They say a chef is only as good as the knife they use. Knives were among the earliest tools used by humans to survive. Prehistoric humans used it for hunting animals and protecting themselves from danger. When they discovered fire, knives were used to skin the animals they caught and cut them up to cook them in the fire.
The invention of tools like knives expedited the progress of mankind. From wandering cavemen, humans learned to stay in one place, cultivate plants, keep livestock, and improve their way of life. It has been a part of our civilization ever since.
Over the centuries, knives evolved from being exclusively used as weapons to becoming a tool in the kitchen. World-renowned knife brands have been making knives for at least a century. Household brands perfected their knife-making and trademarked it as something unique to them.
Japanese knife-makers, for example, have been making blades since the prevalence of the samurai. Judging from how sharp those samurai swords are, the Japanese knife-making industry has long reached its peak in perfecting their blades, as evidenced by the santoku knife.
Knife-makers in Japan even have their own village, and they keep the competition friendly. They are members of the same community but sell their knives as individuals. No wonder sushi chefs are very respected around the world.
In the western world, knives have a long history, too. Collectors are always looking for vintage knives with unique designs or limited edition hunting, fishing, or even steak knife pieces. Remarkable knife-makers have found their place in Germany, France, and the United States.
Even renowned chefs like Gordon Ramsay swear by the knives they use. It is so important in the kitchen that the first thing he does in his culinary show "Hell's Kitchen" is given the competing chefs their Zwilling knife set. This includes a variety of knives for different purposes.
Ramsay's knife set for his chefs include the basics: utility knife, paring knife, steak knife, chef knife, kitchen shears, slicing knife, carving knife, cheese knife, serrated knife, fillet knife, and many others.
But with all the history behind knife-making, how do we know which knives are of good quality and which ones are not? And how do you know they belong in your nice kitchen?
Kitchen knife ratings are measured by different factors: the sharpness, the steel used, comfortability, and design. Every knife brand tests its knives on these qualities. As a chef or a home cook, you can also get quality knives by looking at these factors.
Ever since the discovery of iron, metallurgy has come a long way by making alloys out of different metals to achieve the best for specific purposes. In knives, for example, metal is the backbone of its quality. Good metal and forging create long-lasting, high-quality knives.
During ancient times, knives were made of copper or bronze. But making a knife from simple alloys drastically affects the knife's quality. Blacksmithing was a profitable profession then, not just because of the knives but also because there were many wars that needed swords.
When the world entered an era of relative peace after the middle ages and the renaissance, blacksmiths focused on creating knives for cooking and gardening. It was then that people began to experiment with the metals they mixed for knife alloys.
Germany was and still is a center for knife-making in Europe. German knives were exported from villages and cities exclusively. From then until today, these places have been known for high-quality blades that are heirloom pieces.
Later on, the invention of stainless steel revolutionized the knife industry. Everyone wanted sharp knives that wouldn't rust with constant exposure to water and air. The cutlery industry gained traction by making utensils out of stainless steel. Zwilling knives, Wusthof knives, Santoku knives, Global knives, and many other brands flourished.
Nowadays, stainless steel is still used to make knives. One common material used for the blade is carbon steel. This new material is malleable to a certain degree and keeps the edge retention of the blade.
Earlier versions of steel are hard and clumpy metal that can't be used in the kitchen for long periods of time because they tend to break easily. That kind of steel can't bend or withstand constant impact from chopping or dicing. It's a triumph of bend-over-break for carbon stainless steel.
Of course, high carbon stainless steel is also different depending on the knife maker. Higher carbon content in the blade means a sharper edge and a more flexible blade. The best-rated kitchen knives come from these high-carbon stainless steel.
There are processes to measure the quality of carbon stainless steel. Most knife makers indicate a number along with the type of steel used for their blades. If you want to know more about how carbon stainless steel is made and how you can see its quality, there are countless resources online. You can watch knife-making videos or shows like "Forged in Fire" to see just how forging works.
Hopefully, this will enlighten you on which knife you should buy. But no matter which brand you decide on, always remember to scrutinize the website or store carefully. There are many knife counterfeits out there who sell subpar knives for cheaper. Sometimes, a couple of bucks are worth it when it comes to knives.
A knife's function is literally to stay sharp for the chef. Professional kitchen knives are different, though. The edge of the knife depends on the material of the blade. The better the metal, the longer the knife keeps the edge.
But most people don't know that there are different types of knives depending on the edge. The angle of the knife’s edge is sometimes referred to as either a western edge or an eastern edge.
Western knives usually have a V edge, while eastern knives like Santoku are traditionally chiseled. A good example is your common kitchen knife compared to a sushi chef's knife. The kitchen knife is good for cutting up most ingredients used in the kitchen. It can also be used by left or right-handed people the same way.
A sushi chef's knife, however, is often specially made or chosen by them. It's commonly chisel-edged to help the chef prepare seafood in a specific way. The sashimi that you enjoy from a sushi restaurant can't always be cut by your regular kitchen knife brand.
There are many other types of knife edges, but these two constitute what most knife brands produce.
Another factor for a knife's sharpness without using a knife sharpener is the process of making the blade. Remarkable knife makers around the world forge their own blades from scratch. It's how they ensure the quality of the knives. A forged knife lets the knife keep a sharp edge for longer.
Sadly, counterfeits are common in the knife industry. Many counterfeiters weld the blades instead of forging them. The welding process puts undue and unnatural strain on the blades. It also creates more brittle blades. As a result, the blade gets dull quicker.
You use knives regularly, and if you are in the cooking business, you'll be using them for most of the day. Of course, our hands have limits when it comes to cutting up ingredients. But having a knife that is comfortable in your hand can make the knife feel like an extension of your limb.
There are many factors in gauging a knife's comfortability. The weight of the whole knife is one, including the balance of the blade.
Knives that are too heavy will cause your muscles to cramp up. When you are cooking in a professional setting, it will take more time to chop things with a heavier knife. Besides, who would want to lug around a knife set too heavy for its own good, right?
When it comes to balance, you need to remember only two things. You don't want a knife with a heavier blade because it will tire out your arm in the long run. You also don't want a knife with a lighter blade than the handle because it would force you to exert more effort in cutting up ingredients. There should be a balanced weight between the knife's blade and the handle.
There are different types of handles depending on the knife brand. Some brands prefer to use wood or plastic, while others boast of a full-tang knife with a stainless steel handle.
Wood provides a good grip on the knife, but the downside is, without proper care, it could deteriorate faster than a plastic or metal handle. Plastic is lightweight, but it can affect the balance of the knife. At the same time, plastic cannot withstand the constant pressure and impact like a wooden handle.
A stainless steel handle, on the other hand, might have you struggling with the grip, especially if the ingredients you're cutting are wet or slippery. But if taken care of properly, stainless steel lasts for a very long time.
The connection between the blade and the handle is also important. There needs to be continuity from the blade extending into the handle. This is why a full-tang knife is better. To create this continuity, knife makers forge the blade and then some extension steel that is encased in the handle later in the process.
Counterfeits are easy to spot because instead of having a full-tang, the knives are often welded together. This makes the knife uncomfortable and unbalanced.
A good knife design lets the chef optimize the knife's qualities. It's a struggle to find the balance between a functional design and an eye-catching one.
The Japanese knife makers seem to have mastered these challenges, though. Japanese smiths trademarked the unique look of different waves of steel on the blade that comes from their folding and forging of the steel. At the same time, the handle perfectly fits the knife and the chef's hand.
Modern knife designs focus mostly on looking minimalist but retaining the functionality of the knife. Some common knife designs let you glide the knife back and forth without lifting it up or letting your fingers touch the chopping board. This is a crucial point for knives because some lower quality knives compromise your finger gripping the knife for how beautiful the knife is. As a cook, this is something you should avoid.
These criteria are what make kitchen knives rankings. There are many great quality knives, but nobody can say for sure that there is a single best knife out of all of them. Maybe because, like knives, the people who use them are different. Having the best kitchen knives is a subjective issue.
If you have a knife for you, that's great! But it's not a guarantee that it will work for other people, too. Like most things in the world, you have to find a knife that works specifically for you. There are great knives out there and great kitchen knife buying guides, too.
If you don't know where to start, research adequately before buying a knife of your own. Read about famously reviewed knives. If you're fond of watching culinary shows, learn what knives they use on the episodes. Or better yet, ask your personal acquaintances for quality knife recommendations.