Howto: Buy a Knife

A good knife is the most important tool in a cook’s arsenal.  Other than proper use of salt and heat, nothing is more essential than the cook’s ability to break food down.   If food is not trimmed of excess fat, it becomes a stringy mess; if it is not cut down to regular sized pieces, some of it will be burnt and some of it raw; and if it is not cut well, it will not look nearly so nice.

For home cooks who are serious about preparing gourmet food, buying a set of knives is an important purchasing decision that should not be taken lightly.  This one tool can make a world of difference, but buying a nice chef’s knife can easily cost over one hundred dollars.  However, keeping the following advice will ensure it will be money well spent.

When knife shopping, there are three things to remember.  First, most home cooks only need three knives: a chef’s knife or a santoku knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.  Cooks should do most of the cutting work with the chef’s knife, peeling and precision cutting with the paring knife, and cutting foods like bread and tomatoes which have hard outsides and very soft insides with the serrated knife.   There are other types of knives that can be purchased (boning knives, cleavers, etc.); however, they are certainly not mandatory and can be purchased at a later time.  

Secondly, a good chef’s knife has a lifetime warranty against most types of damage.  The manufacturer will replace for any reason short of deliberate acts of destruction on the blade.  This makes spending a great deal of money on a single knife more palatable as the cook will only need to shop for her knife once.

Lastly, be prepared to spend time purchasing the knife.  Knives come from different companies in different shapes, sizes, handles, and weights which make the knife feel differently.  There is no such thing as a better or worse knife, merely knives that fit the cook’s individual hand better.  While looking for a knife that “feels right” may be unscientific, it is the proper way to find the best knife.  To go about finding that perfect fit, the cook should go to a store with many knives for sale and ask to hold each one.  Any good kitchen store will be more than happy to take knives from their display case and let the cook feel the weight of blade and check its balance.  Many stores will also have a cutting board that the cook can use to test her cutting motion.

If the knife does not feel too heavy or too light and if it does not slip, then the knife is a good candidate for purchase.  However, the cook should test several more knives to find the proper one.  Only once the cook is sure, should the knife be purchased.


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