Friday, September 14, 2007

How to Choose a Knife Best For You:

(Check out the bottom to see a chart of knives and their details)

There are so many knives out there!! I mean, butcher knives, Japanese knives, chef’s knives (French knife), paring, slicing, filet, boning, bread, utility, steak… And not only for every purpose, but each knife also gives you the options of material, size, and composition. How is the everyday person with no culinary training supposed to know what to have in their kitchen? Easy. One of everything. Kidding, but if we all could, wouldn’t it be amazing? A tool for every purpose! Knives have been in our “kitchens” since Stone Age. My, how they’ve come a long way. At least now they have handles. But then what kind of handle to get?!

Let us start this discussion with the most common styles of knives out there, their purposes, and which one (two, three…) you should have in your kitchen. Below we will talk about the importance of different materials.
  • Boning knife: This knife used to remove bones from the flesh of meat like poultry, fish, and ham. It is a shorter knife with a somewhat flexible, curved blade.
  • Bread knife: No, this knife is not the all-purpose knife that I know many people like to think. I’ve seen it used for cutting tomatoes, cheese, vegetables, etc. I’m sure the reason for this is because they never appear to go dull, but this is because they rip and tear food. This is a longer knife, about ten inches long, which is good for sawing through bread crusts without dulling the blade, and cutting the bread without crushing it.
  • Paring knife: This knife has a short, sharp blade, used for peeling fruits, or making decorative garnishes out of fruits and vegetables.
  • Filet knife: A filet knife has a flexible, longer curved blade, and it is used for cutting meats and fish into thin filets.
  • Utility knife: A utility knife is somewhat smaller than a chef knife, about five to eight inches long. It’s used for cutting meats and cheeses.
  • Steak knife: These will usually come in a set. They’re perfect for cutting tough foods into manageable bites. They have short, often serrated, blades, and should only be used on the table.
  • Chef’s knife (French knife): This is the most common knife found in all kitchens. Not only because it’s been around the longest, but also because of its versatility and use for everyday tasks like slicing, chopping, and mincing many different kinds of foods. Santoku knives, which are a style of chef’s knives, feature scalloped edges, which are perfect for slicing foods that are softer, such as tomatoes, bread, and cakes.

A knife is your single most important and utilized kitchen tool. A sharp, well-kept, personally fitted knife, will keep you and your food safe. You’ll be slicing and carving, rather than smashing and tearing.
Next time you’re in a kitchen supply store, or online, you’ll know what the purpose of every knife is, but now to discuss what materials and composition you should be aware of.

The knife is composed of a blade, handle, and a tang:

  • Blades to consider are the conventional v-shaped blade that is sharpened from both angles, and the Japanese style blade that is only sharpened from one angle. V-shaped blades are more of a world standard because it was originally used in more countries and the realigning of the blade is an easier way to manage a constant sharpness. The Japanese style blade is very sharp, as well, but will stay sharp longer. This is ideal for cooks who do not want to regularly re-center the blade. This blade will need to be sharpened more to maintain ideal sharpness as a result.
  • The handle can be composed out of the same material as the blade, wood, or a hard, durable plastic. It’s important when shopping for knives that you pick one up and think about how it feels in your hand. The only difference in your options is your own opinion. Where the blade thickens to meet the handle is the shoulder. This keeps the knife from jamming into the bone of a chicken while cutting.
  • The tang is known as a blade's extension into the handle. It’s important to choose a knife that has a full tang, meaning the steel of the blade runs all the way through the handle of the knife. A full tang ensures strength, weight and balance. Most knives that have a full tang make it visible by fastening the handle on either side of the steel, leaving the steel visible on the top and bottom of the handle. Without a tang, the knife’s blade is only fasted on to the handle, keeping the majority of the weight in the front of the knife, and can potentially come unfastened.
Now, lets look at three basic materials used for making kitchen knives: steel, titanium, and ceramic.
  • Carbon Steel has been used for many years. These guys are tough and take less effort to acquire a better edge. However, these blades discolor when they come in contact with foods that are high in acid, such as tomatoes and citrus fruit. They must be given special care to avoid discoloration and rusting. You should wash and dry them thoroughly after use.
  • Unlike carbon steel, Stainless Steel blades do not discolor or rust. However, they are such a hard material, that even though they keep their edge longer, they don’t take sharpening well once they do go dull.
  • High Carbon Stainless Steel knives offer a combination of the best attributes of carbon steel and stainless steel blades. They have the toughness and ability to hold an edge and, like stainless steel blades, they do not discolor when coming in contact with acidic foods.
  • Titanium blades are made from a mold of titanium and carbides. When compared to steel, titanium is lighter, more wear resistant, and holds its edge longer. The titanium blade is more flexible working best for tasks like boning and filleting.
  • Ceramic blades are made of zirconium and aluminum oxide. Although they are much more delicate than steel knives, they tend to hold their edge up to 10 times longer! However, once the blades have dulled, they have to be sharpened by a professional sharpener.
So now that we know knives much more intimately, below is a chart I found on knives and what they’re made of from Kitchen Knife Buying Guide. These are the most common knife manufacturers you will find at your local kitchen supply store. This will make it easier for you to be prepared before your knife shopping and hopefully will help clear up any confusion I’ve created with my purge of information!

Knife Comparison Chart

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