Buying knives can be confusing. There is a veritable plethora of brands, styles, lengths, and materials. Ceramic, 18/10 steel, molybdenum, drop forged, stamped… the combinations are endless. What knife is best for the home cook?
Feel and Balance
The most important aspect is almost too obvious: does it feel good in the hand? The weight and balance of what is destined to become a good friend in the kitchen, and bound to spend hours in one’s hand, is paramount. If it isn’t comfortable, don’t buy it.
Depending on the budget the question of dropped forge vs. stamped knives has almost been assumed as won. Many budding cooks will immediately turn their noses up at a stamped knife as being inferior. With the advent of Global knives from Japan, the discussion is reopened. Global does have both lines of stamped and forged but for the tight budget the stamped version stands up very well. The balance is near perfect, aided by the hollow handle containing sand which shifts as the angle changes.
The Specifics of Knives
The material from which a knife is made can also impact the usefulness and grace of a cut. A ceramic knife is razor-sharp but a drop to a hard floor can send splinters flying. 18/10 steel, or basic ‘stainless steel’, the 18 being chromium content and the 10 being nickel content, is by far the most common material from which knives are made. It is a good, all-around workhorse. Molybdenum content in a knife means it is a very hard steel that keeps its edge beautifully.
The angle of the cutting edge can also make a difference for a home cook. A 20-degree angle is much easier to maintain and stays sharper longer. It tends to be used for softer metals however and shortens the life of a knife. A 30-degree knife is harder to keep sharp but due to the harder materials is less susceptible to knicks and damage. If using a home wheel sharpener (usually ceramic), the angle tends to be in the 20-24 degree range where, traditionally, knives in the 30-degree range are sharpened with a whetstone.
The length and shape of the knife come down to personal preference and comfort for the most part. Certain types of knives, obviously, are designed for specific purposes: filleting knife, paring knife, cleaver, but most knives are all-purpose. Asian, chef’s, fluted, 10″, 6″, it’s a matter of choice. Choose a knife that feels good.
A Sharp Knife is a Safe Knife
The absolute most important rule of knives is to keep them sharp. They give a better result but, above all, are safer. Receiving a cut from a properly sharpened knife is much preferable to one from a dull knife. Sharp knives make for clean, straight wounds where a dull knife will tear skin and leave a more ragged injury which will be slow to heal.
So, some simple rules: but a knife that feels right, you don’t have to break the bank, keep knives as sharp as possible, and, most importantly, be careful.