Whether you're a professional chef, housewife, hunter, or cooking hobbyist, a great knife is one of the key tools you can’t survive without. A quality knife will not only reward you with a safe, enjoyable, and long-life performance, but will also ensure that you spend as little time as possible preparing your favorite meal.
Even when performing delicate tasks, such as julienning vegetables, you'll enjoy every bit of the process. But with so many different knife models to choose from, how do you know for sure what type of knife to invest in?
While it looks like a daunting task, it doesn't have to be if you know what you're looking for in a knife. Don't be tempted to focus on a few major features such as durability, versatility, strength, endurance, budget, ease of use, and blade sharpness. Yes, they're essential, but there's more to it.
This article will tell you exactly how to choose the best knife based on your specific needs and preferences. Stay tuned!
Factors To Consider When Buying A Knife
When it comes to picking a great knife, there are a few factors to keep in mind. But before we get there, it's essential to understand why you need the knife in the first place. While it may look obvious, not every knife out there in the market will meet your needs.
Even with the best features, a bread knife can't be used to slice meat. The key point is to understand the purpose of the knife first and then use the factors we've discussed below to choose the right one.
1. German Vs. Japanese?
When shopping for a knife, you're likely to come across the two main knife categories – German and Japanese knives. While they are not that different, there are a few key differences worth pointing out.
The first thing to note is that German knives tend to be heavy and thicker with a curved edge. This makes them more versatile and ideal for robust chores that require more force to be applied when cutting. Thanks to its thick blade, a German knife can serve you for a lifetime. The only weakness is that it requires regular sharpening.
On the other hand, Japanese knives are lightweight and have a relatively thinner blade with a straight edge. They are best suited for delicate tasks that require high precision and less pressure. Unlike German knives, Japanese knives are easy to sharpen and retain their sharpness for longer. The only downside is that they are more vulnerable to cracking and chipping.
So, which type should you choose? Well, suppose you're looking for a lightweight knife to perform light kitchen duties such as slicing tomatoes, slicing potatoes, chopping onions, and cutting vegetables. In that case, a Japanese knife is an ideal option to choose.
A German knife is ideal for you if you're looking for a thicker and highly durable knife that can perform robust kitchen duties such as cracking bones, and chopping large starchy vegetables. You can achieve delicate cuts with these knives however that’s not their main purpose.
2. Feel (The Knife Has To Feel Good In Your Hand)
Your comfort while using the knife is another crucial factor to keep in mind. The knife should perfectly fit in your hand, offering a secure and comfortable grip even when working with wet hands. Similarly, the knife should have a strong, soft, and ergonomic handle, making it easy for you to go about your kitchen chores with ease.
3. Length (For Home Use, A Shorter Knife Gives You More Control)
As far as the knife's length goes, you have to consider both the blade's length and the handle. For regular day to day kitchen tasks, a shorter knife can get your work done efficiently. A shorter blade and handle give you maximum strength and control when cutting through food, thus reducing the risk of the knife slipping from your hands.
On the other hand, when dealing with tough tasks that need high pressure, such as cutting large meat pieces, a longer and thicker knife is ideal.
The right knife should offer good balance and control even when performing challenging tasks. The weight of the knife should be balanced between the blade and the handle. If the blade is heavier than the handle, it will be uncomfortable and unsafe to use. Similarly, if the handle is heavier than the blade, it may not cut efficiently.
For harder ingredients such as say pumpkin, a heavier knife is recommended. Some knives are fitted with finger guards to prevent fingers from slipping to the edge.
Features To Consider
Which features should a good knife have? Here are a few key features to keep in mind when shopping for a great knife.
A tang is the unsharpened part of the knife's blade that extends to the handle. Depending on your preferences, you have two major options to choose from:
Full tang – with a full tang, the blade runs down the entire length of the handle. If you're looking for a highly durable yet robust knife, a full tang knife is the best choice as it offers better balance. It's also ideal when dealing with tough tasks that require high pressure to be applied as it is unlikely to snap off the handle.
Half tang – Here, the blade extends halfway through the handle. A half tang knife is suitable for simple kitchen tasks such as slicing bread or chopping onions. In most cases, a half tang knife handle gets wobbly and may snap if too much pressure is applied.
Unless you're looking for a highly robust knife for cracking through bones, a heel isn't a great feature in a regular kitchen knife.
While it can give a new knife a robust design, problems arise when you sharpen the knife. After a series of sharpening, the knife develops a slight curve towards the back of the blade. This only means two things.
One, the knife won't rest flat on the chopping board, thus preventing you from making uniform/clean cuts. Abd two, the knife's service life is shortened, forcing you to get a newer knife sooner.
While a wooden handle may look beautiful and stylish, it's not always the best. Wood is vulnerable to water damage and requires high maintenance. I'd recommend choosing a high-impact plastic handle material such as fiberglass nylon or polypropylene.
Plastic materials are smooth, lightweight, longer-lasting, water-resistant, thus offering a more secure grip. Just remember to keep them away from heat. An ergonomically shaped handle will also provide a more secure grip and can prevent slipping and hand fatigue.
A knife's tip is the thinnest part of the blade. A good kitchen knife should have a reasonably sharp, pointed, and thin tip.
The spine is the unsharpened side of the blade. If you'll use your knife for light kitchen tasks such as slicing tomatoes or cutting vegetables, a knife with a thinner spine is okay. On the contrary, a thicker spine is better when dealing with tough tasks – you can use the spine to apply more pressure when cutting through hard ingredients.
Knife Maintenance: Tips For Caring For Your Knife
If you've invested in a high-quality knife, one thing is for sure – you would like it to serve you for a lifetime. But here is the thing – even the best knives need to be cared for and maintained. Otherwise, you may find yourself shopping for a new knife sooner than you had anticipated. The following tips will ensure that your knife works efficiently and serves you for longer.
- Always hone or sharpen your knife before it get’s blunt. Forcing a blunt blade may damage the edge and strain the handle, reducing the knife’s lifespan.
- Wash the knife after use. It’s hygienic and prevents the knife from reacting with water, acids, and other substances from the food that may destroy, leave spots, or cause the blade to rust.
- Hand wash the knife. While many knives claim to be dishwasher safe, it's always good to hand wash them. Dishwashing will actually dull your blades edge. Reducing its lifespan and require excessive sharpening. I have never put my knives into a dishwasher! Please don’t do that!
- After washing, always dry the knife with a dry towel and store it in a cool and dry place. You can fit it in a drawer or hang it on a magnet strip.
- Use the knife for the right purpose. It really doesn’t need to be said (does it?) that cutting through hard stuff such as plastic can destroy the knife's edges (I know you don’t do this!)
Now that you know what makes a quality knife, it's now up to you to identify the right knife model and buy it. But keep in mind that even with the best knife, it will only last to the next generation with proper cleaning, honing, and care.