Cooking Tips and Techniques, Knives

Kitchen Knives – Techniques & Buying Guide


knife10Knife sets are usually 25% cheaper than the same knives sold individually, however you’ll likely end up with more you really need – or more importantly, use.

The three types of must-have knives are; a chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a paring knife.

The chef’s knife is used for all chopping, dicing, slicing and mincing tasks. The blades of these knives are very wide as they allow your (curled) fingers to butt up against the blade when chopping. The shape of the blade is either gently curved or has a straight cutting edge.

Personally I prefer the curved blade, as you are able to ‘rock’ the knife allowing you to cut faster and with a more fluid motion. Blades are between 8 and 14 inches, however 8” or 10″(10″ is my favorite) is the most useful and comfortable to use that a home chef will ever need.

Video: How to using a chef’s knife

The paring knife has a thin blade that is 3-4” long. It is ideal for small tasks as well as for peeling, coring, paring, and slicing. You will use these knives a lot for peeling, coring, small slicing jobs, so be sure to have a few of them in your drawer.

The serrated or bread knife is used for cutting bread or other tender/fine baked goods like angel food cakes, soft-skinned fruit like tomatoes, or when you want to level a cake before you layer it. The amount of ‘teeth’ on the blade directly relates to how well it will but. More is not better. A knife with fewer serrations will cut better than one with more.

Only the serrated knife does not need to be sharpened, the others should be regularly honed/sharpened to not only keep their edges sharp, but to extend the life of the knife – which should last up to 30 years.

How to care for your knives

  • Cutting surfaces – granite, glass and other hard stone surfaces can cause blades to dull prematurely and even chip over time. Use softer cutting surfaces like wood or plastic.
  • Cleaning – hand wash knives and immediately wipe dry thoroughly. Using a dishwasher or even letting hand washed knives air dry can cause corrosion and chips over time.
  • Routine Care – Over time and use the knife edge curls over, making the blade seem dull. It most likely doesn’t need to be sharpened, but honed. A honing blade is a long metal tool that straightens and realigns the edge so the blade feels sharper (unlike sharpening, no metal is removed from the blade when it is honed). Stainless steel knives should normally be honed every 2-4 uses. Carbon steel knives should be honed after each use. Choose a honing steel that is at least 2″ longer than the blade of your longest knife.

    Video: How to hone a knife
  • Sharpening – If you have been consistently honing your knives, you should only need to sharpen your knives no more than once per 1-2 years.
  •  A perfectly honed/sharpened knife will be able to cut a sheet of paper by simply pushing down at an angle through the paper (no slicing action).


What to look for when buying 

  • Wood, metal or plastic handles? It all comes down to personal preference,  however metal handles are not as comfortable and can be slippery and harder to get a firm grip with, in comparison to wood or plastic.
  • The price of a knife is based on its materials and the process in which its made. The most expensive knives are forged from high-carbon stainless steel. The higher percentage of this steel used means it will hold its edge better and will resist rust and stains. Japanese knives tend to be made with harder, higher-grade steels, but are significantly more expensive. Next best choice is those with a combination alloy of steel and carbon.blade_angle
  • Another factor that influences the price of a knife is how the cutting edge is created. Taper-ground edges have the cutting angle generated from the top of the blade all the way to the edge. These are found on the most expensive blades. Hollow-ground edges are those that only the bottom of the blade is angled. These are found on cheaper knives, which is also why the knife dulls quicker.
  • Having said all that, it all comes down to how it feels in your hand. The grip should be comfortable with no edges or bumps. When you hold it, it should feel balanced, not too heavy or not too light.Picture from Cooks Illustrated
  • For bread/serrated knives, look for those with a scalloped blade edge that is thin and tapers into the thicker part of the knife’s blade, also where the scallop ends in a point (not rounded). Knives with fewer serrations/scallops along the blades length will actually cut through the bread easier and cleaner than those with a higher number of serrations along the blade’s length. This is because when you push down, the force you exert is divided among the serrations – the more serrations a blade has, the less power each one gets.  A knife with a blade of at least a 10” is the most useful.

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