Laminated or forged high-carbon stainless steel blades hold sharp and durable edges, but stamped blades are also acceptable.
Full tang construction ensures strength, rigidity, and balance.
Molded rubber and impregnated wood handles are durable, sanitary, and easy to grip.
A 23 cm blade will allow you to maximize the use of your bread knife.
Offset handles are ideal for straight, clean cuts.
Scalloped serrations will cause less damage to foods.
Although today’s market offers serrated edges on just about every kind of knife, two kinds of serrated knives are particularly useful in the kitchen. Long and thin, bread knives are indispensable for breaking through the thick crusts of old world style breads as well as slicing softer home style breads without crushing them. They can also be quite handy for cutting cakes into layers or sawing through the thick skins of large melons.
Serrated utility knives, sometimes called tomato knives, can be very useful for a number of quick jobs. No serrated knife will ever slice a tomato as cleanly as a good, sharp chef’s knife, but they will perform a decent job when no sharp knives are around. Serrated utility knives are ideal for halving bagels and muffins and work great in a pinch for just about anything else.
Bread knives are long, thin, and rectangular, usually between 15 and 30 cm in length. Shorter blades can be useful for everyday purposes, but we recommend at least a 23 cm bread knife to maximize its usefulness for a variety of larger jobs. Tomato knives are shorter, around 15 cm, and usually end in a sharp point. Some tomato knives feature forked tips intended to help pick up slices of tomatoes and other foods, but we find these ineffective and unnecessary.
The best bread knives are either forged from high-carbon stainless steel or made with laminated blades composed of a piece of high-carbon steel sandwiched between two layers of softer stainless steels. Both are very sharp, will hold an edge for a long time, and will not rust, pit, or react with acidic foods. But because serrated knives are difficult to sharpen and remain effective even after they grow dull, we believe it is unwise to purchase an expensive serrated knife unless you have access to a professional who can reapply an edge.
We recommend middle of the road serrated knives, preferably forged from stainless steel, as they are rigid, well balanced, will remain useful for a long time, and won’t strain your wallet if they need to be replaced. Stamped stainless steel knives are also acceptable, but some are too flimsy to produce even cuts and are usually impossible to sharpen.
The number of different styles of serrated knives on the market is astounding. Serrations may be wavy, scalloped, saw-toothed, or any combination of the three. Many manufacturers patent serration patterns and market lines of knives around them, examples being Henkel’s Eversharp Pro series and the now classic Ginsu knife. We recommend choosing a knife with scalloped serrations as the softer teeth tend to damage food less when cutting, but most serrations will cut as well as any others.
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.
A number of manufacturers now offer bread knives with offset handles, set a few centimeters above the edge of the blade. Offset handles keep your knuckles from coming in contact with the cutting board and let you cut all the way through the bottom of a loaf with ease. If we had our way, all bread knives would be made this way.