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What to look for when buying Chef's and Cook's Knives
Laminated or forged high-carbon stainless steel blades hold sharp and durable edges.
Full tang construction ensures strength, rigidity, and balance.
Molded rubber and impregnated wood handles are durable, sanitary, and easy to grip.
A 20 cm blade is a good place to start, but people with smaller hands may want to try a shorter knife.
The most important tool in any kitchen is a chef's or cook's knife. The chef's knife serves as an extension of the chef's hand and can be used for a wide variety of tasks, from slicing and dicing vegetables to butchering meat, for cracking open lobsters and for crushing cloves of garlic. Some chefs even take pride in using this one knife exclusively in their kitchens.
Because you will use your chef's knife more than any other tool, we highly recommend you invest in one of the highest possible quality. You will want a knife that is sturdy, solid, and will hold a sharp edge. A bad chef's knife can make cooking a frustrating ordeal. Your chef's knife is an important investment and will last a lifetime if properly cared for.
Because all knives handle differently, many people try several before they find one they like best. We usually suggest that those serious about cooking should eventually invest in at least two or three knives of different lengths and styles. Some will find they prefer using different knives for different tasks, and others find that unused knives can always be passed along or resold.
The blade of a chef's knife is long and almost triangular in shape, flat along the heel and slowly tapering to a point. The curve of the blade is designed to facilitate a smooth rocking motion for chopping and mincing and the best chef's knives seem to effortlessly rock in this way by themselves. You shouldn't be frightened of a heavy knife as these are generally the easiest to use.
Chef's knives are manufactured in lengths ranging from 15 to 35 centimeters. We consider knives between 20 and 25 cm in length to be ideal for most purposes, but those with smaller hands may be more comfortable working with a shorter knife. Some of the best chef's knives are forged from a single piece of high-carbon stainless steel. High carbon stainless-steel blades will sharpen easily, hold and retain a better edge, and will not rust, pit, or react with acidic foods.
Laminated blades combine the virtues of different metals in a single blade, usually by sandwiching a core of hard high-carbon steel between layers of softer stainless steel. Laminated blades are usually sharper, though more brittle, than knives forged from solid steel.
Stamped steel blades are cut from sheets of rolled steel and are generally softer that forged knives. Most do not sharpen as easily and tend to dull more quickly than forged knives, but there are exceptions to the rule. Manufacturers such as Global use stamped blades that are specially treated to attain a hardness rivaling that of most forged knives.
Ceramic blades are extremely hard, extremely sharp, and will hold an edge for months or years. The disadvantage to ceramic knives is that they very brittle and can be quite expensive. Ceramic knives will chip or crack if misused or dropped, and they must be sent back to the manufacturer to be sharpened.
The bolster serves as the transition point between a knife's blade and its handle. Bolsters on western knives include a finger guard that drops from the handle down to the heel of the blade to help provide a more stable and secure grip. The bolster on Japanese knives has no finger guard and primarily serves as an extension of the handle. Japanese knives are generally designed to be held with a pinch grip (where the spine of the blade is pinched between the thumb and the forefinger). The absence of a bolster means the blade was probably made from stamped steel.
The first thing to look for in a handle is a full tang. The tang is the part of the blade that serves as the core of the handle. A full tang can often be seen running down the center of the handle all the way to the hilt, though they are sometimes fully encased in molded rubber or altogether replaced with precisely weighted stainless steel handles. Full tang knives are strong, durable, and well balanced. Avoid partial tang knives entirely as they are top heavy will crack or break in time.
In our opinion, the best handles are made from molded rubbers and woods impregnated with hard resins (such as Pakkawood and Staminawood) as they are durable, sanitary, and provide excellent grip. Plastic and stainless steel handles are also acceptable, but many chefs find them slippery, especially when wet. Some manufacturers like Global compensate for this with uniquely shaped and textured handles. Traditional rosewood handles are still considered ideal in some circles, but they require careful attention and regular maintenance otherwise they will warp and crack.