That battered and dinged piece of stainless steel in your kitchen drawer? The one that crushes breads and mangles meats? Toss it out, immediately. Now that you’re an adult, it’s time to invest in a big boy knife.
I resisted making several Crocodile Dundee jokes about how “that’s not a knife,” but I’m going to keep that joke in my pocket for a future article. Besides, knives are no joking matter. Well, that thing you call a knife currently might be a joke, but as the chef’s most important tool, a great knife is something to be respected.
You may think that just any old thing that cuts will do. Something you found at Target and splurged on for $15 after watching a Gordon Ramsay show. Well friend, that knife is no good. How do I know? Because knives are one area where price does matter. I’m going to break down what you want in a knife, tell you what knives you need, tell you which knives I prefer, and finally tell you how to take care of your new purchase.
The first thing to look for in a knife is the quality of the steel. Regular steel is called carbon steel and it’s been around forever. It’s not great for your kitchen because of its proclivity towards rusting. The next step up is what you see everywhere in the kitchen – stainless steel. The best knife for your kitchen is going to be a high carbon no-stain knife. Carbon in the blade is what gives it strength – too much carbon and your knife will be prone to breakage and rusting. Not enough and it will be flexible and fail to hold an edge. No-stain or stain resistant is another way of, basically saying “stainless steel” which refers to its resistance to rust and discoloration. However, even stain resistant things will rust if not well taken care of.
Next is how the blade was formed – stamped or forged. A stamped knife is one that is cut via a template out of a piece of steel. It’s generally less dense than the second type of knife. A forged knife is created through a process of repeated heating, folding, and cooling. These knives tend to be denser, have better balance, and better edge retention.
If you select a high carbon, stainless steel, forged blade, you’re going to get a quality knife. Almost all knives that meet this criteria will also meet the third: full tang. The tang of the knife is the steel that extends behind the blade. In a kitchen knife, often you’ll see the handle molded around the tang in a way that you can see the steel stretch in one uninterrupted piece from the tip to the end of the handle. This lends strength to the blade and prevents breakage. If a knife doesn’t have a full tang, there is a less sturdy connection between the blade and the handle, which can be dangerous at the worst and lead to a useless knife at best, once it snaps.
After the quality of the blade, next we focus on safety....