When shopping for kitchen knives, don’t be blinded by all the shiny steel in the kitchen store. You can spend a reasonable amount of money and get knives that will serve you well. You don’t need to purchase a different knife for every job. Tomato knives? Oh, come on. Don’t fall victim to the lure of specialization.
According to “An Edge in the Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives” by Chad Ward (William Morrow, 2008), you need three basic knives to get started: A chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated bread knife. With those three, you can accomplish everything you need to do, from chopping potatoes to peeling apples.
There are no rules about the types of handles. The best kind is the one that feels good in your hand, so hold the knives before you buy them. If you prefer plastic to wood, no problem. The knife should feel comfortable and balanced to you, so that your hand won’t get tired when you use it. Everyone is different in those preferences. “The ideal handle would feel as rounded and smooth as a well-used bar of soap,” Ward writes.
You’ll hear a lot of often misleading claims about the type of material the knife is made from. For steel knifes, there are many different kinds of steel. Most are high-carbon stainless steel, which holds an edge well. Ceramic knives, which aren’t made from metal at all, are popular with some cooks. The problem with ceramic knives, Ward writes, is that they are brittle and will shatter if dropped on a hard surface. They also can not be sharpened unless shipped back to the factory where they were made. Better to stick with high-carbon stainless steel, which can be more easily sharpened.
Purchase a chef’s knife that is between eight and 10 inches in length. Shorter than that, and it won’t be able to cut large items like a roast. For paring knives, look for ones that are two to four inches long, The blades should be straight, not curved. This is the knife you need to remove the eyes from potatoes and other small work. Serrated bread knives are longer – which makes sense, when you think about it. They run nine to 18 inches. Not just for bread, they can also be used for slicing roasted meats, fish or those pesky tomatoes.
As to how much to spend, a good chef’s knife will cost between $80 and $150. Avoid packaged knife sets. They usually include knives you don’t really need for basic use, and you can often get a better deal by purchasing only the knives you need separately. if you cook a lot, you may want to purchase more than one of the “big three” knives for convenience’s sake.
Once you get great knives, take care of them. Store them in a wooden knife block on the kitchen counter or in a block that fits in a drawer. Don’t simply fling your good knives in the silverware drawer – bad for both the silverware and the knives’ edges. Never put kitchen knives in the dishwasher, but wash them by hand. And don’t allow them to sit in water for long periods of time. To keep knives sharp, avoid cutting on ceramic, granite, metal or glass surfaces.