Knives: The Buying Guide
When it comes to the kitchen, for utensils are as versatile and necessary as the knife. Whether its cutting meat, slicing cake or just serving ordinary food, the knife is an absolute must. In other words, if you care about your kitchen and love to cook, you need the right knife.
Specifically, you need the right variety of knives, as different variants are suitable for specific purposes. With this in mind, this buying guide should help walk you through the various knifes, their various drawbacks, strengths and what they’re most useful for.
Types Of Knives
A chef knife is the general, all-purpose knife used for a variety of kitchen preparation tasks. It typically features a long and wide blade – ranging anywhere from 15 to 40 cm – and a thick, firm handle.
What is it used for? Mostly, it is good at cutting meat, vegetables and other organic matter. While it caters to nothing specific, there are few areas where it isn’t effective. This makes it the go-to knife for general cooking, as it can be used for most ingredients, including herbs (a smaller chef knife would be preferable for this). As a result, no kitchen is complete without one and, because of its high likelihood of being used, it’s worth investing in a long lasting, durable product.
As the name suggests, a bread knife is used to slice bread. Because of this, it comes with a serrated edge, to help push past the crust and thick layers of bread. This makes it effective for various other bread products, such as sandwiches.
Using a bread knife involves a little bit of sawing motions, to enable the serrated edges to cut and tear. This means the bread knife can double up as a makeshift carving knife. However, carving knifes often have bigger, deeper and more pronounced knife serrations, as they are specifically designed to cut a variety of tender meats. A bread knife would not have this same effect, while a carving knife would tear through bread too easily, lacking the finesse of a bread knife.
A cake knife is similar to a bread knife in principle, but has a few key differences. Bread and cake have similar textures, so the general purpose is the same. However, a cake knife is often specifically shaped and angled to create slices of cake. Sometimes this is just the right angle, to ensure your hand can easily cut centrally into a large circle or radios. In other instances, the blade has a large, flat surface, so that one can cut and serve the cake with the same utensil.
This last feature makes it highly useful for serving cake, of course, but often gets in the way of other duties. Just as with a bread knife, it is possible to use this in other areas, but the serrations on a cake knife aren’t very pronounced and usually aren’t up to the challenge.
This blade is designed to be used on small fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes. The blade has a serrated edge, but its most recognisable feature is the small prongs that curve upwards at the very tip of the blade itself. These features allow users to slice, cut and hold fruit in place while being prepared. This makes it useful when carving or preparing fruits and vegetables, for instance, so it is highly useful when making salads and other fruit-heavy meals. This is a very specific purpose, as there are few other uses for the pronged tip.
A similar design also exists that lacks the prongs. These often go by the names of various other fruits, the most common term being a grapefruit knife. Their general purpose and use, however, remains the same. In most instances, you can use a tomato knife where you could use a grapefruit knife.
A cleaver knife is often found in a butchers but, if you prepare raw meat and like to make your own cuts, a cleaver is essential. This is a very broad, flat blade with a sharpened edge. As the name might imply, the goal with this knife is to quickly (but firmly) cleave into meat, leaving a quick, clean cut in the process. This is used to take animal carcasses apart, for instance, or even prepare cuts of steak.
Designed to cut a variety of meats, from soft chicken to tough, tender beef steaks, carving knives are recognisable by their long, slender blades, lined with sharp serrated edges. This is designed to tear into the meat with a saw like motion, applying more pressure depending on the meat in question.
If you serve roast dinners or other meats, this knife is essential. However, due to the large size and the way it is used, a carving knife should always be paired with a fork or prong. These are usually sold in carving sets, allowing for a matching pair of cutlery, and use a strong material such as steel.
Furthermore, this is one of the few knives that also has an electric option. Electric cleavers can be very powerful and tear through large, tough meats with ease. The benefits here include a lack of power on your own part, as well as the ability to swap out various blades.
On the downside, however, you have to choose a product of a very high quality. Long blades can wobble, so a durable material is needed. Similarly, these devices can be very noisy, so investing in a quieter option is also recommended.
Boning & Filleting Knives
These knives are similar to carving knives, in that they are designed to remove the edible meat sections from various foots. Boning knives are designed for butchery excises, focusing on raw meat rather than soft, cooked meat. More akin to a large dagger than a cooking knife, this item features a narrow blade, allowing you to cut into joints and ligaments. The goal is to remove bones and other undesired tissue. It’s less about finesse and more about efficiency.
Filleting knives, on the other hand, are designed purely for use when preparing fish. These feature a long narrow blade with a very thin width. While this makes them weaker than thicker blades – making them impractical for meat purposes – they excel at slicing fillets of fish from the bone. Similarly, they can also get under the skin and easily slice this layer off better than any other kitchen utensil.
These can hardly be called knives if judging their length, but they nonetheless cut and crack into their respective namesake: the chest nut. These have a long, firm handle and a short, stumpy blade that angles into a sharp point. They are used for cracking nuts but there are very few other items where they also prove useful.
A Japanese design, Santoku knifes are designed as a multi-purpose tool when preparing and serving fish. This blade is designed for slicing and dicing fresh fish and other foods into thin chops and slices. It is most recognisable by the dimples placed evenly along the sides of the blade. This is designed to create help separate thin slices of food – useful when it sticks together. Similarly, it also has a blunt tip.
At first glance, the nakiri knife appears like a small cleaver, and this gives some clue to its function. This knife is designed for chopping and straight cutting with quick up and down movements. It is used primarily with vegetables, lacking the strength to deal with thicker materials, such as meat. However, its weight and design make it a quick and effective way to process large vegetables, or even just larger amounts of vegetables.
Another Japanese knife, this utensil is recognisable by its triangular blade. In practicality, this is an alternative to a boning knife. The angled blade allows for greater access around the various joints and angles within poultry, removing and separating both bones and cartilage if needed. Its smaller than a carving knife and doesn’t fair too well on steak and pork, but it is very good at preparing poultry and other softer meats, such as fish.
A steak knife fulfils many of the same requirements as a carving knife, but it is designed to be paired with a traditional fork for steak (as the name suggests) and other tough foods. These knives are designed to be used by regular diners, so they often feature a thick handle and a long, serrated blade with a curved tip. The tip offers protection, removing the need for a pointed edge. The blade itself should be used with a fork – just like a miniature carving knife – to slice into meat. It is not designed to stab food or use a pointed tip, so this feature is removed for safety.
Paring knives can come in a number of variety of forms, but they typically feature a 3 inch or 4 inch blade. Their use is similar to a Chefs knife, in that they can be used in a variety of areas, often making them the small companion to the larger Chefs knife. Examples including trimming meats, removing fat, or even skinning and peeling the likes of apples and potatoes.
Its small size allows for greater reach and precision, affording it a sense of accuracy you can’t get on bigger knifes. In return, it is not great at cutting or carving, which is why it’s a great companion tool to the Chef’s knife, but not a replacement.
Oyster knifes are very short blades with a stumpy, angled tip. These are designed to pry open oyster shares, so often act as a force multiplier rather than a cutting tool. That said, they are classed as a knife and a useful for kitchens that frequently involve oysters, clams and other shellfish.
Speaking of shellfish, a deveiner knife is used to remove the large veins from shrimp. These are short knives, often shaped with a curved point or tip. This allows users to hook or angle the blade under the vein in question. As such, they act more like a hook than a blade, making them useful in this very specific scenario.
Peelers are knives designed to peel the skin off of fruits and vegetables. As such, they often have a thick blade with a hollow section in the middle. The aim is to angle the serrated edge (on the inside of the knife, rather than the outside) and push along the surface of the food in question. The 2nd edge serves to guide the knife, as well as offering protection to the user. Outside of peeling, however, there is no use to these knives.
These are easily recognisable, as they are essentially a pair of scissors with one blade replaced with a knife edge. The point here is for slow, precise cutting. The second blade helps hold the food in place, while the handles allow for a firm, yet gentle cutting motion across the material in question. Often used as a way to trim meat and fat, as well as prepare various leaves, there are a few uses for knife scissors.
That being said, there are a few other blades that accomplish this, such as the aforementioned paring knife, so it’s more a question of personal taste. Some people prefer to use scissors than to hold a blade.
Finally, when it comes to kitchen knives, you may wish to buy a knife set. A set can define anything, but there are a few key things to consider when buying a set of knives. These typically come with their own storage system. Traditionally, this has been a rack or wall-mounted fixture, but more recent designs have involved a wooden block that sits on the table. This is often preferred, since it leaves the handles exposed for easy access, while leaving the sharp blade safe and secure within the block itself.
Furthermore, the type of knives available may very as will the quantity. A typical knife set will feature at least 6 knives, but some sets can feature 20 or more. Needless to say, if you’re a regular cook in the kitchen, this more extensive knife collection is ideal. At the very least, virtually all of these sets come with a carving knife and a chefs knife, which cover the largest cooking areas and requirements. Other regular additions include a fish knife, cleaver and paring knife.
The main benefit to a knife set is that it gives you a matching aesthetic across all of your blades, as well as a safe, dedicated item with which to store them in. The downside so this is that you cannot be particularly selective in your options. If you desire a specific type of knife, such as an especially durable or strong carving knife, than you will have to buy this in addition to the regular knife set.
While this guide has covered the types of blades available, it’s also worth looking into the materials available. These all have different properties and will, of course, effect the price and usefulness of any particular knife. Here, we are focusing on the material of the blade itself. Handles can come in a variety of materials, so its best to choose one that you find comfortable and easy to hold firmly.
Stainless steel is often the most common material used. This is because it is highly durable, washes easily and is resistance to heat. This makes it comfortable to use, while the strong nature of steel allows you to push in and cut with the full force of the blade. The blade itself will still lose its sharp edge, but this can be easily resharpened.
Other variants of steel include high carbon stainless steel. This needs sharpening less and stains less easily than its typical stainless steel variant. As a result, it’s typically more expensive, but represents a better long term investment.
Carbon steel, on the other hand, represents a cheaper variant of steel. While it is easier to reshape and sharpen, it’s suspicable to rust and other degradation. As a budget option, it’s highly versatile, but it will need replacing more quickly. This can also help impart an iron flavour into the food, as the degradation results in particles getting brushed onto the food during preparation.
Titanium blades can also be found, but there are a few benefits. While this metal is more versatile and lighter than steel, it lacks the strength. In many situations, such as carving and cleaving, this only offers drawbacks.
Ceramic blades are one of the bigger and popular alternatives to stainless steel. The benefit of this material is its lightweight, as well as its ability to maintain a sharp edge. That being said, they lack some of the strength of steel. As a result, they are great for slicing vegetables, softer meats and fruits, but should not be used for harder materials. For this reason they often make a great specialist knife, but should not be your main knife of choice.
Plastic blades are often about safety, rather than practicality. There is little strength in plastic, making them good for cutting vegetables but with little other uses. The benefit of plastic is that it will struggle to cut skin, reducing the risk of cuts and other accidents.
Another popular use for plastic, on the other hand, is to laminate the blade. This sheaths all but the sharp edge in a plastic coating. This helps protect the metal material on the inside, as well as offering a more vibrant aesthetic. That said, it’s the blade edge that gets worn down overtime, and the lamination does nothing to protect this part.
As you can see, no knife is ever right for all situations. While some knives, such as chef and paring knives, are genuinely useful in the majority of circumstances, there are often times when a specific blade is required, such as when carving or preparing seafood.
Because of this, a frequent cook or chef will want the very best tools available. Whether this is by purchasing a luxury knife set, or by acquiring the specific tools needed is up to you. The information presented here will serve to guide you when buying knives, showcasing how each one is useful when cooking the right food.