Module 1-2 The Chef’s Knife

Let’s start by watching a video on honing vs. sharpening a knife.

This video covers Basic Knife Skills.

In the kitchen you need the right tool for the right job. This begins with a quality chef’s knife that you will use for almost any task that takes place on the cutting board.  The chef’s knife is probably the most used tool other than your pots and pans.

I am not an expert on chef’s knives. However, I can share the websites that I found helpful. I was surprised at how expensive chef’s knives can be. I have seen them as low as $19.99 and in excess of $300. (Yes, that is for only one knife). Initially, I didn’t see the importance of spending more than $20 for a knife. However, as I did my research, I realized that an affordable, quality knife is important. There are very few recipes that don’t require you to carve, dice, or chop something.

There are a few qualities that are important to consider when shopping for the right chef’s knife for your kitchen.

  • It needs to be sturdy enough to last
  • It needs to stay sharp or be easy to sharpen
  • It needs to comfortable to use

As a home cook and gramma I don’t feel that I need to spend $300 on a knife. However, I did want a quality, functional knife. I decided to see what I could find for $100 or less. The Mercer Culinary M23510 Renaissance 8-Inch Chef’s Knife is what I chose. It has an affordable price tag below $50 on Amazon.

Mercer M23510 8-in. chef knife

What to look for in a knife

Mercer verse Wusthoff knives

In my research I learned that you should go to a cutlery or cookware store so that you can try before buying. There are many reasons why I chose not to do this with the primary one being, “I didn’t want to.” Instead, I looked at several review sites on chef’s knives. One of my favorite review websites is  America’s Test Kitchen. I love this website and have learned a lot there. They have recipes, equipment reviews, and prescription-based video classes. The downside that it is a prescription service. However, they have a lot of information that is free. – This website provides reviews of several chef’s knives that are under $100. Although, I didn’t go with one of their recommendations, I think any one of these would be a great addition to a home kitchen. They have reviewed several knives that are under $100. – I chose not to buy there recommended starter knife and chose a Mercer knife instead. I don’t like the idea of a handle made from plastic. However, Amazon reviews their top pick in excess of 4 stars. – Their budget pick is the Wusthof Pro 4862-7/20. From what I have read, Wusthof knives are one of the top picks in the chef’s world. This knife sells for around $30.00 on Amazon. I didn’t chose this knife because I didn’t like the shape of the handle.

Anatomy of a chef’s knife

The handle: A good handle is one that feels comfortable and ­secure to you. You shouldn’t have to strain to hold onto it, and it shouldn’t feel slippery when wet. There should be enough clearance on its underside that you don’t bang your knuckles as you chop (the height of the blade affects this).

The bolster: The bolster is the thick portion of metal where the blade and handle meet. The bolster can add strength and stability to a knife as well as act as a ­finger guard for your gripping hand. Some forged knives have only partial bolsters, which don’t extend all the way to the blade’s heel, and some knives, especially Japanese-style knives, have no bolster at all. An advantage to partial- or no-­bolster knives is that you can sharpen the full length of the blade, right through the heel. As you hold a knife, notice the slope from the bolster to the blade. It may be pronounced or gradual, but neither style should make you feel like you have to tighten your grip.

The heel: The heel is the broadest and thickest part of the edge with the greatest heft. It’s meant for tasks that require force, such as chopping through poultry tendons or the hard rind of a winter squash. Watch out for knives that “thunk” at the heel when rocked. The heel shouldn’t abruptly stop the rocking motion. Nor should it be so curved that the blade wants to kick backward.

The spine: This is the top portion of the blade, and it typically has squared edges. Note whether the edges feel polished or sharp and rough, which can potentially irritate your gripping hand. The spine should also taper at the tip; a thick tip will be hard to work with.

The edge: A good chef’s knife should be sharp right out of the box. To evaluate sharpness, try slicing through a sheet of paper. A really sharp knife will make a clean, swift cut. (Of course, if you have the opportunity, chop some food, too.) Also note the line of the blade. A gentle curve from the tip to the heel can help the knife smoothly rock back and forth during chopping and mincing.