Ultimate Guide on Choosing the Best Kitchen Knives
Knives have been jam-packed as one of the most workhorses in the kitchen so far, which is the major reason they’re worth our more thoughtful consideration when purchasing.
From preparing ingredients, cutting fruits and vegetables to slicing raw meat or chopping them, a good knife can serve any ambitious kitchen projects without burden.
But amongst the plethora of numerous types of knife, to treat yourself to a fancy model without dropping a chunk of change, there are some must-consider features to bear in mind before you, deciding to hit that buy button.
Types of kitchen knives
Truth to say, there is an avalanche of kitchen knives’ types, such as:
|Knife||Purpose of Use|
|Chef knife||The most versatile: chopping, slicing, dicing and mincing.|
|Utility knife||-Size comparison: paring knife < utility knife < chef knife
-Use daily: from cutting sandwiches to slicing meat
|Paring knife||-Smaller precision tasks
-Peeling, trimming and slicing small fruits and vegetables.
|Bread knife||– cuts soft, fresh loaves without tearing or squashing
– cutting tomatoes and citrus pretty well.
|Japanese knife||Include Santoku knife, Nakiri knife & Honesuki knife
-Santoku = cleaver + chef knife => multifunction: minces, dices and slices.
-Nakiri = vegetable knife: slicing (when used in an up-and-down motion)
-Honesuki = boning knife: working on bones and joints in poultry
|Slicing knife/carving knife||– slice cooked meats, poultry and fish|
|Boning knife||– remove meat and poultry from the bone|
|Vegetable cleaver||Blade comparison: vegetable cleaver > meat cleaver
chops and slices
|Meat cleaver||-cut through meat and poultry bones with a single downward stroke
– slice through firm vegetables
|Steak knife||-used with steak or other heartier meats|
|Tomato knife||-slices tomatoes neatly without tearing their skin
-perfect to work on citrus
Based on the above table, you can se that basically, there are two major groups of kitchen knives: the versatile and the specialized.
Differ from many people’ thoughts, the specialized knives are much easier to choose than the versatile. So now, I’m going to dive deeply in those versatile kitchen knives, discussing on their characteristics, which type fits your cooking habits and how to choose them.
Start off with the paring knife!
As mentioned above, their nimble tasks aren’t sorted to necessitate much heft. In fact, these 3-inch blade knives weight next to nothing, which means whenever dropped accidentally, they aren’t easy to breakage as well as take less time and effort for sharpening, too.
When it comes to choosing the best paring knife, there are three main features to bear in mind:
Pay closer attention to the “feel” of the knife when handing on it. A good paring knife should come in sturdy and solid build with full tang. On other words, choose a paring knife that gives you a feeling of it becoming one with your hand so that once paring something or working on it, you can get more leverage.
A flimsy one, on the other hand, is not only dangerous and unprecise, but also lose its edge rapidly to cause the knife itself become useless.
Besides, a good and solid build of a paring knife also effects on how comfortable your hand gets. Because of their small size, these knives won’t give you the same feeling in your hand like a chef knife. So, it’s ideal to pick a moderately lightweight one.
Frequently, a 3 to 4-inch length of knife is the best.
In terms of sturdy and solid blade, two key options are high-carbon stainless steel and 100% stainless steel. Also, choose a forged blade over a stamped one if you don’t want to get a weak, inaccurate and flimsy knife.
Also, consider its tip!
Choose a sharp and fine tip of paring knife as when working those small tasks on the knife like coring tomatoes, hulling strawberries or deveining a shrimp, a rounded tip will cause unwanted troubles. Not saying that a too big tip is more difficult to work with.
Now, another common matter when it comes to choosing a paring knife is which to choose: Japanese or Western-style?
Literally, the biggest difference between them is bolstered or un-bolstered blades. There are specific advantages to both Western and Japanese style blades.
The Japanese style asks a lot time and effort in sharpening and maintenance because of its softer steel material than the Western while with the un-bolstered blades, you need to equip yourself some tricks to work on as their small blades might cause discomfort to your hands.
Chef knife is arguably the best workhorses amongst kitchen knives based on it superb versatility, that’s why it should be your most thoughtful investment.
When choosing the best chef knife, consider three things: balance, size and weight.
An unbalanced knife tends to teeter toward either one or the other side, which takes you more time and effort to keep it stable. A perfect balance chef knife should stay in the palm of the beholder comfortably from side to side. The best way to judge it is by gripping the knife. If it has tendency to weight toward the blade or the back of its handle, don’t pick it.
In terms of size, 8 is a magic number. Many master chiefs advise to opt for an 8-inch chef knife because of its superb versatility. However, this isn’t a solid to ALL people, mostly it depends on how big of your hands. If yours are smaller than the average, a 6” knife is fine.
Just don’t go for a too small or too big blade.
Last but not least is weight. This is a controversial because some people advise to go for a hefty chef knife for easier cut through the foods while the others recommend to choose a lighter one to use it freely and skillfully. So, to get the right weight for your cooking habits and preference, let’s try out some knives.
Carving knife/Slicing knife
In fact, in daily cooking tasks, these two knives are used the less. Unless you are frequently cooking for a group of large people, might you hardly see a slicing knife or the carving knife as multifunction as a chef knife.
Though all of them comes in a long, narrow blade, carving and slicing knives have some delicate difference. For example, the width of a slicing knife is much even all along its depth compared to a carving one. Besides, slicing knife has a rounded bullnose tip so that it can slice in a huger roast like a boneless lamb leg or a prime rib. Meanwhile, a carving knife does it best job in a Thanksgiving turkey, a long cut through a side of cured salmon or a roast or a ham.
However, can’t deny how important it is in those special occasions when you want something a bit showy. So, if your knife drawer still has space, let’s consider a good one.
Stick to something high-quality and can handle the number of cooking tasks in your kitchen when cutting flesh. Unless you’re in a restaurant, owning just one and only carving knife is enough to get the best performance. If you already have a boning knife, this will significantly compliment it.
Pay closer attention to its blade and handle. But beforehand, keep in mind that slicing knife/carving knife comes in two types: the manual and the electric. The biggest difference between them is removeable and non-removable blade.
With the manual, its blade can’t be removed so it’s necessary to choose a robust, sharp, long and narrow blade. On the contrary, with the electric, as their blade is removable, this allows you to chop the flesh area hidden in the bones.
Carving knife/slicing knife can be electric so be aware of such long knives with a narrow blade, it might unexpectedly cause injuries to you while cooking. Consider its sharpness level and design to ensure the knife guarantees safety for you.
In general, whichever type you choose, go for the one that can produce slices within the range of ¼ to ½ inch big to serve their best in cookery.
Also, safety is priority!
That’s why you need to consider its handle as well. Other than an ergonomic one to bring your hand the ultimate comfort, it needs to be riveted and fastened properly.
Moreover, don’t forget to consider the manufacturers and your budget, too.
Based on its specific purpose of use, boning knife usually comes in a narrow blade with a sharp point to deliver an accurate boning, particularly a deep hole and cut in the flesh with less effort. The truth is that they aren’t as thick as other types like the meat cleaver or butcher knives.
Usually, boning knife has 5” 6 ½” long (though some famous brands like Samoan Cutlery produces theirs up to 9 ½ inches). In fact, those 7” to 9” knives are specialty items for extremely huger cuts of flesh, which is only suitable as a professional butcher.
When choosing a boning knife for pork and beef, go for a stiff one. But with one for fish and poultry, consider a flexible knife.
There is a basic rule of thumb to consider whether a stiff or flexible boning knife: The thicker the required cuts need to be, the less flexible the knife is.
So, never go with a stiff blade for fish unless you want to spend hours to work on it.
Besides, also remember this: the smaller the blade, the more flexible it will be. There’s not something called “one size fits all” in choosing a knife.
Now, back to the above example, if you want to remove fish from its flesh, go for a small blade knife.
Speaking of the handle, there are various material, from hard plastic to wood. The best choice for you is based on your preference and taste. But if you want something’s gripper while holding the knife, looking for a polypropylene handle with coating.
The wood, on the contrary, delivers more aesthetic look but they can’t bear water or provide good grip.
Also, don’t forget to consider the blade’s tang. There are two terms: partial tang and full tang. While the full tang brings more durable knife and good management, the partial is prone to break where the blade and handle meet.
To removing fish from its flesh in a single-pass cut, another feature to consider is an arched blade. Actually, some blades are curved, some are straight. But speaking of its functionality, hardly a novice can find out their difference unless you have spent at least 20 minutes working on them.
As mentioned above, a curved one is suitable for removing a fish from its flesh while a straight blade is perfect to more complicated cooking tasks.
Other than its shape, remember to consider its material as well. Truth to say, in the plethora of numerous forms of stainless steel, novice you are admittedly overwhelmed. There are some popular forms like high carbon, 4116, tempered and cold steel that’s worth considering.
While high carbon brings up a strikingly light in weight, the cold steel is much more durable and sharper to enable to debone any cuts as desire.
Whichever you choose, stainless steel in general provides an incredible stain and rust resistant.
Like the carving/slicing knife, fillet knife is divided into two types: the manual and the electric.
Work greatly on larger fish
|Waste meat (if you don’t know how to use it properly)|
|Manual||Conserve the most meat
Work exceptionally well
|Tedious to use|
If you asked me which type to go to, I would highly recommend the manual because they not only come in affordable price, but also be independent (needn’t power source). If you are looking for the best fillet knife for camping, look no further than a manual one.
Besides, similar to the boning knife, flexibility is worth considering. Though there’s no clear standard measurement for this feature, which causes you some difficulty to find out which is the best one, here are my secret elements to consider: blade size and usage. These two factors have been mentioned above so here, I won’t remind it anymore.
But as an advice for a versatile fillet knife to work on various fish, a 7.5” blade is fine.
Speaking of blade material, like boning knife, go for a high-quality stainless steel, either a high carbon steel or a cold steel. Last but not least, handle type.
There are usually three options for you: wood, rubber and plastic but pick the one providing good comfort, better leverage and grip.
Personally, I’m a little bit in love with plastic and wood because of their great sturdiness. Rubber, on the other hand, isn’t my preference though it’s still good in grip.
If you want one that’s anti-corrosion, go for either a rubber or plastic, say no to wood because its texture is prone to rot.
Next up is ceramic knife!
The very first impression on this type is it superb sharpness as I nearly cut myself a few times beforehand while working on it. In fact, ceramic knife does its good job in cutting small and thin pieces without squashing them during the process.
Besides, it’s durable which partly thanks to its natural hardness. No matter how many slices are made, the knife is still sharp as its origin. But take note that when sharpening it, you need to spend more time and effort.
Thumbs up for its anti-odor and anti-bacteria. As a matter of the fact, these busters don’t stain. So, if you want to purchase a versatile knife that doesn’t transfer any taste or smell between different foods, this is a go-to model.
Also, unlike some other types which react to acidic vegetables and fruits, ceramic blades won’t be the one. They are anti-rust and won’t get darken after cutting a lemon or an orange like when working the same job on steel knives.
Last but not least, it comes in a perfect compromise of weight and sharpness. Usually, those sharp knives are arguably heavier than other counterparts. But this one, it’s very lightweight to use during hours. For the elder, this is a must-consider feature!
What is the best knife to cut raw meat?
If you have the same wondering, my sincere advice is to stick to boning knife, butcher knife or meat cleaver.
Many people keep thinking that a boning knife takes the role of putting bones back into things but in fact, it’s not that myth.
A boning knife is actually used for deboning stuff so its blade must be narrow and flexible for accurate work with raw meat. I usually use it for creating slices around bone on beef and ham and loafs or making butterfly chicken or dishes like that.
For those who do much fiddly work with raw meat, look no further than a good boning knife. Consider its ability of load sizes. But I usually found many people opt for 5” to 6”.
With butcher knife, thanks to its great flexibility and grip handle, you can cut it through a big raw meat without difficulty. To pick the best butcher knife, go for a 10” to 12” in length. To cut nicely thinly sliced raw meat, pick a humble one.
Meat cleaver is longevity (which I don’t deny!). Nothing to complaint on its performance on raw meat as it works like an axe in your kitchen. But meanwhile, it’s the most dangerous item.
Contrast to the boning knife, a meat cleaver doesn’t care of bones in their path. Or, in other words, they can’t cut around bones. The biggest advantage to have a good meat cleaver is that they aren’t prone to breakage or splitter the bone. They release very clean cut to help you prepare raw meat in quicker period of time.
An ideal meat cleaver for kitchen use is within the range of 6” to 8” long.
Now, other than considering types of kitchen knives, three more features you need to bear in mind are bolster, material and brands.
But why bolster?
Whichever type you intend to pick, can’t a single feature make a perfect knife to serve your cooking tasks. It should be a close connection between different parts, even the tiniest. And a bolster, in this case, plays an important role in maintaining a safe grip and putting some more oomph into the chop without endangering your knife.
Though some pointed out that the bolster makes it harder to sharpen and because of its metal material, this part weighs your knife heavier. However, in my opinion, safety is king. As they take a significant part in protecting my fingers and even my knife, it’s worth considering.
Now, there are three options for you: half bolster, full bolster and no bolster. Besides, how about a granton edge or a full tang? This is a matter of personal preference.
As mentioned above, there are two kinds of models: The Western and the Japanese. Not only each one comes off with different characteristics, pros and cons, but their core material is also not the same.
While the German-style knives are made out of slightly softer steel alloys, the Japanese-style chooses the harder material. This leads to vary the way you move it with your hands as well as how you feel it.
If you are going to cut up many heavy squash, try the Japanese knives as the harder steel of the blade, the longer time its sharp edge can last. However, you need to accept the truth that they are going to be harder to sharping once getting dull.
With a German knife, might it be less sharp than the harder one to get dull much quickly, they are re-sharpened easily and work its best on splitting bone-in chicken breasts or other heavier-duty jobs like that with worry-free of causing damage to its blade.
To know whether the knife you are going to buy is soft or hard, follow the Rockwell Hardness Scale to know where it falls on there. usually, a soft end is low to mid 50s while the hard is between the range of mid 50s to low 60s.
What is the best kitchen knife brands?
Speaking of kitchen knife brands, there’s an avalanche of them. But to pick up the best ones, Wusthof, Victorinox, MAC and Shun Cutlery surely complete the list.
Wusthof is a 200-year experience Germany-based family owned company for more than 7 generations. They are like a solid statue in the world of kitchen knives that’s no other brands can compete. What makes them stand out from the crowd and keep the business up to now are environmental awareness and sustainability.
Meanwhile, Victorinox is also competitive with its 130-year experience in knife manufacturing. Their products surely provide solid value to customers with three main features nailing up their vibe – innovation, quality and tradition. Besides, what makes a lot of customers in love with their products is partly their competitive price. Usually, Victorinox’s comes in cheaper price tags than the others with no-slipped texture and reliable performance.
Mac compromises perfectly the heft and intuitive design with great well-crafted workmanship. Talking about the brand of kitchen knife for everyday use, Mac is truly worth considering. They work best in chopping, slicing and peeling with comfortable handle and great grip. By the way, Mac is a Japanese company.
In terms of Shun Cutlery, this is a 100-year Japanese company specialized in kitchen knives. In Japanese, “Shun” means “moon” when fruits are the sweetest and other foods are perfectly ripe to eat. They took this name to imply their tradition with the hope of living up your kitchen area to the peak of perfection every day.
In terms of performance, Shun is similar to Mac but their design is a little bit more elegant.
No matter which type of kitchen knife or which brand you are going to choose, don’t forget to consider a good warranty. Usually, manufacturers offer from 1 to 5-year guarantee for their products. Hopefully, this article already helped you codify all needed elements to consider choosing the best kitchen knives. If you still have no idea of which one to buy, let’s continuously consult these of my articles:
- What are best kitchen knives in the world?
- Best Kitchen knife set everyone should know
- Best chef knife that’s worth considering