A sharp knife is essential for so many different reasons and choosing your first knife can seem very overwhelming with all of the information out there. We don’t all have a limitless budget to spend on the biggest and the best knife sets out there. So let’s break down what you really need and how much you should reasonably be expecting to spend. A good quality knife can make cooking a much more enjoyable and relaxing experience. Which means you’re more likely to get in there and make delicious meals!
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What do I really need?
With the wide variety of different types, brands, sizes, and sets it can be confusing to figure out what you really need when you aren’t quite sure what you are looking for. Oftentimes the price points on quality knife sets can make you just say forget it! But don’t worry all that you really need is a good chef’s knife and a paring knife (Some chef’s opinions will vary on this. I have found that since I’m just cooking for personal pleasure these two are sufficient to do the job.). Once you have get comfortable you can look at expanding your collection to more specific purpose knives.
No “budget” sets!
Step away from the knife sets. While it may look like a great deal, 15 knives for $20, believe me these won’t be the knives that you pass down to your grandchildren some day. Heck those may not be the knives you are using by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. By purchasing your knives one piece at a time you can have a bigger budget to up the quality and ensure that you are getting a tool you will actually use.
When it comes to choosing a chef’s knife what is most important is that it is comfortable to you. I personally have two different chef’s knives that I use. More than one means I don’t have to stop and wash between cutting different ingredients and I also like using them each for different things.
Sizes and type
You can choose between an 8-10″ blade. They do go up to larger sizes, but it’s mostly unnecessary for the home cook. Most chef’s knives will either be forged or stamped steel. Forged is when the knife is created from a single bar of steel. They tend to be heavier and more expensive. Stamped is when the knife is cut out from a large sheet of metal and tends to be lighter and slightly less expensive. I have both kinds and it really just depends on your personal preference. You can read more about the technical difference here.
What brands should I look for?
I am personally a big fan of Victorinox is you can spend a little extra ($50+). The Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife has been voted America’s Test Kitchen’s favorite for the last 20 years. Any knives of this brand will be of excellent quality and well worth the money.
Wusthof is also an great choice that has a wide variety of price ranges. The Wusthof Pro Cook’s Knife is one of the knives that I use myself and is a great price at under $30. It is nice and light and the blade has a curved edge that makes for a nice rocking motion.
My go to Chef’s Knife that makes me feel like a real professional is the Tojiro DP Gyutou – 8.2″ It was a Christmas present from my sweet husband and really kicked off our obsession with using quality knives. I take this knife with me when I go to my parents or my sisters and I plan on taking it with us on vacation this summer. It has a great weight and is crazy sharp. It’s great for general cutting and precision work.
If you have a sizable budget for a good knife set this article from The Kitchn provides some great options.
How do I care for my knives?
Now that you have a high quality knife you probably think you are ready to go. But wait! Even if you own the most expensive knife in the world it won’t do you much good if you don’t properly care for it. Knives do not magically maintain their sharp edges forever (despite what 21 year old Hayley thought). Plan on sending them somewhere to get sharpened (usually only a couple dollars a knife) or sharping them yourself every 6 months, more or less depending on how often you use them. Quality knives will maintain their edge longer, but not forever.
This is also a good time to mention that you cannot sharpen serrated or ceramic knifes. A lot of those budget knife sets come with serrated knifes that were already dull to begin with. Pay close attention to what kind of blade you are purchasing. Ceramic’s hold their edge longer but I wouldn’t personally use it for my everyday tools.
Storing your knives
In between sharpening there are two different things you can do to make that sharp edge last longer. DO NOT STORE IN A DRAWER. Not only is it incredibly dangerous to just stick your hand in a drawer full of knives, it will also dull the edge by bumping against everything. (Mom, if you are reading this I am looking at you and your scary drawer of sharp mysteries.) If it must go in a drawer get a sheath to keep it in. You can buy them cheaply on Amazon or at Walmart even.
If you have the counter/wall space I recommend either a knife block or a magnetic strip to store them. Not only does it let you display them so your guests know that you are a serious home cook, it also keeps them in easy reach whenever you need them.
Cleaning your knives
DO NOT PUT THEM IN THE DISHWASHER. I don’t care if it says it’s dishwasher safe. Nothing of quality is usually dishwasher safe. The problem is two-fold. The knife will bump around, dulling the edge and it will be moist for an extended period of time, also dulling the edge. The best practice is to hand wash your knives as soon as you are done using them and dry immediately. It takes under 30 seconds, but will save you trouble in the future! Washing them off immediately also helps to keep corrosive liquids from dulling the blade (think lemons, limes, tomatoes).
Hopefully this is helpful in giving you a little more guidance in the right direction when it comes to choosing your first knife. Now go throw away your camo colored faberware abomination that was passing as a knife in your trash before you lose a finger.
If you have any further questions, comments, suggestions please let me know!