The right set of knives can make cooking and eating a pleasure, even for the most reluctant chef.
All kitchens need a good set of knives, and if you invest in the right ones, they will last for years. Whether you’re a passionate home cook or an occasional chef with little time to spare, our knives buying guide will help you make the right investment and find knives that make food preparation efficient, safe and satisfying.
01.Knives for everyday cooking
Kitchen knives come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have all been designed to do different jobs. Most of us use a rotation of the same 5 to 10 knives to prepare and serve all our food so if you’re looking for a capsule collection, choose versatile blades that will be able to cope with the demands of everyday cooking in your kitchen.
Think about the foods you cook everyday and consider whether a specialist knife might make the task a little easier – a bread knife will quickly slice through dense crust while a boning knife makes it easy to filet fish or remove bones from poultry and red meat. Let your lifestyle guide your decisions.
A basic set of knives typically includes:
• Paring knife
• One small and one large cook’s knife
• A bread knife
• A carving fork and knife
02.Knife materials and construction
Before you start to choose the style of knives you want, it’s worth understanding more about the materials and construction of the tools you’ll be using everyday. The knife’s design is made from these main components:
• Tang – Where the blade attaches to the handle. A full tang means the metal from the blade extends through the entire handle, while a partial tang only extends along the top of the handle or is concealed within it.
• Finger guard – The grooved guard at the edge of the handle that protects the hand from the blade.
• Blade – The sharp edge used for cutting.
• Tip – The top point of the blade.
The way the knife is made will have an impact on the quality and price. Fully forged knives are made from a single blade of steel and are of the highest quality, while stamped knives are more economical and offer good value for money, but will not last as long. The five main materials used for the blades include:
• Stainless steel – Low carbon stainless steel blades are affordable but require more sharpening to maintain their quality over time.
• Carbon steel – Carbon steel blades are more expensive but require less sharpening because of the higher carbon factor.
• Ceramic – Hard-wearing and lightweight, ceramic blades glide through materials smoothly and retain their sharp edge longer than stainless steel.
• Damascus – Damascus knives can be ground very sharply. The laminated blades have a carbon steel core, giving them a hard edge.
• Titanium – Titanium is combined with diamond, silver or ceramic for a knife that’s extremely lightweight and very durable.
Hold each knife in your hand; the grip should be comfortable and sit easily in your hand. Weight is important, too – lightweight knives are good for fast, precision chopping, while weightier knives are best for solid foods and hard ingredients.
A good quality knife should have good balance – this means there is not too much weight in either the blade or the handle. You should be able to balance the knife evenly when you rest the tang on your index finger.
03.Understanding the different knife shapes
Next it’s time to consider what knives you actually need in your kitchen. You can buy them individually or in sets; sets are convenient when you’re purchasing cutlery for your first home and need a versatile durable set of knives to use. Individual knives on the other hand make it possible to choose specific blades for the tasks you do most often. The most common include:
The paring knife is perfect for chopping small vegetables or fruit. This knife features a short, firm blade – roughly 10cm - with a pointed end, perfect for picking out pips.
The cook’s knife is an all-purpose knife for large chopping jobs, and they come in a number of different shapes from small to large. It’s curved edge allows you to gently rock the knife against the chopping board for a precise cut.
The utility knife is an all-purpose knife with a serrated edge that’s midway between a paring knife and a cook’s knife. It’s about 13cm long and can be used for everything from trimming meat to cutting sandwiches.
The bread knife has a long blade and a serrated edge – the design makes it easy to cut through a hard crust and soft bread without placing too much pressure on the bread and crushing it. It also works well with other soft-centred foods like tomatoes for the same reason.
The large carving knife is designed to cut thin slices of meat – it’s thinner than a chef’s knife, making it easy to get a precise cut even at a difficult angle. Use it with a carving fork to reinforce the meat and stop it from moving as you slice.
The boning knife has a thin, flexible blade to get into small spaces and make removing meat from the bone fast and simple. Choose a stiff boning knife for tougher meats like beef and pork, and a flexible one for poultry and fish.
A cleaver features a strong, thick and heavy blade. The rectangular shape makes it easy to split meat and bone, and sever and prepare joints. It’s designed to cut in one sharp, swift stroke without catching or cracking. Lightweight cleavers are ideal for splitting lobster, shellfish and fowl.
A mezzaluna or mincing knife has a semi-circular curved blade and two handles that allow you to rock the blade swiftly back and forth against a cutting board. Perfect for mincing and chopping, it’s useful for cutting everything from herbs to pizza.
04.Safe knife storage and care
How you store your knives depends on how often you use your kitchen and who has access to it; a magnetic wall rack on the wall is ideal for an enthusiastic home chef but dangerous for homes with children. A wooden knife block is another easy alternative that will keep your knives to hand while blades are safely stored away.
Remember, a sharp knife is a safe knife; a stainless steel blade or knife sharpener makes it easy to keep your blades in good condition and keep them sharp enough that you won’t have to fiddle with them as you try to chop and prepare your food.
Most knives are dishwasher safe, but if possible it’s always best to wash and dry them by hand – they will stay sharper longer and run less risk of developing spots. Most knives are rust-resistant rather than rust-proof – if they do develop spots, use mild detergent and a scourer or cork to gently scrub away.