Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Purchasing the Best Chef Knife for You

People often ask me what my favorite chef knife is and what criteria they should use in looking for a knife. As a professional, some of us have that one trusty knife that we got at the beginning of our career and feel that that is the only knife that they will ever need. I on the other hand have probably owned at least five full-size chef knives in my career until I decided on the one I use the most now. I actually keep two now, as I feel each has its own purpose. I could go into a whole list of knives for you, but that would make my already long posts quite a bit longer, so I will concentrate on just the regular chef knife.

Before I talk brands, let's talk about what one should look for in a knife. The first thing to consider is where are you going to be using this, at home or in a professional kitchen. Although there are those that want professional quality, it is not always necessary to pay $300 for a knife you are going to use at home. Most people at home or professional will want to seek out a hand forged high-carbon stainless steel blade which holds its sharpness quite well and is pretty durable. Another option is high-carbon steel (not stainless) which is what many Japanese high-end knives are made out of. These knives are usually folded the way Japanese swords were once made for samurai. Many times the blade is so hard though, that if dropped, treated poorly (Ie, chopping bones) the blade can crack. If not dried after use and oiled, the blade may rust as well, so these knives take a professional hand. Another material that has become slightly popular is ceramic, these share the same issues as the folded steel Japanese knives, but are even more fragile but hold a sharp blade even longer.

Next you will want to make sure that you get a proper handle, plastic, rubber, stainless steel or treated wood are good. Non-treated wood is not as good as it can absorb water and crack or mold. When looking at the handle, you want to make sure that the blade goes all the way through the handle, or as many call it a "full tang." This is to balance the knife and give it durability. Blade size is important as well, and the only way you are going to figure out what you like for size is by putting a few knives in your hands and maybe even chopping something if the store lets you. If a store doesn't let you hold the knife, they shouldn't get to hold your cash. I prefer a large 12 inch blade, as I have large hands, some others may prefer a 10 inch, 8 inch or 6 inch blade. Don't go smaller, those 5 inch blades are just to have a cute knife.

Those of you at home will probably want to send your knives out to be sharpened by a local knife shop or culinary store. Make sure they use a whet stone or an oil stone and that they do not grind their knives. Grinding will shorten the life of your knives as it takes a larger amount of metal off with each sharpening. The best way though is to buy your own whet stone, have the store teach you how to use it and then you know your knives are being cared for.

So here is a list of knives I have run into and like for different reasons. As for pricing, these estimates are for their regular, no frills lines. Many of these companies offer funky handle designs and other frills, that frankly are for aesthetics and to make more money off of you.

This is a German manufacturer and one of the most popular and best knives on the market. A ten inch blade will run you about $100 depending on where you shop. These are the knives given in the Culinary Institute of America knife kit.

Another popular knife, but for some reason I don't like them as much. They just don't seem to hold a blade as long as the Wustof, but they are about $5-10 cheaper usually. This is a German company as well.

A very popular trendy knife made in Japan. However it is not the folded steel as many think, it is stainless steel. They hold a sharp blade pretty well, but the handle which is metal can be difficult to get used to. These run about $130 for a ten inch blade.

Well the French do make a chef knife, and of what I have ever seen this is the only one I like. I used to use their slicer. It is a good quality knife, that will run you about $80.00. Id say they are on par with Henckels.

A pretty popular knives amongst those in the know in professional kitchens. They come in a variety of steels, but the stainless steel runs about $150-$170 depending on where you shop. This knife stays incredibly sharp and supposedly is well worth the price from what I have seen in tests.

Alright, well I'm putting it on here because many people tell me they like these knives. They are made in Australia and everyone's darling Rachael Ray is there spokes person, and these are the knives you see here using on her show. I'm guessing these aren't too popular in professional kitchens, and I'm not too sure how I would react to seeing one in a professional kitchen either. They seem to be pushing a professional line now though (without that god awful orange handle) with metal handles which retail between $100-$ 30 depending on where you look.

A good quality ceramic knife, stays incredibly sharp, however it is fragile as noted before. I've broken a few pairing knives from them and have since switched to my current knives. Six inch is as high as they go and it retails for about $90.00. There top of the line extra durable knife with an extra long lasting sharpness still at six inches is $300.

My last selection is the knife that I use. It is a Japanese made knife, which is made by the mentioned folding of the carbon-steel to make the blade super hard which makes it sharp as well. This blade is also super thin, which makes it not a good knife to use for chopping big items like bones and the sort (I use a Wuhstof for those purposes). These are continuously rated the best knives on the market. I hate to admit this, but my chef knife cost me about $400 with a discount, meaning you'll probably pay about $450 for this knife at home. Most home cooks will never need a knife like this, and many chefs either. This knife requires a lot of care, but this care will be rewarded by how amazing this knife is.

So I hope that helps a few people out with their knife choices. The same qualities go for any of the other types of knives made by these companies, but obviously the prices will be different. If there is anything I can do to help anyone in the choice of their knives in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me. I have sort of an obsession with kitchen knives.

1 comment:

Menseffects said...

I really get all the point which you mention earlier in your blog about knife. I will consider all the things.
Out Of Front Knives

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