By: The Reluctant Gourmet © 2007
A Culinary Web Site For Beginner and Intermedieate Home Cooks
The hardest part about shopping for a knife when you're not an experienced cook is figuring out where to begin. Let's start with a few basic tips and considerations about what to look for before we move on to specifics. Let me start by assuring you that a good knife, or set of knives, will last a lifetime and can be handed down to your children. It is an excellent and basic investment in any good kitchen.
So, where do you start?
When you shop for a knife, be aware that they are sold either individually or in sets. Those sold individually are called open stock. There are several reasons for buying knives open stock: affordability, variety, usage and replacement. It's cheaper to buy one knife rather than a set.
You may also want the freedom to experiment with a variety of different brands or types of knives. It may also be more practical if you buy the type of knife you are most apt to use first before adding others as you learn more about food preparation and cooking. Finally, you may need to replace a knife that has been lost or broken.
On the other hand, there are good reasons for buying a set of knives. Although a set requires a higher initial outlay, the breakdown on the cost per knife may actually be cheaper than those bought individually. Another plus in buying a set is that you usually get a good storage system (knife block) as part of your purchase.
What Style of Knife
Once you've decided on whether or not to purchase knives open stock or in a set, the next step is to choose one of two styles: Eastern or Western. Eastern knives are made of hard steel, is thin, holds an edge longer, takes longer to sharpen, requires more maintenance, is great for accuracy and fine cuts and gives better cutting performance. Western knives are made of a softer steel, edge doesn’t hold as long but it’s easier to maintain, is not as sharp but is sturdy and is great for chopping.
Once you’ve decided upon a style, you may want to examine the construction of the knife. Knives are constructed in one of three ways: blocked, forged or sinter. A blocked knife is cut from a single sheet of metal and is of a constant thickness. The blades are ground to form an edge, and the handles are attached to tangs (the metal that extends from the blade to the back of the knife). Blocked knives are inexpensive and light but they have poor balance.
Forged is another type of construction. A forged knife is made of a piece of steel that is heated up and pounded into shape. It has a thick bolster, or finger guard. A forged knife is more expensive, more balanced and stronger than a blocked knife but it’s also heavier. The third type of construction, sinter, is less expensive than the forged knife.
In conclusion, you have more variety in choosing a knife, or set of knives, than you perhaps have expected. There are good reasons for buying either open stock or sets. And, you can choose between styles – Eastern or Western – as well as type of construction: blocked, forged or sinter.
Whatever your selection may be, balance is critical. A knife should feel good in your hand, feel solid and be of a weight that is comfortable to you so that you don’t hurt yourself.
A few more tips before signing off, be sure to maintain your knives. You can protect the edge by placing the knives in a holder. Also, sharpen the knives often and do not use one that is dull. This will make chopping easier and also reduce the risk of accidents.
In that regard, investing in a quality knife sharpener is recommended. A dull knife takes more force to use and makes it easier to slip and cut yourself. Also, sharp knives take less effort to use and allow for better control, so once again, please remember to maintain your knives.
If you would like to learn more about kitchen knives including styles and functions, how to maintain and keep them sharp, what to look for when purchasing one and where to buy quality brands, check out the reluctantgourmet.com web site.
Copyright © 2006 G. Stephen Jones, The Reluctant Gourmet ======================================
The Reluctant Gourmet, created a web site back in 1997 as a hobby to assist other novice cooks who may find the art of cooking a little daunting. As an ex-Wall Street broker and Stay-at-Home Dad, I try to explore cooking from a different perspective. Visit http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/ for more tips, techniques and recipes.