How to Find the Best Knives for Cooking
Chances are, you’ve already eaten today, or will at some point. As human beings, we eat over 1,000 meals a year, and a quality knife is a staple tool in the food preparation process.
It’s safe to say there’s a growing interest in knowing what’s in the food we’re consuming, too. En masse, many of us are choosing to put down our phones, roll up our sleeves, and prepare our own meals.
For novice home cooks or experienced chefs alike, the right cooking knife significantly impacts the meal’s overall quality, as well as your cooking experience.
If you don’t have quality knives, there’s no better time than the present to invest in the right knives for cooking. After all, we can guarantee you’ll be hungry again sometime soon.
Below, we’ll take a look at a few things to look out for when you’re finding the right knives for cooking, as well as different types of basic kitchen knives.
How to Choose a Cooking Knife
Choosing a cooking knife isn’t as complicated as it might seem. In fact, most of it comes down to personal preference and what it is that we’re cooking.
That said, you’ll need to know what it is you’re looking for in a knife before purchasing one, as familiarity will help narrow down the many options.
Here are a few things to consider when looking for the perfect cooking knife.
1. Type of Blade: Stamped vs. Forged
In the general sense, there are two types of blades for kitchen knives - stamped and forged:
- Stamped knife blades are machine-made and sometimes considered of lesser quality than forged, but a well-made stamped knife is still a great choice that is cost-efficient. Stamped blades are precision cut from flat sheets of metal, and are not has hefty as their forged counterparts, but can still hold a sharp edge if made from high quality steel (as is used by brands such as Wusthof, Victorinox and Zwilling). Some people prefer the more lightweight stamped blades to the heftier forged ones.
- Forged cooking knives are crafted through the heating and hammering or molding of steel by a professional knife-maker and/or precision machinery. Forged knives are usually more expensive and have more weight, are more durable, and are easier to use. The extra weight of a forged knife blade does some of the work for you when chopping or slicing. With proper maintenance, forged knives can last decades.
In any case, both stamped and forged versions of cooking knives are available from most, if not all, knife providers.
2. Type of Handle
Various types of handles are available on cooking knives. The most common are plastic, resin, metal, or wood.
As you may have guessed, the type of knife handle comes down to a matter of personal preference, and has little to do with the actual blade or knife.
The handle does impact the grip, feel, and overall experience of while using the knife. Some handles are thicker or heavier than others, and are well-suited to larger hands. Others have an ergonomic curve that helps prevent fatigue during even chopping-intensive cooking projects.
Maintenance plays a major role in the longevity of a knife handle, with some being more susceptible to damage than others. The Victorinox Fibrox handles, for example, are designed to withstand the rigors of professional kitchens, while the elegant, iconic triple-rivet handles associated with Wusthof, Zwilling and other German manufacturers need to be hand washed and dried to avoid warping and cracking over time.
Placing your knife in the dishwasher is frowned upon regardless of the handle, but will damage wood handles faster.
3. Type of Knife
There are many different types of knives out there, so the few listed below are merely scratching the surface.
For beginners or those looking to kick things up a notch in the kitchen, there are four essential cooking knives that everyone should own: a Chef’s Knife, a Paring Knife, a Bread Knife, and a Honing Steel.
1. The Chef’s Knife
Don’t worry: you don’t have to be a professional chef to use a Chef’s Knife. The Chef Knife is the most basic and most versatile of cooking knives. It is suitable for all types of vegetables, fruits, meats, and fish. It is, essentially, a manual food processor.
That said, a Chef’s Knife is suitable for most basic meals and requires little prior knowledge of usage.
The Chef’s Knives you are likely most familiar with, the western Chef's Knives, are European in origin, while a Santoku Knife, the Japanese version of the Chef’s Knife, hails from Japan. There are quite a few differences between the two types of knives, but generally, both serve the same purpose.
Swiss Knife Shop suggests these Chef’s Knives:
- Fibrox Pro 8" Chef's Knife by Victorinox
- Wusthof Classic 8" Demi-Bolster Cook's Knife
- Shun Classic 8" Chef's Knife
2.The Paring Knife
Paring knives are smaller knives used for cutting smaller fruits and vegetables, typically within your hand.
Paring knives are easier to control than other knives and are usually used to cut smaller pieces of food, such as mushrooms or strawberries. They are designed to work as an extension of your hand.
While this might not seem like a necessary kitchen utensil, it is a safe and effective means of cutting small pieces of food, especially in situations that require enhanced dexterity.
Swiss Knife Shop suggests these Paring Knives:
- Victorinox Classic 3.25" Paring Knife
- Swiss Classic 4.3" Foldable Serrated Paring Knife by Victorinox
- Wusthof Classic 3-1/2" Paring Knife
3.The Bread Knife
You probably had a hunch that a Bread Knife is for cutting through bread, and you’re right! But that's not the only use you will find for your Bread Knife.
A Bread Knife is best suited for cutting bread, whether it has a hard or soft outer texture. Bread knives usually have serrated blades, specifically intended for cutting through the different types of bread.
Due to the serrated blade that cuts through crust and other tough exteriors, a Bread Knife is also uniquely suited to cut vegetables and fruits with a hard outside but a soft inside, such as squash or watermelon.
Swiss Knife Shop suggests these Bread Knives:
- Wusthof Classic 9" Double-Serrated Bread Knife
- Fibrox Pro 8" Serrated Slanted Tip Bread Knife by Victorinox
- Zwilling Pro 8" Serrated Bread Knife
4.The Honing Steel vs. the Sharpener
Alright, so a Honing Steel isn’t exactly a knife, but it’s a vital tool that’ll you’ll need if you get your hands around the handle of any of the knives listed above.
Since knives dull over time due to usage, a Honing Steel is a tool specifically made for keeping your blades in line on a regular basis. The microscopic metal pieces at the edge of your blade get pushed out of alignment when you cut. A honing steel realigns these edges of your blades, keeping them in top condition over time without wearing away at the metal of the blade.
Having a Honing Steel on hand saves time and money. It’s also a universal tool for most types of knives, which means you’ll only need to buy it once.
Many knife blocks include a honing steel, and it is likely the most-neglected item in the set, as it can be intimidating. To use a honing steel, simply rest the tip of the steel on a board or a cloth on the counter, angle your blade against the steel at approximately 20 degrees, and pull the blade along the length of the steel, moving from the heel of the blade near the handle to the tip of the blade. A couple of passes on each side of the blade will be sufficient.
Periodically, your knives will require more than honing. Sharpeners and sharpening steels take away small amounts of the blade's edge, creating a new, sharper edge. As this process does remove metal from your blade, it's not recommended that you sharpen your knives too often - maybe every 6 to 12 months, depending on how often you use your knives.
A Sharpening Steel looks just like a Honing Steel, but generally has diamonds that will take away rough edges. If you would like more precision, or are intimidated by a Steel, there are manual and electric sharpeners that are set to the correct angle and remove all the guess-work.
Swiss Knife Shop suggests these Honing Steels and Knife Sharpeners:
- Victorinox 10" Round Regular Cut Sharpening Steel with Black Handle
- Victorinox Handheld Sharpener
- Wusthof Easy Edge Electric Knife Sharpener
The Bottom Line
Whatever its purpose may be, quality cutlery is a worthy investment, and cooking knives are no different.
Some of the knives listed above might come with a higher price tag, but there’s a good reason for that.
Over time and usage, a dependable knife set will seem less like an investment in blades and more as an investment into your growing love for cooking exceptional food.