I recently received a gift certificate from the Steamy Kitchen Store and I had no idea what to get! I decided it was time to find a kitchen knife that would last a long long time. I had no clue what to look for in a knife, so I did some research.
First you should decide your budget and try to find the best for your money. I would recommend putting your money towards two really good knives instead of a set. Sets can be expensive and sometimes you don’t really use everything there. You really only need 2 or 3 knives, unless you have special needs (or never do dishes! But good knives need care anyway). For the most part, the better quality the knife the more cost it is. However, once you reach a certain point, a knife is a knife and you shouldn’t spend anything outrageous.
I figure I could do everything that I would need with just a basic chef knife and a paring knife (and a bread knife is handy too, but only those three!).
Materials: When looking for a knife, you should look for quality of material. Steel is what most people go for. The quality of steel will vary among makers and in price. It is said that Japanese Steel is the best because it is stronger. But expect to pay more $$. There are also ceramic knives which are sharp and good as well, but they cannot be sharpened (or a diamond stone is needed), so its lifespan is diminished, and they can shatter. I however do have one of Kuhn Rikon’s knives and it is actually a really good knife for cutting specific things (especially for $10 or less each). But I know it will not last forever because it cannot be sharpened. You also want to look at what the handle is made of. They are usually plastic, metal, or wood. Most are made of a plastic material, which keeps them from splitting and is lighter. It is also used for sanitary reasons.
Next you want to look at the detail of the knife.
What length of blade do you want? For a chef’s knife, you can mostly find length from 5-8″. I believe one 6-7″ is a good medium. There is also a Santoku type knife, which is very similar to why you would use a chef’s knife (it’s just very flat on the sharp end). A smaller knife for cutting smaller vegetables or for paring will be around 4″ long.
Will the handle fit your hand well? This can really determine if you like a knife or not. If you aren’t sure, go to a store and try some out. It can be difficult to know buying online.
Other qualities to look for:
Hollow Ground: This type of knife has indention near the sharp side of the knife. This allows food to fall away from the knife easier, keeping it from sticking to the knife for the next cut. Not everyone prefers this. One that is not hollow ground will just be smooth all down the knife blade. These are usually more expensive.
Full Tang: Tang refers to how far the metal knife part extends into the handle. Higher quality knives will go to the end of the handle. This creates a sturdier knife that is more balanced. These will be more expensive, but it is usually what determines a good quality knife.
Block/Forge/Sinter: This is how the metal of the knife is cut. A block knife will be stamped out from the metal (like how you use cookie cutters). These are lower quality knives which makes them more likely to be unbalanced and made of lower quality steel. You can usually tell if a knife is made this way because it will have a skinny bolster (metal section right before it meets the handle)
A forged knife is made from a blank piece of steel and pounded into its shape. The bolster will be nice and thick where it meets the handle. These knives are stronger and sharper.
The sinter is a process that is a middle ground between block and forge. I didn’t see any of these when shopping, but they are usually made to be a little better quality than block, while still remaining economical.
When shopping for a knife, look for keywords in its description. Better quality knives will advertise a ‘forged’ and ‘full tang’ knife. These are things you really want to look for in your investment. Everything else is mostly personal preference.
A Few Good Brands: When shopping, I was looking for a good quality knife that wasn’t super expensive. (Most bang for my buck). Especially since I didn’t want to go too much over the gift certificate. I found that Wusthof was what I liked the best. I purchased a 6″ chef’s (not hollow ground since it was quite a bit more money) and 4″ pairing knife from the Wusthof Grand Prix II line. I found the pairing knife on the Steamy Kitchen Store, but found the chef’s knife a lot cheaper on Amazon. The Grand Prix II is not the most expensive of their knives, but not the cheapest. I know these are made of good steel and are made well. I also liked the handle and it fits my hand well. the knives are super sharp. My only complaint is that some foods (like zucchini, since it’s full of water) does not fall away from the chef’s knife since it’s not hollow ground. It’s not a huge issue though and I work around it.
I found a couple other comparable knives that I thought about purchasing as well. Shun and Global (both on the more expensive end) seem to get good reviews as well as Victorinox. This brand also makes the Swiss Army Knife. They have gotten good reviews (especially about the good pricing) and even recommended by America’s Test Kitchen. These seem to be the best deal for the money right now. Especially for a person learning how to cook a lot. I did not order these though because I was unsure if I would like them as much as the Wusthof. Another brand that seems to be okay is Henckel. Some people like them, but overall I found that Wusthof got better reviews and they are both comparable in quality and price.
Overall, I say if you want two good knives that will last you a long time, get something like this: Wusthof Chef & Paring Knife Set
A Few Links: