SEATTLE, November 5, 2015 — There are fewer items in the kitchen more misunderstood and under-appreciated than knives.
When we go to big retailers, we see dozens of beautiful knife sets that seem like a great deal, so we snatch them up. Many people buy them believing that a “knife is a knife.” Why pay $100 dollars for a chef’s knife when you can go to Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond to buy a “brand-name” knife for $30?
This is where some proper knife research comes in. It can ensure that you not only know what to look for in a quality knife, but that you’ll have a better idea about which knives you really need.
In America, there’s a general mindset that “more is better.” Because of that, it’s common to buy knife sets that are chock-full of knives we may never use. Also, many knife sets – even from some of the better-known brands –aren’t of great quality and won’t deliver a quality experience to the user. They may be sharp right out of the box and their grips may feel comfortable at first, but will that last?
Let’s look at what makes a good knife and look at the only knives most folks really need.
For this article, we’ll look at the Wüsthof Classic Ikon series, which meets the basic criteria for a great kitchen knife:
- Full tang: This is the length of the blade as it meets the handle. A full tang knife takes the same piece of metal (or ceramic) all the way through the handle which results in a more balanced knife. This balance helps it feel better in your hands and ultimately helps to provide better knife control.
- Quality of handle: What you want to look for are materials and components in the handle that speak to longevity of the knife. You’ll want to see if it’s riveted, whether the handle is made of rubber, polyoxymethylene, wood or some other material.
- Quality of steel: The best knives use carbon steel. Carbon steel holds its edge longer which allows you to use the knife longer between honing or sharpening.
There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to the kinds of knives most home chefs need. While there is a knife for just about every chore possible, there are five that will meet almost all your cutting needs.
8-inch cook’s (chef) knife: This is the true workhorse of the kitchen. It’s likely that 90 percent of everything you do can be taken care of with this knife. It has a taller blade which makes it easy to rest the knuckles of your hand while feeding food into it. Slicing, dicing and doing the “rock-chop” are all techniques you’ll use with this knife.
6-inch boning knife: While it’s possible to debone a chicken with a chef’s knife, the boning knife is the ideal one to use. Its thin, flexible blade gets around bone joints with ease, which makes maneuvering around quite a bit easier. Additionally, the shorter blade means less drag through the protein you’re boning out.
We tested it on chicken, but also used it to fillet salmon. It performed wonderfully when removing the skin and getting through all the little salmon bones as well.
9-inch double serrated bread knife: While a single serration is the most common in cheaper bread knives, it’s the double serration of this Ikon knife that helps it effortlessly slice any loaf of bread, tomatoes, melons, cake or even chocolate. We’ve never used a serrated knife that works as well as this one.
3.5-inch paring knife: There are times when a standard knife just won’t do; one of those is removing the skin from an apple. While in most cutting situations you cut away from yourself, this is one time when you’ll be cutting towards yourself. This is why having a short paring knife with a sharp blade and comfortable handle is paramount; it’s all about knife control here.
Regardless of the type of fruit we threw at this knife, it had no problems cutting the skin off very thinly. It’s easy to control and works great.
8-inch carving knife: Our final suggestion does have one primary function, and that’s carving. But with its gratton blade, it also works well for hard cheeses. Those grattons create air pockets while slicing or carving through dense meats and cheese, thus allowing the blade to more cleanly make its cut. Again, you could use a chef’s knife to slice meat, but the results won’t look as good as when done with a carving knife like this one.
Wüsthof also makes a sharpener that’s specifically made for the Ikon series. While you should still have a honing stick, a sharpener is great to have for those times when you need to put the edge back on.
Many people mistakenly refer to the honing stick as a sharpening stick. It isn’t. Honing sticks simply help “true” the edge of the blade; they cannot put a new edge on. Normally, most people send their knives out for sharpening, but with the Wusthof Ikon sharpener you can do it at home with ease.
What we found with the Ikon series is that they have a wonderful balance to them, stay sharp a long time and are comfortable to use, even for longer durations. They quickly became our kitchen favorite. Their polyoxymethylene handles fit the hand well and won’t fade over the years from use and washing.
They’re not cheap; most great knives built to last a lifetime aren’t. Think of knives as tools, tools that you use every time you cook. The better the tool, the easier your work-load when you prep for a great meal. You’ll be better off investing in a few knives at a slightly higher cost rather than getting one of those bundle packs with a knife block at most department stores.
The best way to see if you’re going to like a particular style of knife is to get out to your local kitchen cutlery store and hold one. Grip it. Does it feel balanced? Do you like the way it feels in your hand etc? All of these are important to know as you’ll likely keep your knives around for decades or even a lifetime.