How to buy the best kitchen knives for your needs
The right blades for filleting, boning, carving, slicing and dicing.
Do you want to cut through tin cans like they do on TV?
We don't know why anyone would want to slice up a tin can, but if you really wanted to you'd need to follow our advice on choosing a good knife for the job. After all, using the right tool on the chopping board could mean the difference between perfectly cut carrot sticks and a missing fingertip.
Find the right knife for your hands
While it matters how well a knife cuts and how sharp it is, knives are really a personal choice. You need to find one that feels comfortable in your hand.
A good knife should have:
- a comfortable, decent sized, non-slip grip handle
- good balance
- a nice curve on the blade.
But what does Maggie think?
Maggie Beer, author of Maggie's Harvest and star of the ABC TV show The Cook and the Chef, says feel and balance are what she looks for in a knife. "It has to feel good as soon as you put it in your hand. If a knife feels right you can get to the stage where it truly becomes an extension of your arm rather than just a kitchen tool."
Okay, I've got an assortment of foods (and a tin can) ready to chop, slice and dice. What sort of knives do I need?
There are actually two ways of making knives, so let's start there.
Forged knives are made from a single piece of steel that's been heated, moulded, hardened, tempered and then ground into a cutting edge. They often have a better feel and balance, and a heavier blade which is good for cutting tougher foods. They are also often the most expensive.
Stamped knives are machine-stamped out of a piece of steel and then ground, polished and honed. One-piece seamless knives are also stamped, but the blade and handle are all metal, in one piece. Stamped knives are often lighter than forged knives, which can suit some people better.
Forged knives are often said to be better than stamped knives, but CHOICE tests found this isn't necessarily so. Base your decision on how the knife feels for you.
A well-balanced knife with a good curve on the blade allows it to roll all the way to the tip when cutting.
This comes down to preference and whether you're right- or left-handed, so try the knives before buying.
A knife that sits on its back exposing the blade isn't a safe option, particularly for little hands.
A full tang
No, not the flavour! It's the metal that extends from the blade into the handle. A tang that runs all the way through the knife handle gives a stronger connection between handle and blade, and can contribute to better balance, meaning an easier cut.
Types of knives
Don't you just need one good knife to get most jobs done?
Not really. While cooks' knives get a lot of things done, others are designed for specific jobs – like paring, carving and filleting. If you want these, it may be worth investing in a set as this is usually cheaper and more convenient than buying them separately. Here are some of the more common knife types that you might find in a set.
Types of knives
The picture shows, from left to right:
This little knife is handy for peeling and trimming fruit, potatoes and other vegetables.
Good for removing skin from fish, butterflying meats and precise work with raw meat, fish or chicken.
This knife usually has a longer blade but isn't as deep as a chef's knife. The longer blade is good for slicing wider joints, such as cooked ham.
Chef's or cook's knife
This knife is very versatile and can handle a wide variety of foods and textures.
Utility or all-purpose knife
Similar to the paring knife but with a longer blade; it's good for small, everyday cutting jobs.
To keep a good, fine cutting edge on your knives.
The serrated edge of this knife helps cut through a loaf of bread without squashing it.
Good for cutting chicken around the bones, the shears can also be used for cutting herbs or snipping bacon into pieces. They generally pull apart for easy cleaning and are handy for most kitchen jobs, including opening packaging.
Looking after your knife
Once you've got a knife that works for you it's important to take good care of it. Here are some ways to keep the life in your knife.
- Use a chopping board that's softer than the knife blade, such as wood or plastic, to avoid blunting or getting nicks in the blade.
- Knives need to be sharpened from time to time to keep their cutting edge fine. While stone sharpening is the best method, you can also use honing steels or pull-through sharpeners. Eventually, though, they'll need to be professionally sharpened. Most good cookware shops offer this service.
- Keep your knives clean and store them in a knife block, or use a guard to protect the blade from being knocked and chipped if they're in a drawer. Don't leave food to dry on the blade, as some foods contain acid that can permanently stain it.
- Hand wash your knives. Some manufacturers claim their products are 'dishwasher-safe' but they still recommend hand washing. Some detergents can be too harsh so if you want to be on the safe side, hand washing is the way to go.
Cook's knives (size 18cm to 21cm) cost $10 to over $300.