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Cutlery: Get to know your kitchen knives

December 13, 2012

The more you know about kitchen knives, the more fun you’ll have shopping for cutlery for your own collection or gifts. Today at CHEFS Mix, we’re answering basic questions about knives and how to choose the best ones for your kitchen.

Your Turn: Kitchen knives are a popular topic for cooks and bloggers. After you read today's post, let us know what other questions you have about knives. Please contact us in the comments section or by email at CHEFSmix@CHEFScatalog.com.

How much should I spend on kitchen knives?

Your budget is always an important consideration. If you choose a top brand, you’ll do well regardless of which knives you buy. A beginning cook or casual cook may be pleased with a less expensive set of knives. Gourmet cooks, on the other hand, may consider their knives a lifetime investment and prefer premium cutlery for their kitchens.


What are the parts of a knife?

A knife is more than a blade and handle. When shopping for a kitchen knife, you’ll see or hear terms like “bolster,” “edge” and “tang.” To help you understand these terms, we defined the key knife terms you’re likely to run across.

Top Image: Anatomy of a Knife
Bottom image: Unfinished blade for stamped chef's knife showing a full tang (image courtesy of Wusthof)

 

   Parts of a Knife at CHEFS Mix

 

      Unfinished Knife Blade at CHEFS Mix

 

  1. Edge – The sharpened side of a blade that extends from the point to the heel. The edge may be smooth or serrated. Sharpness is created by grinding each side of the edge to a specific angle (20 degrees for most Western-style knives; 15 degrees for most Asian-style knives)
  2. Point – The thin, sharp front end of the knife blade useful for piercing
  3. Tip – The first third of the edge including the point; extremely sharp and thin for precision cutting and carving
  4. Heel – The rear section of the blade edge; often the widest part of the blade. Used when cutting food that requires more downward force like carrots, hard squash and nuts.
  5. Spine – The top, blunt edge of the blade opposite the edge; improves blade stability
  6. Bolster – The transition point between the blade and handle that resembles a thick metal collar or shank. A bolster adds mass in front of the cook’s hand, improving the knife’s balance, stability and strength.   
  7. Tang - The part of the blade that extends into the handle. If it goes all the way to the end of the handle, the knife has a “full tang.” If it runs only part way, the knife has a “half tang” or “partial tang.”  
  8. Scales – The pieces of wood or synthetic material that attach to the tang to form the handle.
  9. Rivets – The metal pins that join the scales to the tang to form the handle. Cheaper knives may have bonded or glued handles.
  10. Butt – The end of the handle.

Parts of a Knife Quick Reference Guide


What is a forged knife, stamped knife and laser-cut knife? Which is the best?

A forged knife is made from a bar of steel that’s heated until soft and then hammered into shape by an artisan using a forging hammer and die. Because its blade contains more metal, a forged knife holds its edge longer and requires less sharpening than a stamped knife. A forged knife also has a bolster that adds weight and improves the knife’s balance. Forged knives are more expensive than most stamped knives due to their time- and labor-intensive manufacturing process.

Stamped knives are cut from sheets of rolled steel cookie-cutter style. They are lighter than forged knives and may or may not have a bolster. Because their blades contain less metal, stamped knives don’t hold an edge as well as forged knives which means you may have to sharpen them more frequently.

Laser cut knives are a variation of stamped knives. A laser cuts the blade from sheets of rolled steel. Laser-cut edges are more precise and sharper than the edges on stamped or hand-ground blades.

Most top manufacturers like Wusthof and Zwilling make both forged and stamped knives. Shun specializes in making forged Asian-style knives. If you stick with a well-known brand, you’ll get high quality knives regardless of the type you buy. If price is a consideration, remember that forged knives are generally the most expensive.

                            Zwilling Logo at CHEFS Mix                   Wusthof Logo at CHEFS Mix              Shun Logo at CHEFS Mix   

Which type of knife – forged, stamped or laser-cut  – is the best? The answer usually comes down to price and personal preference. We all have different-sized hands, cooking styles, prepping needs and knife skills. The best way to choose a knife is to hold it in your hand and see how it feels. Is it too heavy or too light? Does it feel balanced or blade-heavy? Is the handle comfortable enough for chopping marathons? Then, test the ones you like best to see how well each performs everyday tasks like chopping, mincing, slicing, dicing and carving.


What are the differences between Western-style and Asian-style knives?

                       Wusthof Classic Chef's Knife at CHEFS Mix   Wusthof Santoku Knive at CHEFS Mix

The main difference is the thickness of the blade edge. Western-style knives (chef's knife, above, left) have a thicker edge (around a 20-degree angle on each side of the blade) and Asian-style knives like the Santoku (above, right) or Nakiri have a thinner edge (around a 15-degree angle on each side of the blade). Because their blades contain more metal, Western-style knives are heavier than comparable Asian-style knives.


What are the basic knives most cooks need?

Most home cooks do well with these basic kitchen knives:

  • Chef's Knife at CHEFS MixChef’s knife or Cook’s knife – This all-purpose knife is the workhorse of most kitchens. It’s perfect for prepping ingredients, easily handling everyday tasks like chopping, cutting, slicing, mincing and dicing. Choose one with a comfortable grip that reduces hand fatigue. Blade length affects how balanced the knife feels in your hand and how much control you have while chopping and mincing. Most brands offer chef’s knifes with blades that range from 5-inches to 10-inches. If you like Asian-style knives, choose a Santoku - it's shape and function are closest to those of a traditional chef's knife.
  • Paring Knife at CHEFS MixParing knife or Utility knife – Both are small knives with short blades suitable for fine tasks like peeling apples, carving radishes or trimming fat from meat and poultry. A utility knife's blade is longer than a paring knife's.
  • Serrated Knife at CHEFS MixSerrated knife – The serrated edge easily slices bread, cake, meat or soft fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and peaches. For versatility, choose a serrated knife with a blade that’s at least 10-inches long.


Do I need specialty knives? Shun Boning Knife at CHEFS Mix

Using the right knife for the task improves your efficiency and results. The versatile chef’s knife excels at a variety of prepping tasks. But, when it comes to precision tasks like deboning chicken, filleting fish or cutting ham into deli-thin slices, a boning knife (above), fillet knife or carving knife comes in handy. If you find that your cooking activities often include a special task or two, consider adding a specialty knife to your cutlery collection.

 Wusthof Knife Block Set at CHEFS Mix

Should I buy a cutlery set or knife block set?

Cutlery sets offer a great value for the price with significant savings over buying individual or open stock knives. Sets range from starter sets (chef’s knife and paring knife) to complete collections. Knife block sets include both cutlery and a knife block for storage.

 

How should I store my knives?

Storing knives properly protects blade edges and prevents injuries. You have many storage options including a knife block, knife case or roll, in-drawer tray, original box, original presentation case and magnetic bar. If you store individual knives in a drawer, be sure to cover each blade with a sheath or guard to protect the edge and prevent accidental cuts to fingers and hands.

                    Knives on Magnetic Bar at CHEFS Mix   Knife Storage at CHEFS MixKnife Block at CHEFS Mix        Knife Case at CHEFS Mix

 

How do I take care of my knives?

Your kitchen knives require care and maintenance to keep them sharp and ready to use. Here are some important steps to take:

  1. John Boos Cutting Boards at CHEFS MixAlways use a cutting board to prevent dulling or damaging the edge. The best materials are wood, bamboo, polypropylene, plastic or composite. Avoid cutting boards made from glass, stone, ceramic or metal.
  2. Unless otherwise stated by the manufacturer, hand wash your knives immediately after use. Dry thoroughly and store properly. 
  3. Use knives only for their intended uses. For example, don’t use the blade point to remove staples or puncture a metal can. 
  4. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for sharpening and honing. In general, sharpen
    occasionally to restore sharp edge (sharpening removes metal to create the edge) and hone frequently to maintain the sharp edge (honing realigns or straightens the edge). Note that you may
    not have to sharpen some serrated knives – again, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  5. Don’t pick up or carry knives by the blade.
  6. Keep all knives out of the reach of children and pets.

 

 

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Tags: Knives, Buying Guide

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