How to Choose a Chef’s Knife: The Most Important Tool in Your Kitchen
“A kitchen without a knife is not a kitchen.” – Masaharu Morimoto
By far, the most important tool when cooking is a good knife and the knife skills to properly use it, which will come in handy for everything from chopping onions to dicing potatoes. Because it is used so frequently, its value is easily overlooked.
I take for granted the importance of my knife only when it’s not there. Like when I’m cooking up an impromptu dinner at my parent’s house and I reach for my familiar knife, as I do out of habit. The one with the handle that rests easily in my palm, whose edge is thin and sharp and its weight — sturdy without tiring my wrist. Instead I cut with something foreign, dull and chiding myself for not carrying my knife with me everywhere I go as I clumsily cut through some unyielding carrots.
Wondering how to find YOUR perfect knife?
Because of its value in the kitchen, it is extremely important to choose the right knife. But it can be so daunting, right? “8-inch, 9-inch or 10-inch? Stainless steel or carbon steel? Japanese or European? What is forged? What about ceramic? Maybe I should just buy everything pre-cut!” NO. Don’t do that.
Finding the right knife is like finding good wine. If you like it, then it’s good. But you must put in the work to find the right knife. No online ordering here people. Get yourself to the store and start cutting.
A good kitchen shop should be equipped to have you try out the knives.
They understand the importance of finding the right fit, so don’t be afraid to ask. Try all sorts of different types. Small, large, heavy, light, tapered end, blunt edge, etc. Hold the knife at the tip of the handle so that your thumb and forefinger rest comfortably on the base of the blade. Feel it. Is it comfortable? Does it feel too heavy? Too light? How’s the grip?
Now try chopping. Chop through some frilly leaves of fresh herbs. Or, start by chopping vegetables. Slice a carrot or better yet, a beet. A good knife should do most of the work for you, slipping easily through whatever it’s asked to cut.
The knife should feel like an extension of your hand.
Pay close attention to the weight. If you are in the kitchen a lot, you don’t want to tire yourself with a big knife. At the same time a heavy knife will have more power to cut through tougher root vegetables or even bones.
Related to the weight is size. Most home cooks prefer an 8-inch chef’s knife. It’s a manageable size that is not too heavy and yet sturdy enough to do most home kitchen tasks. A larger blade gives you more surface to work with. They have smaller, 6- or 7-inches but I tend to stay in the 8- or 9-inch range.
Does it feel balanced? Hold it gently in your hand. Do you find the blade too heavy or does the knife carry most of it’s weight in the handle.
None of these things are bad. Again, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit for you. And truth be told, I have an assortment of various chef’s knives because I like different styles for different reasons. I tend to go through phases as to which knife I prefer. With a sharp chef’s knife and paring knife, 95 percent of your kitchen tasks are set.
Western knives vs. Japanese knives
Generally speaking, European knives are heavier with a thicker blade. They are designed for sturdy tasks and for heavy use. German knives have a slightly rounded blade. Japanese knives have a thinner blade and are usually lighter. They may not perform some of the heavier tasks as well, like breaking down a chicken, but they are precise, light and keep their edge better, I’ve found.
I’m partial to the Japanese knives or the Western-style Japanese knives such as Korin Western-style knives.
Once you’ve found your knife, don’t ever forget that a good knife is nothing with a dull edge. So let’s keep it sharp.