Before buying a knife, there are a few basic questions you should ask yourself:
How much do I cook?
How much knife maintenance am I willing to put into my knives?
What do I have already?
What is my budget?
Lots of home cooks have good knives already like Henkel, Wusthof, Sabatier, Global and Mercer, to name a few common makers, there are even great used and vintage options on Ebay or at pawn shops. The problem usually is that they are dull, chipped or rusted and therefore aren’t performing to the best of their abilities – and unsafe! Luckily all of these problems are easily fixed with $20 at a professional knife sharpener, or 30 minutes on a wet stone at home. So don’t feel like you need to run out and buy the most expensive, new knife on the market.
I do prefer Japanese blades, many professional chefs do, they stay sharper longer, are made of harder metal, are much lighter and typically shaped for left or right handed use. The downside is, because of the hardness of the metal, they are much more brittle and require a higher level of care. This doesn’t mean I don’t have any Western Style knives, I do and I use them a lot. They are much easier to sharpen and can take a much heavier beating, because of the softer metal they don’t chip as easily as the Japanese counterparts.
Another misnomer is that you need a ton of knives – you don’t, you need three. Sounds crazy I know, here they are: a pairing knife, a chef’s knife and a bread knife. There are a lot of other shapes and specialty knives out there, but for the typical home cook these three are all you need. Spend a good part of your budget on your chef’s knife and a wet stone and invest time in learning how to care for it, there are many instructional videos online if you’ve missed my demonstrations.
This is one of the most used knives in my bag – and I’ve got 30 or so knives. I use this for boning small fish and chicken or any small task like trimming vegetables or even peeling an apple. I buy these Opinel for about $10 each; they’re easy to sharpen and if lost or forgotten they’re easy to replace.
8″ Chef’s Knife
This Wusthof was the first knife I bought when I went to culinary school in 2002. It’s great because it costs about $89 on Amazon and is a workhorse at home. However, I don’t like using it in the restaurant – for more precision and efficiency I prefer the lightness and sharpness of a Japanese knife.
When using a chef’s knife, the front 3rd of the knife is primarily used for boning, vegetable trimming and detail work, much like a paring knife. The middle 3rd is used for most everything else like chopping carrots or mincing shallots and herbs – this part of the knife can also be used to carve a turkey or butcher a large salmon. The butt of the knife, closest to the hilt, is really only used for cutting tougher vegetables like winter squash or breaking through chicken bones (this is an example of when a Japanese knife won’t work in the same way, they are too brittle and delicate, you will need a deba or cleaver for this purpose).
This is pretty self explanatory, use it for bread and maybe tomato skins, thats really it. The forward-backward movement of the serrated edge are what make the cut, like a saw, not the downward pressure. I like this Mac knife because it’s one of the only serrated knives that can be sharpened, it costs $80 online and they make great entry level Japanese knives. Keep it sharp and be prepared to replace this knife every four years or so – the worst cuts I have ever seen were with an old, dull bread knife.
Get one, learn how to use it and keep your knives sharp. Remember a sharp knife won’t slip and makes cooking much more effortless and enjoyable. I like water stones the best but oil stones work very well too, when used properly they are shaving off and realigning the metal of your blade in microscopic ways. Don’t buy a tool or a grinder, they don’t work and will most likely end up eating your knife, it’s a big fat hoax! But a dull knife is dangerous because you lack control of it, so whether you’re doing it at home or taking it to a pro, maintain a nice sharp edge. If you do cut yourself with a sharp, straight blade it’s typically less painful and heals faster, trust me.
Knife Sharpening Resources
Japanese Knives- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpgJbCAVxzDHKaKYeuGYyOA
Western Knives- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNc14NBzhEU