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I don’t know if there is anything more frustrating to a person who enjoys cooking than a kitchen knife that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Whether it’s dull, nicked or just the wrong knife for the job, a knife that just won’t produce a clean slice through the food item you’re processing can be hair-pulling inducing. A good knife can help take your home cooking to the next level, whether you’re cooking for others or for others! After years of working in a store that sold premium kitchen goods, and selling knives to a wide range of customers, from never-ever-cooks to home cooks to 5-star restaurant chefs, I found there were a number of knife-styles that consistently yielded the happiest customers. From these experiences, and from my own home cooking, here are the top 5 knife styles I would personally recommend for a home kitchen, in order to comfortably take on all those fun new recipes you’ve been pinning on Pinterest 😉
1. Santoku knife with a graton edge
Yes, that’s right. The top spot on this list goes not to the famous staple, the chef’s knife, but instead to a type of knife you’ve probably never heard of and might not be able to pronounce. A Santoku is a type of Japanese kitchen knife that takes its name from what it excels at: “Santoku” means “three virtues”, and refers to the knife’s ability to take on “slicing, dicing and mincing” tasks with ease (see here for more details) . This means it takes a spot near the top of the knife-versatility list in my books. Generally, the knife loosely resembles the western chef’s knife, with a longish, wide blade and heavy handle. However, where the chef’s knife ends in (in my opinion) a bit of an aggressive, pointy tip that can be somewhat intimidating, the Santoku’s tip rounds off gently. I find this feature the basic reason I continually reach for my Santoku instead of my chef’s knife: I’m just so much more comfortable with it.
Let’s talk about one of the other coolest features of a traditional Santoku: the graton edge. A knife that has a graton edge means that it has little dimples/craters/dents in the flat part of the blade. While it does make it look pretty cool, aesthetics aren’t the only feature of a graton edge. Have you ever sliced a cucumber with a chef’s knife and found that the pieces of cucumber stick to the blade, building up on the blade and eventually falling off in a bit of a mess on your cutting board? The graton edge’s purpose is essentially to create an air pocket between the sliced vegetable and your blade, meaning that the slice of vegetable should just slip off the blade easily instead of sticking. This makes quick slicing/dicing jobs much easier and mess free. Definitely a plus to this handy little blade.
Santoku knives come in a wide range of sizes, from a small, paring knife sized blade for small jobs to lengthy 9 or 10 inch monsters who can take on the largest of tasks. I feel the most essential one to have is about 7-8 inches (similar in size to a chef’s knife) but I would definitely encourage you to try out different sizes at the shop to make sure you feel comfortable with the knife you are considering (a knife should feel like a comfortable extension of your arm).
If you feel like trying out a good entry-level santoku, I’ve always found my 7 inch Victorinox to be the perfect size and weight. You can find it on Amazon here:
2. A perfectly-personal-sized Chef’s Knife
While I love my Santoku and do indeed use it for a lot of tasks someone would traditionally use a chef’s knife to do, there are some jobs where a Chef’s knife outshines all the competition. For me, the best attributes of a chef’s knife are its hefty, solid weight, and its “rock”. Let’s talk about weight first. A lot of knive’s on the market are advertised as being light or weightless, and easy to use. This is good for certain jobs, but there are times when a heavier, balanced blade is needed. A heavier blade, which is characteristic of many German-made knives (such as kitchen-store staples Henckles and Wusthof), gives stability and balance, and when you’re cutting through large items or tougher ingredients (large sweet potatoes, tough or sinewy cuts of meat), you’ll like having something with a bit more strength. Think of it this way: if you were a medieval soldier, there’d be some fights where the quick agility of a fencing sword (nice and light, enabling you to be quick on your feet) would be the weapon of choice. But when that heavily armoured enemy knight is coming at you wielding an axe, you’re going to wish you had a heavy, iron broad-sword to swing. There’s a blade for every type of job, and a Chef’s Knife is not exempt.
The second reason why a Chef’s Knife is necessary is because of something called a “rock”. Chef’s knives have a characteristic curved edge, and if you cut using the full length of the blade, you’ll be able to feel how the blade “rocks” back and forth. This rocking movement is unparralelled in other knives (except for maybe a Mezzaluna, which is a two-handled “half moon”-shaped knife whose entire purposes is to rock back and forth), and is the ideal shape for mincing ingredients, like garlic. In fact, if you are like me and hate how almost every garlic press on the market doesn’t seem to work properly, then you’ll love how easy it is to process garlic with a chef’s knife: crush the wide part of the blade, remove the skin, crush it a bit more with the blade, slice it finely with knife, and then use the rocking feature of the knife’s blade to finely mince the garlic into teeny tiny chunks, perfect for seasoning your recipe. It’s good enough to convince you to chuck your garlic press in the garbage.
By the way, many companies now offer Chef’s knives with the same graton edge feature as many Santokus have. If you’re a purist, you might not like the idea of this classic blade shape being altered, but otherwise, I feel like any knife with a graton edge just gives it a step up above the rest.
I’ve had my Wusthof 8 inch chef’s knife for over 4 years, and it still works as beautifully as the day I got it. Perfect rock to it, and hefty German steel weight. Amazon carries it here: Wusthof 4582-7/20 Classic 8-Inch Cook’s Knife
3. Sausage Knife/ Tomato Knife/ Sandwich Knife
This type of knife is called different things depending on the brand you’re looking at, and can look a little different in each line. However, the main similarity between all of them is this: a short, smallish knife (under 6 inches) with a serrated edge, reminiscent of a miniature breadknife. Surprisingly, this is probably the knife I use most often, just because it is so versatile. Its shortness makes it easy to use, and the serrated edge enables it to do a wide range of jobs, from cutting bread to slicing through the slippery skin of a tomato, to skimming off nice, even pieces of cheese. Serrated edges also have an edge (haha) over other kitchen knives because they generally don’t need sharpening (not to say they never need it, just not very often. *NOTE: never sharpen a serrated knife in a pull-through sharpener- it will completely ruin the serration and pretty much render the knife useless!) This knife is a great lunch-helper, and truly earns the name “Sandwich Knife”. If you are making a quick meal just for yourself or a couple friends, this is a great knife to have because you only have to use and wash one knife- it does all the jobs! (Imagine that meme of “all the things!” popping up in front of you. That’s this knife.)
Amazon carries the Wusthof Classic version of this knife, which is a great way to introduce it to your collection! You can find it here: Wusthof Classic 4110 Serrated Utility Knife (Sausage knife ) 14 cm 5″
4. Paring Knife
I feel like the Paring Knife doesn’t need too much justification to keep its spot in this “Top Knives” list; it’s pretty much the knife that every kitchen has, whether it’s a $1 chrome-plated and plastic utensil from the dollar store or a $150 forged work of art from Williams Sonoma. Good for small or intricate jobs requiring a bit more detail or dexterity, the paring knife can’t be replaced by any other knife ( yes, that includes peeling knives, which my boyfriend swears by as his favourite knife to use for almost all purposes :p ). One thing to remember when looking for a paring knife is to get something relatively small: anything larger than 3.5 inches gets into utility-knife territory, and makes it harder to do the little tasks that require a short blade.
The precision you get from a Wusthof paring knife is amazing, and you can find the one pictured above here: Wusthof 4066-7/099 Classic 3 1/2-Inch Paring Knife
5. Bread Knife/ Large Serrated Knife
Number 5 on this list is reserved for the humble bread knife, which in my opinion should really just be called a large serrated knife, because it does so much more than just cut bread. Basically, the reason it’s important to have one is because for items that are soft inside but have a tougher-to-cut-through skin, a blade that is just straight and even is just going to squish the ingredient while you’re trying to cut it, whereas a serrated blade allows you to “rip” through the tough skin without having to press down on the blade – and voila, non-squished food! While this is most important for bread, it’s also great for tomatoes, cheese, meats, and tougher vegetables that need to be “sawed” through.
Wusthof makes a gorgeous bread knife in their classic line. You can find it here: Wusthof 4149-7 Classic 8-Inch Bread Knife
Of course, there are so many more knives out there that would be amazing additions to your kitchen and make food processing a dream, ranging from basic, many-purpose knives (ie utility knives or carving knives) to extremely job-specific knives (look up “Pastry Knife” or “Salmon Filet Knife”). However, the above 5 knives are, in my opinion, the basics that will enable you to take on most recipes with ease! If you’re just starting to build your collection and are not sure how to pick a knife that works for you at the kitchen store, keep your eyes open for my upcoming post on “Picking the Perfect Knife” for a few pointers (because knives are pointy, get it? Ha :p)
Until next time,