How to Shop for a Knife Like You’re an Expert

Looking for a knife can be confusing, but we break it down so you can shop with confidence.

By Izzy Johnson
Feb 22, 2023
santoku cutting cucumber
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Knives are an extremely important part of any chef’s toolkit. They are often the first thing to touch your ingredients, and we all know that first impressions are important. If you don’t possess some basic knowledge of what a knife can do and what features it has, you’re going to wind up with something that not only can’t do its job, but is much too sharp to be an expensive paperweight.

Throughout my own research and talking with experts and enthusiasts alike, I’ve found that it’s best to start simple. Ask yourself: What is the knife for? From there, you can determine the size you need and what material you’d like it to be made from.

Sergio Menchaca of Texas Sage Forge backs this up. “When I’m shopping for a knife, I notice what catches my eye. It’s a very personal thing and really comes down to preference. Know what you need it for and be sure of yourself. Don’t let anyone talk you out of or into a knife you don’t really want,” he says.

Whether you’re a knife novice or you’re just interested in learning a little more about knife characteristics, we’ve made knife shopping simple (or as simple as it can be) by providing you with all of the important questions to ask when you’re in the market for a new knife.

What Kind of Knife Do You Need?

Just like you need different pots and pans based on what you’re making, there’s no one knife that is perfect for every task. Professional chefs use a wide variety of knives in the kitchen, from cleavers for breaking down cuts of meat to Paring Knives for coring fruit. While most home chefs will not need quite as many knives as a professional, it's wise to have a few different shapes to choose from.

That’s because different knives serve different purposes. For example, if you’re looking for something that can break down a whole bird, a Chef’s Knife is a great option. If you’re mostly chopping vegetables, the granton edge of a Santoku Knife helps ensure that thinly sliced pieces don’t get stuck on the blade. Specialized knives usually have their primary function in the name, like a serrated Bread Knife or set of Fishing Knives.

When in doubt, you can always go for a set, which will give you a few different options.

What Size Do You Need?

Knife size may just be the most personal part of knife shopping. Figuring out what size you need really comes down to that initial question—what is this knife for? Some knives serve a specific function like Bread Knives, so you already know exactly what it’s for and when to use it. While there is no “all-purpose” knife, our Chef Knife is the closest thing both professional and home cooks use to do multiple tasks related to meat and vegetables—and luckily, it's available in multiple sizes.

If you prefer something a little smaller, Nakiri Knives are shorter and may feel more manageable for cutting vegetables. The smaller the knife, the more precise you can get with your cuts, so Paring Knives are great for slicing up softer, more delicate ingredients.

Which Material Is Best?

All of our knives are full tang and fully forged. This means that they’re crafted from one solid piece of Stainless Steel from hilt to blade, making  them much more  durable and stable. This allows you to put more pressure on your knife without worrying about breakage. Many cheaply made knives have a metal blade attached to a plastic or wooden handle with a few metal inlays to give the appearance of being full tang, but they are far less sturdy and the handle can break off with just a couple uses.

When looking for a knife, chances are Stainless Steel will suit your purposes well. Since Stainless Steel is an alloy, or a mixture of metals, its quality can vary. Knives advertised as “high carbon” indicate the strength of the blade and that the knife will remain sharp, however they often require more maintenance and need to be buffed to remain in good condition. Our Knives are treated with nitrogen, which helps maintain the sharpness without the specialized care.

Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel Knives

There is a debate between knife-enthusiasts about which is a better material—Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel. There are of course, pros and cons to each. Untreated Stainless Steel is softer than Carbon Steel, which means it will need to be sharpened more often. However, Carbon Steel Knives are more brittle and therefore need a lighter touch when sharpening. They are also more prone to chipping or denting if you drop them.

True to its name, Stainless Steel stays shiny silver, while Carbon Steel discolors easily. Stainless Steel is also non-reactive, meaning that it is not sensitive to acidic ingredients like tomatoes or citrus. Carbon Steel knives must be wiped down immediately after use, as residual food can damage the blade. It is also common to rub mineral oil into Carbon Steel to keep it from rusting.  While Carbon Steel knives are appealing for their sharpness, they are far less forgiving and need a lot more care than Stainless Steel.

Carbon Steel has its advantages and is favored by some, but it is not ideal for someone new to knives who may not be prepared to put in the extra work. Note that this is only for Knives. For pans, Carbon Steel is a fan favorite and one of the best materials out there.

What’s the Rockwell Scale Rating?

Rockwell hardness is a way to rate the strength of different metals. It refers to how resistant a metal is to damage from another metal. Knife manufacturers use the Rockwell C Scale (RC) to determine the hardness of their blades. The higher the number, the harder the metal. A softer knife will be around RC45, while harder blades are around RC60. Some Carbon Steel blades are as high as RC65.

Higher RC (or harder knives) ratings do not necessarily mean better quality knives. A rating above RC60 can indicate that your knife, while sharp, is susceptible to breakage. Knives with a slightly lower RC are usually better at withstanding impact and are more durable, despite the fact that knives with a higher RC will hold their edge longer.

Our knives are around RC58, indicating that they are strong and sharp, fairly easy to sharpen and hone, but are not in danger of shattering upon impact like some knives with an RC above 60. When looking for a knife, the RC50-RC60 range is ideal.

How Much Should You Be Paying?

Mostly, the price of a knife will come down to what materials are used in the knife’s construction. This includes what the handle is made of, if the steel is treated and if so, with what, if it’s finished by hand or by machine, and whether the hilt or blade has any other details like inlays or designs. Some knives are works of art, others are far more utilitarian.

Our POM-handled knives are all available for under $100. Wooden handles are more expensive as they are crafted from Spanish olive wood. Limited launch knives will also be more expensive due to their exclusivity. If you are looking for an economical way to purchase multiple knives, buying a set may make more sense for you.

Ready to Shop?

Now that you are armed with more information on what to look for in a knife, the fun part begins—finding the perfect knife. Thankfully, ours are Chef-loved and can withstand the rigors of both professional and home kitchens with ease.