Although there are a range of knives for every job in the kitchen, there are some tips for selecting a knife that apply to all from the itty-bitty paring knife to the gigantic cleaver.
First up, the blade. Not only there to make a knife gleam ominously, the type of metal used for the blade is an important consideration. Stainless steel is cost effective, and it’s a good choice as long as you are prepared to sharpen your knife often. Tough, durable carbon steel doesn’t need much sharpening, but costs more to begin with. Ceramic knives are also an option – they’re made from super-hard ceramic have incredibly thin, shape, precise blades that are good for fiddly jobs.
The handle is the next element you need to consider. It should feel not only comfortable but secure in your hand. It should not be a strain to hold it and the size is key. Too big or too small and you won’t be able to manoeuvre it well. Also test it when wet – it should still have good grip and not be slippery. Don’t only hold the knife, actually try to cut with it to ensure that you don’t bang your fingers on the cutting board. Also consider whether any grooves, often made for you to place your fingers, make the knife more or less comfortable to hold. Move your hand around to all sorts of angles to check that it’s comfortable no matter how you are holding it.
A knife is a personal thing and not all knives suit all cooks. The weight, balance and size need to feel good in your hands to make the knife comfortable, and therefore, effective to use. In terms of weight, it may seem logical that a heavier knife cuts through tough items more easily because it has more force, but this isn’t the case if you’re struggling to control it. Choose the heaviest knife you can handle properly. This goes for the size of the knife, too. A person with large hands may struggle to use a tiny paring knife and may do a better job with a slightly larger version. Balance is also very subjective and has everything to do with how the knife feels in your hands. The best way to judge balance is to hold the knife by its handle and see where the weight falls. If it feels like it falls back towards the handle or forwards towards the blade, the balance is off for you. If you have an unbalanced knife, you’re going to be working harder, so it’s worth getting the balance right. Make sure the side balance is also even – when you use it, it should feel stable, not as though it is teetering to one side or the other. To choose a knife with the correct weight, balance and size, you need to test it. It’s a good idea to visit a kitchen shop with demo knives available for you to handle and test, preferably by actually cutting food. If there’s no food on hand, slicing through a piece of paper is a passable substitute. A good knife should make a clean, straight and even slice through the sheet.