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The Ultimate Kitchen Knife Guide

By Team Made In
May 18, 2019
paring, chef, utility knife
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Having the right kitchen knife set can take your cooking from ordinary to extraordinary. Read on for a complete rundown of how to use, differentiate, clean and make the most of the world’s best chef's knives.

If you’ve never cut veggies with a chef’s knife, then you’ve never truly lived.

Really, though. Upgrading your set is one of the single most important things you should do if you’re trying to up your game in the kitchen. Utensils purchased in your everyday big box store get the job done. But if you’re looking to emulate the world’s best chefs, you need the same high caliber of equipment.

Today, we’re taking a look at all there is to know about buying, cleaning, maintaining, and ultimately using a chef’s knife. These beauties are capable of handling any task put in front of them. Still, most amateurs are unable to unlock their magical powers out of sheer ignorance. And once you’re in on the secret—you’ll be eating like royalty!

There’s so much to unpack in so little time. So let’s get started!

Santoku Knife vs. Chef's Knife

At first glance, these professional knives appear very similar, and in fact, they are. Both santoku and chef’s knives are known for their exceptional versatility—so what exactly are they used for?

From chopping to dicing to slicing and mincing, chefs use them for a variety of prepping and serving tasks. They’re also among the most popular knives used in kitchens across the world. When it comes to construction, the finest chef and santoku knives are both fully forged in high-quality metal or ceramic, although steel tends to be preferred.

So, what’s the difference between a chef’s knife and santoku knife?

Here’s a few identifying features of the santoku knife:

  • Made of slightly thinner metal, which enhances precision
  • Used for delicate tasks (think decorative garnish on sushi)
  • Preferred (and originated) in Japan
  • Wide curved blade with no tip
  • Lighter feel for ergonomic control
  • Typically no bolster, which explains its light weight

Likewise, a chef’s knife has its own unique characteristics:

  • Slightly thicker blade with tip, which makes it heavier to hold
  • Used for all kinds of cuts, but not necessarily precision
  • Can go up to 12” in length, which is bigger than santoku
  • Preferred in the West; originated in France and Germany
  • May feature a serrated edge depending on style
  • Has a bolster for improved strength and balance

So, in the ultimate showdown, we prefer the chef’s knife thanks to its greater adaptability. Not only can you achieve precise cuts thanks to its razor-sharp blade and tip (veggies, fruits, roots and more), but you can also tackle larger breakdowns of meat, poultry and similar heavy-duty jobs.

The difference between forged and stamped knives

Many of the key differentiators between forged and stamped knives stem back to overall quality and utility. A stamped knife is constructed like a cookie. The craftsman takes a large sheet of metal, cuts out the shape of a knife with a stamp, then tempers and hardens it. You’d never know they used a cookie cutter (well, knife cutter)!

However, forged knives—which is how most high-end chef’s knives are made—go through a more rigorous (and time-consuming) heating process. Steel is heated in a furnace until it’s glowing red and hammered into shape by hand.

So, what are the key differences between a forged and stamped knife? The forged version usually has a better reputation due to its heavy construction, thicker blade, amazing durability, and more expensive price point.

A stamped knife is generally cheaper to buy and is lighter in the hand. The blade is thinner, making the knife more flexible, and is therefore not as strong and resilient as the former.

How to hold a chef’s knife

Once in your grasp, you can’t help but behold the visual elegance of a fine chef’s knife. Of course, you’ll also notice its incredibly sharp blade. Since the knife is generally weightier than its counterparts, the user enjoys greater control whether they’re an amateur or professional.

Holding a chef’s knife is also different than using an ordinary steak knife, butter knife or other butcher block essential. Since you’re using this knife for preparation, you want to give yourself the very best control possible.

While many people use a ‘sawing’ motion to make simple slices (think: sandwiches, steaks, burgers, pizza), a chef’s knife warrants a more refined technique.

Here’s how we recommend you hold a chef’s knife for better control and greater safety:

  • Hold the knife by its grip in your dominant hand, placing your thumb and forefinger closest to the blade.
  • For precision cuts or chops, rest your non-dominant hand atop the blade
  • Rock the blade in an up and down motion while chopping
  • For general cuts and slices, use your non-dominant hand to move food and measure each subsequent cut
  • The non-dominant hand’s fingers should be curled under to avoid unintentional cutting; keep your thumb out of there!
  • When ready to cut, use your dominant hand to move the blade in a rocking motion from tip to end; resist the urge to ‘saw’ your food!
  • TIP: gently rest the side of the blade on your knuckles for extra protection against accidental nicks and cuts to your fingers

How to clean a chef’s knife

Have you read our article on cleaning cookware? We break it down pretty nicely. Nonetheless, a little refresher never hurt no one!

Since your chef’s knife is the workhorse of the kitchen (and the star of your chopping block), it deserves a little extra loving care. Never—EVER—toss your treasure in the dishwasher. The thrashing, extreme heat and water pressure may weaken or damage the knife’s various parts as well as the metal blade.
Here’s the absolute best way to clean and maintain your chef’s knife:

  1. When you’re done using the knife, wash immediately to prevent food from drying and sticking
  2. Point the blade away from your fingers
  3. With your other hand, take a soft sponge with plenty of soapy warm water, and wipe both sides of the knife
  4. If food is caked on top, let it soak as you would burned cookware

How to Clean the Knives in Your Knife Set

Feeling like your chef’s knife is getting all the attention? Well, the method we used for keeping it pristinely clean applies to practically all your knives in the block.

Some of your everyday steak knives may stand up to the dishwasher’s aggressive movement. Still, we wouldn’t recommend it. All too often, the metal components of your knives become rusted when exposed to water for too long. Hanging around for the ‘dry cycle’ counts as too long in dishwasher time.

So, here are a couple of rules for cleaning the knives in your set:

  • Always dry completely before returning to the block
  • Clean by hand with warm water and soap, rinse, dry with a soft cloth, then lay out to air dry further
  • Every once in a while, clean your knife block as well
  • Flip over the block and shake to release any food debris
  • Submerge the block in soapy water, rinse, and allow to dry
  • Finally, think about using a magnetic knife strip for hygiene

What is the best chef’s knife in the world?

We thought you’d never ask. The traditional chef’s knife, fully-forged by hand in high-quality metal, is our ultimate pick. Furthermore, knives originating in France are backed by centuries of tradition and innovation, making them second to none.

Looking for this mythical knife of legend—a unicorn among horses? A king among peasants? Don’t worry, it’s not hard to find.

Here is the best chef’s knife in the world. Bring it home today, and see your cooking experience transform overnight!

Congratulations on completing Kitchen Knives 101. You may proceed to the next Made In course!

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