For kitchen essentials nothing is more essential than a good set of knives. A bad knife is a dangerous tool even in the most experienced hands. Dull knives don’t cut; they mash and slip and slide on the food and manage to cut fingers easily. A knife that doesn’t fit your hand will make the chores in the kitchen seem endless.
If you are going to be serious in the kitchen, the first and most important purchase you should make is on your knives. You don’t need to buy a big set and spend hundreds of dollars all at one time. Go to the mall, check out the knives. Hold them and see how they feel in your hand. A good knife should feel balanced, the handle should be comfortable to your grip.
The biggest question is, what makes a good knife? There are a number of criteria to answer that question. Quality of the steel, shape of the knife, the handle. Steel is the first thing to look at when buying a knife, cheaper knives are made from carbon steel and that doesn’t make for a good knife as it rusts easily. High carbon, stain resistant steel is what you want. The steel should be well polished, feel smooth and look smooth. A pitted or a rough finish on a knife is a sign of poor quality.
The next thing to look at, is how was the blade made? There are two processes to make a knife, it is either stamped or forged. A stamped knife is stamped or cut out of a mold and is not the signature of a great knife. Forged means the knife was continually heated and the metal folded over itself making it much stronger. Forged blades will hold their edge better.
The third thing to look at is whether or not the “tang” ( the part of the knife that extends into the handle) is full and goes all the way to the end of the handle. The knife should also be one complete piece from tip of blade to end of tang. Some knives are two piece and you can see a obvious connection at the bolster, the top edge of the knife handle before the blade begins. A good knife will have a thick bolster where as a stamped knife will have a bolster about the same thickness as the spine of the blade.
The heel of the blade the end of the knife where your hand rests should have a finger guard. This serves two purposes of insuring that your fingers are safe but also protect them from constant rubbing on sharp metal.The last thing to look at is whether or not the handle has a secure grip that won’t allow the hand to slip while using.
To recap a good knife is a high carbon steel, forged, rust resistant,one piece with a thick bolster and flared finger guard and a secure slip resistant handle. It should balance well in your hand and feel comfortable.
Once you find a brand and style that you like the next question is, what type of knife should I buy? If your just starting out a full set of knives could be a really expensive proposition. For basic kitchen chores 3 or four knives will do to start. First would be a 3 or 4 inch paring knife, a 5 inch serrated utility knife, a 6 inch chef knife and a 10 or 12 inch slicing knife. You can probably shop for a small set of knives in a style you like at an affordable price and then add extra pieces over time.
The paring knife is great for peeling and cutting fruits and vegetables. The 5 inch utility is great for cutting tomatoes and soft fruits and vegetables and breads. a 6 inch chef knife is the most used knife you’ll have. It is great for cleaning and cutting vegetables and fruits, mincing and chopping herbs, garlic onions. The slicing knife lives up to its name it is used for slicing all kinds of meats. With this starter group you can manage just about every need in the kitchen.
Make sure if you do invest in good knives you learn how to care and sharpen them. No dishwashers please. A good sharpening steel should be your first addition. Clean your knives after every use. Dry them and store them in a block not laid out in a drawer. Take care of your knives and they should give you years of quality service.