When I began at Sur La Table I had no idea what made a knife nice, especially not what made a knife special enough to spend hundreds of dollars on a single piece. Now I know that there are so many different kinds of steel, and they all perform differently. A great knife is one of the most cost-effective ways to upgrade your cooking experience. Prep work will go faster and your cuts will be nicer, easier, more precise.
When I chatted about the new additions to my kitchen, I mentioned that the Japanese steel is sharper and will hold its edge longer. Simply put, Japanese knives can be sharpened to a much more acute angle than German knives, and will stay that way longer, however one must be more careful with them because the sharpness of the steel translates to hardness, and tendency to chip. German steel is softer, more malleable, which dulls more quickly but sharpens up nicely, and doesn’t chip (unless something really drastic happens). Many cooks have one or two of both kinds.
For this reason, someone who has made a real investment in their knives should get the proper honing steel, as well. A German honing steel, for example, isn’t a hard enough metal to clean up the edge on a Japanese knife. A Japanese steel is harder than a Japanese and German knife, however, and can be used for either of them. There are inexpensive ones out there. How do you know if it’s time to use a honing steel? Carefully draw your finger down from the spine of the knife and past the sharp edge of the blade. If you feel a little catch or hook at the edge, it’s time to hone. Never, ever check the sharpness of a knife by feeling the sharp edge with your finger–they can be sharper than you think!
If you don’t know already, here’s
an awkward picture of how to hold a knife. Pinch the point where the blade meets the handle. Then wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle to form your grip. This puts the knife in line with your whole arm, and relieves the wrist of unnecessary work. If it feels weird, do your prep work while holding the knife this way for a couple of days, then try the “old” way. My guess is that the old way will now feel more awkward and unwieldy!
As far as choosing your new knife, the best thing to do is find an opportunity to try out several brands, shapes, and styles. My store lets customers test them, and I have seen other kitchen stores that also provide this option. If they don’t have any food for you to chop, at least take the opportunity to wrap your hand around the handle and fake it. The weight and handle should feel good. There’s not really one “best” knife for everyone, that’s why there are so many options out there!
And a quick & dirty review of my choices: I love the two I chose. They are both light yet well balanced.
- Global is a favorite brand of those in the restaurant industry because they are durable and a cinch to keep clean (since they’re all one piece). Some people don’t like the handle because they’re so unique and seem a bit small, but I really like it, especially for a small knife life my nakiri. This is and will continue to be my go-to prep knife for small jobs.
- The Shun Sora line just came out. They are not only less expensive than Shun Classic but the bright reflective steel should resist rust/patina more than the damascus pattern of the Classic. It cuts like a dream through everything. We made tacos the other night and cutting lettuce, tomatoes, and even cooked steak (medium and well done) was effortless. I look forward to many happy years together with this knife ;)
What kind of knives do you have? Are you in love with them or are you interested in upgrading?
The Small Print: I wasn’t paid or perked to write my knife posts, in fact I bought these knives with my own cold hard cash after lots of hemming and hawing about what to get. I did use an employee discount. Lots of bloggers get free stuff in order to write reviews; I am not one of them.