20-degree angle so that the tiny bevel at the cutting edge will be properly ground.
  2. Pull the blade along the stone, using a pivoting motion to turn it towards you. Repeat on the other side of the blade, this time pushing away as you pivot.
  3. A butcher's steel removes the burr left by sharpening. Place the knife edge near the tip of the steel. With a swinging motion of the wrist and forearm, bring the knife down and across the steel. Repeat on the other side.

Following this how-to guide will help you find the right knife for your culinary needs.

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