Whether you're an everyday cook in a non-professional kitchen or a chef extraordinaire in a four-star restaurant, there's a quality and style that's right for you.
GOURMET QUALITY: Made from the highest quality materials, they will have sharp, long-lasting blades. They are resistant to corrosion, well-balanced and will last a lifetime in a non-professional kitchen.
WESTERN STYLE: Traditionally used in kitchens through the U.S. and parts of Europe, these knives are sharp, hold a good edge and are robust enough for rough handling. They are easily sharpened by steel or pull-through sharpeners.
EASTERN STYLE: Inspired by and styled by the ancient Samurai Swords, these knives are often sharper and hold the edge longer (depending on the steel). They have thinner, more sensitive blades and often need to be sharpened on sharpening stones.
Knife blades are typically made from steel combined with another material (making it an alloy), to produce a knife that can stand up to the toughest tasks in the kitchen. Common materials and combinations include:
STAINLESS STEEL: Eliminates rust and stains and has very hard blades. It requires a diamond-coated sharpener or professional knife grinder to sharpen.
HIGH CARBON STAINLESS STEEL: Carbon steel helps the knife maintain a sharp edge while the stainless provides resistance to rust and corrosion. Western cutlery is most commonly high carbon stainless steel.
VG STEEL: Its high carbon content creates extremely hard blades that hold their edge. VG steel is most commonly found in Eastern cutlery.
There are four basic methods of knife manufacturing:
- HOT/HAND FORGED: This is the top-shelf in quality. It's one of the oldest methods of construction using handcraftsmanship, producing the strongest and sharpest blade. These knives will always include a bolster and tang. A bolster is the center support piece between the blade and the handle. This provides support, balance and protection for your fingers. The tang is the portion of the metal enclosed by the handle. A full tang, in which the metal runs the length of the handle, is ideal. "Fully forged" knives are formed from one piece of metal which enhances performance. "Precision forged" are "fully forged" knives that have long lasting cutting edges and increased corrosion resistance.
SCT technology, a manufacturing process used exclusively by J. A. Henckels cutlery, utilizes the perfect alloy for each of the three distinct parts of the knife; the blade, the bolster and the handle. SCT results in a gourmet quality knife that will last a lifetime.
- CLAD: Multiple layers of steel are clad to the outside of a VG steel core, protecting the inner core and creating a durable knife that will last a lifetime in a non-professional kitchen. The knife is tapered and ground, exposing the VG steel to create the cutting edge of the knife. A Damascus pattern is formed on the surface of the knife to keep food from sticking to the blade.
- COLD PRESSED or STAMPED: These are machine-made knives formed from a single sheet of steel. The knife shapes are stamped out meaning less craftsmanship than in the forging process. They do not include a metal bolster.
- LASER: These are computer designed and shaped knives with a serrated edge. They are most commonly known as "never needs sharpening" knives. Although there has been a recent introduction of additional lines of knives which also "never needs sharpening," most laser knives are more economically priced. When serrated edges get dull you can't sharpen them, so they will need to be replaced after extended use.
Before you purchase any set of knives, hold them in your hand and feel the difference in weight and form. Certain styles may feel more comfortable, and higher quality knives will feel better balanced. You will immediately sense the difference in a bolstered knife as opposed to one without.
A knife's anatomy, from the handles to the blade, combine to create the perfect kitchen tool.
CUTTING EDGE: The part of the knife that does the cutting.
SPINE: The top edge of the blade. A thick spine that tapers gradually to the tip of the knife provides strength and weight.
BLADE: Knives come in various shapes and lengths and each shape is created for a specific task in the kitchen. Rounded blades enhance the knife's ability to rock back and forth on the cutting surface making chopping tasks easier.
BOLSTER: Found more often on Western style cutlery, the bolster is the balancing point between the blade and the handle. It provides support, balance and protection of the fingers.
TANG: The portion of the blade enclosed by the handle, a "full tang" runs the length of the handle and leads to better balance and durability of the knife.
HANDLE: The knife handle should be comfortable and have a secure grip. An ergonomically shaped handle will reduce fatigue while cutting. Look for a tightly sealed or seamless handle that will keep food particles from getting trapped.
You can purchase cutlery in open stock (individually) or in sets. A basic set may consist of a variety of starter pieces: a paring knife, a Chefs knife, a utility knife, a carving knife and a bread knife. Some sets may also include a pair of kitchen shears and/or sharpening steel. You will also generally get a wooden knife block with a set, which is the best and safest way to store your cutlery. It is usually cost-effective to buy a complete set instead of individual pieces.