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Knives

Monday, 29 September 2008 | Tags:

Slicing, dicing and chopping looks easy when the professionals do it. Undoubtedly, it takes practice to chop like a pro, but a quality knife also makes the difference between a quick and simple dinner and ìchopperís elbowî. Since cutting is 75% of the kitchen work, we find out what to know about buying kitchen knives.

The Basics

  • There are a variety of knives on the market for every kind of kitchen cutting imaginable, but you only really need just a handful of different knives to get you through most recipes:

    • The chef’s knife is the most important. Use it for chopping, dicing, slicing and mincing. The blade is very wide for extra heft, with a gentle curve or straight cutting edge. The blade is typically between 8 and 14 inches. A smaller 8″ is usually the most popular size, but some professionals prefer the heavier 10″ as it means less muscle power from them.

    • The utility knife is second to the chef’s knife in usefulness. Its 5-6” inch blade is perfect for smaller tasks similar to a chef’s knife.

    • The slicing knife is a thin, flexible blade good for carving beef, poultry and pork. The blade is usually between 8 and 10 inches, and often you can buy it in a pair along with a sharpener.

    • The paring knife is handy for peeling, coring, paring, cleaning and slicing. Ideal for garnishes and fine work, its thin blade is 3-4 inches long.

    • The serrated or bread knife has teeth instead of a fine edge. Good for crusty foods like bread and soft skinned foods like tomatoes, it doesn’t require any sharpening.

  • Quality and comfort are the most important things to look for in a knife. A good quality knife may be pricey, but it’s an investment that will last 25-30 years.

  • The way a knife is made can affect the price and quality:

    • Most expensive knives are forged from high-carbon stainless steel. The higher percentage, the better it holds its edge. At some factories, the manufacturing process requires as many as 100 steps, many done by hand. Knives made this way are weighty, balanced, with a heavy, tapered blade and a significant blade extension (bolster) running through the handle. They also resist rust and stains, and can last a lifetime.

    • Stamped knives are stamped out of a sheet of steel and can range from cheap to pricey. The manufacturing of this thin, light blade is mostly done by machine. Stainless steel should never rust but can be hard to sharpen. (Serrated blades are usually stamped.)

    • The Henckels process is neither forging nor stamping. This takes three pieces of steel, one each for the blade, bolster and tang, and fuses them together. This process, while unique, still relies on the stamped blade.

  • The cutting edge of the knife can also make a difference to the quality.

    • Taper-ground edges are usually done on more expensive knives. In this process, the cutting angle is generated from the top of the blade, tapering to the edge in a continuous “V” shape.

    • Hollow-ground edges are usually found on cheaper knives. This means that only the bottom of the blade is angled, so the knife will have a shorter life.

  • Knife handles are made from both plastic and wood.

    • Plastic handles are made of a single piece of moulded hard plastic. Restaurants often favour plastic handles for sanitary reasons – plastic stands up better to hot water and soaking. They can also provide a better grip than the wood handles.

    • While wood handles are susceptible to moisture and bacteria, some are made in a coated or waterproof form that resists moisture better.

  • The handle design and feel are also important. Make sure it is comfortable in your hand and that no edges or bumps force you to hold it oddly. A lot of chopping with an ill-designed knife handle will cause your hand to get sore.

  • The knife should not feel too heavy, nor too light. The weight is influenced by how far the blade is carried into the handle (the tang). When you hold it, it should feel balanced.

  • There should be no flaws like gaps between the metal and the handle. Water and food can collect here, causing the handle or metal to deteriorate over time.

  • When knife shopping, remember your abc’s and d’s.

    • Look for a combination alloy of steel and carbon, it won’t stain and will hold its edge better.

    • The balance and construction of the knife are important. The knife should be able to balance in the middle.

    • Finally the design and durability relate to the overall design of the knife.

  • Terms to know when buying a knife:

    • Tang is the metal that extends through the handle of the knife. The strength and balance of the knife is dependant on the length of the tang. A full tang runs all the way through the handle, while a partial or half tang does not.

    • Bolster is the thick neck of metal between the tang and the blade on forged knives. It is flared to prevent the user’s finger from slipping towards the blade.

    • The heel is the part of the bolster beneath the joint between the blade and the handles. This provides clearance for the knuckles when the knife is being used to chop. Expensive knives with deep blades have a deeper heel for more clearance.

Other Considerations

  • Starter sets of kitchen knives typically sell for about 25 per cent less than the same knives sold individually, but you may end up with more knives than you really need. A chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a paring knife are the three must-haves in your set.

  • Caring for you new knife can help it lead an long and healthy “life”. The two most important things to remember are to sharpen and to clean your knife. Here are some quick tips on care.

    • Sharpening:

      • Premium fine-edged knives need to be honed with a few strokes on a sharpening steel before each use.

      • Sharpening steels are usually sold separately but you should buy one that is intended for your knives to ensure metal of the proper hardness.

      • A safe way to hone is to stand the steel on its tip and sweep the blade down with the other hand. Hold the blade against the steel at a 20-degree angle and repeat the process several times. Have patience – you will master this technique.

      • Do not use your finger to check for sharpness. Instead, slice the edge of a sheet of paper.

      • If honing does not restore sharpness, more-serious sharpening is in order. Consider taking the knife to a professional.

      • Electric sharpeners are also available; they use magnets to hold the blade at the proper angle as you guide the knife through. You can also use a whetstone or a diamond-impregnated block.

      • To keep knives sharp, store them with the blade up or sideways; a knife block is useful for good storage, or a wall-mounted, magnetic rack.

      • Remember that metal, porcelain, and glass cutting boards dull knives faster than wood or plastic.

      • Ginsu knives claim to never need sharpening.

    • Washing

      • Dishwasher detergents and dampness can cause pits in the blade, and the cleaning action of the washer can nick both the knife and your dish rack.

      • Do not leave knives soaking for hours.

      • Dry with a soft cloth.

Fillet / De-boning Knife

  • A fillet knife and a de-boning knife are one and the same. A cheap fillet knife will cost you wasted meat. The ideal fillet knife for home cooking is 7.5 inches and should be extremely flexible. Ensure it has a good handle to guard against nasty slips.”

  • The ideal fillet knife for home cooking is 7.5 inches and should be extremely flexible. It will allow you to fillet small and large fish quite well with little effort.

  • Look for a knife with a metal blade (stainless steel) that is extremely strong, durable, and corrosive resistant.

  • Consider one with a rubber grip instead of wood, which gets slippery when wet and retains fish odors. Rubber prevents slippage, can be easily cleaned to eliminate germs and fish smells, and is rust-resistant.

TEST CRITERIA

We gathered up a few veggies, enlisted the help of some professional chefs from a Japanese restaurant, and got to chopping. We tested:

  • Classic Wusthof (long blade that runs through the handle, durable): $145
  • Cutco (molded handle, long, medium width blade): $115
  • Tramontina (made in Brazil, thick blade): $69
  • Ginsu (came with a 10-piece set, thin short, serrated blade): $60
  • Ikea (plastic handle and rubber grip, thin blade): $8

Chopping Test

  • After slicing and dicing with each test product, it was clear that the Ginsu was the least favourite.

  • Two of our chef testers preferred the Ikea knife for work because they could use it on metal surfaces (which dulls the knife). Thus it’s a cheaper knife and easier to replace.

  • For home use, the overall favourite was the Classic Wusthof, which has a reputation for lasting a long time.

  • Anna & Kristina both liked the Classic Wusthof the best

  • Anna liked the grip of the Cutco the best of all of the handles.

OUR TOP PICK

The Classic Wusthof, our most expensive product, turned out to be the one most preferred by all. Though it is pricey, it will last for many years of chopping, so we think it’s a good investment.

 

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