How to choose your ultimate kitchen knife…
If you love to cook then a good knife is a kitchen essential and when you find the right knife it is like having a “good dance partner”. Finding the right one is such a personal journey because what works and feels comfortable for you may not appeal to someone else. A lot of people say that you should buy the best knife that you can afford.
At Metelerkamps we are passionate about our knives. My colleague Kate and I both love to cook and her favourite go-to knife in the kitchen is the Wusthof Classic Santoku from Solingen and mine is the Global Santoku from Japan. We both agree to differ on this one and are fiercely loyal to our choices. These are both Japanese style knives but the one is made in Germany and the other in Japan. Barbara just adores the Gude chef’s knife from Solingen with its beautiful 200-year-old Olivewood handle. So you can see it really is such a personal choice.
Finding your ideal knife….
This can be tricky so below are some guidelines to go by:
- The best place to start is to HOLD it…..Get a feel for it and it should be comfortable and feel like an extension of your hand. There should also be enough clearance for your knuckles so that they do not bang on the board when chopping.
- Do you like the weight of it? Some people prefer a heavy knife and the force that comes with it while others prefer a lighter knife that is easier to manoeuvre.
- Does it feel balanced or does it want to pitch forwards or backwards? The handle must not be too heavy or too light for the blade.
- The length of the blade is also a personal choice as a longer blade can chop more volume but a shorter blade will give you more control. Chefs will tell you that the perfect starting knife should have an 8 inch or 20cm blade.
- Does the knife have a bolster, and does this bolster extend all the way to the bottom? The advantage of this is that it adds strength to your knife and also protects your gripping hand from the blade. This is perfect for chopping through chicken tendons and tough pumpkin skin.
- If the knife does not have a bolster or if the bolster does not extend down to the edge of the blade, such as some of the Japanese knives, then the advantage of this is that you can sharpen the full length of the blade without the bolster getting in the way.
- The spine of the knife should have polished edges and not cut into your gripping hand.
- The shape of the blade should have a gentle curve that allows for smooth rocking during chopping and mincing. The blade of a Santoku knife does not have such a pronounced curve so chopping does take some getting used to. But don’t be put off because you will soon get the hang of it.
- Forged or stamped knives – Firstly forged knives are considered the best quality. This means that each one is made from individual pieces of metal, and moulded under extreme heat to create their shape. Forged knives are heavy, durable, balanced, and will typically hold a sharp edge well. They will also, as a result, be more expensive. A stamped knife means that it is punched out of a flattened sheet of steel and the edges are then sharpened. Generally, these knives are less expensive and considered to be not as good a quality. They are not as strong and don’t hold their edges as well as a forged knife.
THE ANATOMY OF A KNIFE
Some facts about the steel used in your knife….
Different elements are added to the steels used in the blade to improve properties such as wear resistance, corrosion resistance, improve tensile strength, prevent pitting, discolouration and rusting. Most reputable knife manufacturers have their own special formula of metal they use to create their knives.
Stainless steel knives have chromium added for rust resistance and nickel for acid resistance. Just remember that Stainless steel is stain LESS and not stain FREE and is corrosion resistant and not corrosion free – STAINLESS STEEL CAN RUST!!!
Some of our customers have returned their knives because they have specks of rust on the blade. This is how the rust occurs….Stainless steel is normally protected by a layer of chromium oxide and when this layer is damaged a new layer normally forms so it is constantly healing itself. It only becomes a problem when the steel does not get a chance to form this new layer and this happens when the knife is exposed to wet conditions such as the dreaded dishwasher, or if it has mechanical damage which can also happen in the dishwasher. Chemical damage from detergents (also from the dishwasher…..) and contact with other steel in a cutlery drawer can also affect this layer.
Look after your knife
- Clean and dry your knife immediately after use.
- Never use the dishwasher as the salt, humidity and heat are a big NO NO.
- Don’t leave your wet knife in the sink or on the work surface.
- Regular sharpening also prevents corrosion along the cutting edge.
- Store it on its own or on a knife magnet
There is a debate as to whether the ultimate kitchen knife is a western-style Chef’s knife or a Japanese style Santoku knife (which is the Japanese equivalent of the Chef’s knife).
CHEFS KNIFE VERSUS SANTOKU KNIFE
The difference between a Chef/Cooks Knife and a Santoku.
Firstly a bit of history…
Most of the reputable knife manufacturers come from either Solingen in Germany or from Japan. Some of the best knives in the world come from Solingen in Western Germany. Solingen is known as the “city of blades” and has been the home of master blacksmiths crafting the finest blades and cutlery for over 2000 years. For centuries the Japanese blacksmiths have been tinkering with steel and they are famous for their Samurai swords. It was only when the Portuguese introduced tobacco into Japan that they turned their skills to knife making to cut the tobacco.
Chef or Cooks knife
Think thicker, sturdier and easier to sharpen.
On the Rockwell Hardness Scale, the steel used on an average Western style Chefs knife has a rating of 56-58 making it softer than the steel used in Japanese knives. This makes the knife easier to sharpen. The blade is also thicker which makes it sturdier and less prone to breaking if dropped (which happens in the best kitchens). It is a versatile knife and is ideal for speed and efficiency and can handle almost anything put on the chopping board. They are traditionally sharpened to an angle of between 20-22° per side.
Think thinner, lighter, harder and sharper.
On the Rockwell Hardness Scale, the steel used for these knives has a rating of 60-61 making this a hard, durable blade. The thinner, sleeker blade makes it lighter and perfect for fine precise slicing. Due to the thinness of the blades they can be prone to chipping. If you are looking for a “one size fits all” knife then this is it. It is a great all-rounder that is capable of cutting boneless meat as well as chopping and slicing of all fruit and vegetables. They are traditionally sharpened to an angle of 10-15° making them impressively sharp.
There is a knife available for virtually every function in the kitchen and you can either build up a collection of all of these or just own the basics. We suggest starting with a Chef’s knife or Santoku, a versatile utility knife, a carving knife and a bread knife.
At Metelerkamps we stock a large selection of these knives and have knives from Japan and Solingen as well as the beautiful Damascus steel knives. We are all passionate about knives (and have our own favourites) and would love to help you choose your ULTIMATE KITCHEN KNIFE.