Kitchen Essentials – Knives

By / Magazine / March 16th, 2009 / Like

You walk into your neighbourhood kitchen store looking for a knife set and find yourself faced with a wall of steel. So many different manufacturers, styles, sizes … where do you start? First, know your budget and stick to it. Knives can range in price from $20 to well over $100. Buy the best you can afford. Whether or not you do a lot of cooking or a little, every kitchen should house three basic knives: a chef’s knife, which will be used 80% of the time, a paring knife and a bread knife. The next thing to do is to try one on for size. Pick up each one, hold it, handle it. You’re looking for good weight and balance. If it’s too light, your arm will have to work overtime. If it’s unbalanced, the grip will feel uncomfortable. Ask the salesperson about how the knife is made. That information will help you figure out which knife is best for you.

Style

There are two styles or philosophies in the of making kitchen knives: Eastern and Western. Eastern-style knives, such as the Japanese types, are made of a harder steel; the blades are thinner which produces a lighter knife, and the bevel angles are usually more acute.

That means these knives will hold an edge longer, are sharper and require more maintenance. They are great for cutting where accuracy is necessary, such as preparing sushi or making decorative cuts.

Western style knives are generally made from softer steel, are thicker, heavier, and have more blunt bevel angles so that they won’t get quite as sharp, but the edges will require less maintenance. They are outstanding at chopping.

You need to decide between cutting performance and more required maintenance (Eastern style), or slightly less performance but easier and less frequent maintenance (Western style.) You must also choose between lightweight (Eastern style) and heftier knives (Western style.) Obviously, a good cook will be a good cook with either style. It’s simply a matter of preference.

Construction

The three most common ways to make a kitchen knife are: blocked, forged, or sintered. Some are ground to shape from a steel blank, but these are rarely found commercially.

Blocked knives are cut from a sheet or roll of steel of even thickness, just like cutting cookies. The blades are ground and edged; handles are then attached to the tangs. These knives are light, inexpensive and usually poorly balanced.

Forged knives are made by heating a steel blank very hot and pounding it into shape with a machine. Forged knives, are made from a single piece of steel.

Sintered knives are made by fusing together the blade and tang. Knives are sometimes made this way because it’s less expensive than forging.

Take your time when buying knives. They will live in your kitchen for a long time, so make sure that you’ve chosen the right ones for your needs.

 

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Looking at the small things that make life great and the people who create them.

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