What to buy? How much to spend? How many do I need?
Patience young grasshopper, I will try my best to answer all your questions and more.
First of all please, PLEASE, please do NOT buy a set. While they are tempting because you get 12 knives for a low price they are in general a waste. Not because they are lower quality (they may) but the issue is in reality you only need 2-3 knives to do most of the job.
Yes, that’s right, only 2 knives! My advice is instead of spending 200-300$ on a kit, spend that money on Chef/Gyuto knife and a paring knife. That’s all you really need day to day.
A gyuto is a Japanese chef knife where the blade profile is much thinner. The Western chef knife is much more robust and you could use it to cut bones. I would never dare to do that with a Gyuto, the blade will likely chip/break.
The profile of the knife is also different. Western knives are better for those who prefer to slice, Gyuto is more rock/chop. Again doesn’t mean you cannot use those techniques they are just more natural.
Paring knife, you don’t want to spend a lot of money on this, maybe 20$ or so. Paring is useful for peeling or more precise cutting. Those have a blade about 3 inches long.
For the Chef/Gyuto knife you can get something decent at around 45$, a good example is this victorinox knife for 47$. Is this the most beautiful knife ever? Hell no but this knife has a very decent blade, very sharp out of the box and very easy to sharpen; outstanding value for what you pay. It’s a stainless steel blade ( X50CrMoV15 HRC55 formula most commonly used in German knives) so it’s low maintenance. I recommend buying a 7 or 8 inches blade. If you are planning to do a large batch of food cutting 15 pounds of celery every day, definitely a 10″ blade makes sense.
Following those 2 knives adding a bread knife is a great addition. With its serrated edge, it can sharply cut bread easily without doing a mess on the bread.
So this is a fairly complex topic and I don’t want to dig too deep but here some pointer
A knife is basically a piece of steel with a handle. Steel type and design are a driving factor on price but the handle can push the price tag very high.
Most knives you see have black plastic handles and that is perfectly fine. It’s low maintenance and obviously, from a manufacturing point of view, it’s much cheaper to produce. When you upgrade to a wood handle there is a lot more craftsmanship involved. Obviously, the type of wood can also drive the price up. From a personal point of view, I much prefer a wood handle. Not only it can be carved differently but the grip is just better; again personal preference.
You can also spend even more cash and get your handle carved in Mammoth ivory or some other fancy material.
Ultimately, you cut with the blade, not the handle. So it’s mostly about the “grip feel”, look and bragging rights.
|Beautiful handle made of Masur Birchwood|
Most of the knives out today are made of either Stainless or Carbon steel. Without going into all the detail.If you tend to leave your knife in the sink or leave them sitting dirty on your countertop, don’t even think twice and buy stainless.
Carbon: Much Sharper edge for longer, if not taken care of meticulously will rust or stain, more brittle
Stainless: Easier to maintain, not prone to rust or stain, lose its edge more rapidly
While there are 2 categories, in each, there are multiple “formula” of blades with a different mix of metals that will have an impact on how the blade performs. Hardness, edge retention, resistance, etc will vary depending on what’s in the blade. There is no bad or good, they have different pros and cons. The following website list a bunch of steel composition, from there you can check your blade type ( for instance VG-10 is a very popular stainless steel) and see what are his “attribute”
There are also Damascus blades and while they look different, they do not refer to the blade composition but to the way, it’s made. They usually consist of a carbon core + several layers of laminated steel (usually stainless). This gives a beautiful blade but be careful as there are cheap imitations that are acid etched.
The hardness of a blade is rated against the Rockwell scale. Below you can see the different types of blade material and how hard they are. The harder a blade is, the finer the edge can be, and while being super sharp. On the downside, it will also take a lot more effort to sharpen it and will be much less flexible ( more brittle). Most German knives ( Zwilling or Wusthof to name those 2) will have an HRC around 55 so they are just in the sweet spot to balance edge retention &sharpness VS maintenance.
If you do decide to invest money in an expensive knife please invest in a wood cutting board. Here is a little run down.
Wood: It’s soft for the edge of the blade but requires more maintenance ( need to oil). If you go this route I recommend not using it to cut any meat and use a plastic board for that as they can grow bacteria and it’s more complicated to sanitize. There are multiple types of woods you can use to make a board, again each has its pros and cons so take a few minutes to google this before buying.
Plastic: Cheap and convenient, by cutting on the plastic surface you do create a miniature cut in the board, and bacteria can grow in it.
Glass: Really? This is the worst possible option to destroy your knife-edge
|End grain walnut cutting board|
I will not dare to go into how to sharpen a knife but just wanted to cover the base. I would not recommend you buy any of the sharpening gadgets you can buy out there. You could groove your blade and I personally don’t think they make a big difference.
You can go to a shop and get them to sharpen once or twice a year for a couple of dollars each(a pro will ask you for 50$+ for each knife). They usually do a good job, in my case they destroyed 2 of my knives and this leads me to sharpen them myself.
To sharpen your blade you need a whetstone(s). In a gist, you basically use the stone as a sanding paper for your blade. Just like the sanding paper they come in different grit, the lower the number the more abrasive they are, and the higher one are used to polish the blade. As a starting point, this guy makes a great video to explain the basics.
You should buy the right knife for your need. Set a budget, go to a store, and handle the knife. Some stores will let you try them and cut some carrots so you have the real feel. An expensive knife will not make you a better cook.