10 Best Chef's Knives | March 2017
- dimpled grip is slip-proof
- seamless build for easy cleaning
- some find it uncomfortable to wield
- stainless bolster and butt end
- waterproof and bacteria-resistant
- too delicate to use on bones
- damascus pattern in the blade
- 33 layers of stainless steel
- requires a large sharpening stone
- uniquely welded from 3 steel types
- smooth stain-resistant handle
- spine digs into the index finger
|Brand||ZWILLING J.A. Henckels|
- strong full-tang blade
- composed of high-carbon steel
- fits nicely in the hand
- expertly made in switzerland
- backed by a lifetime warranty
- has a pinky hook at the handle's end
- thin edge requires less force
- red and black linen micarta handle
- dishwasher safe for easy cleaning
Making The Cut
If you've ever cut yourself while working in the kitchen, there's a good chance that the knife you were using was too dull. Sure, it did a number on your fingers, but that's only because it wasn't sharp enough to cut your food more easily, so it slipped and got you instead.
A good knife cuts by virtue of its edge, which must be honed to a crisp line, thin as can be and marked with microscopic peaks and valleys. Those peaks and valleys create friction against a piece of food that you want to slice, and when you glide them along the surface of the food, they tear open a crack in that surface, after which the continued friction of the knife's edge and its properties as a wedge work through the rest of the cut.
Conversely, if your knife is too dull, instead of a crisp edge with many peaks and valleys to create friction, you have a rounded surface, smooth like a wire. If you draw that smooth texture across the surface of your food, there's nothing for it to grab on with, so it slips and cuts into the next thing it finds. Unfortunately, that's often your other hand.
It's a simple matter of physics, but it requires that your knives receive a good honing after every couple of uses. That's why a lot of knife block sets come with honing rods to keep your best knives sharp. Those physics also mandate that a good chef's knife not be serrated. You'll notice that none of the chef's knives on our list have an overt serration, and if you have one that does, it's a sure sign that you've got something cheap, and dangerous, in your hands.
A Cut Above The Rest
Knife nuts like me will often go into a high-end kitchen shop–the kind where everything in sight is mindbogglingly expensive, and just stare at the gorgeous knives in the case. It doesn't help if you have an affinity for the aesthetic and history of samurai swords. Knowing how those epic blades of ancient Japan were forged, one can spend a cozy afternoon tracing the demarcations in the metal of these chef's knives, marveling at the craftsmanship, the stories behind each fold of the steel.
Of course, you shouldn't go choosing a chef's knife based on its aesthetics unless you know what it is you're looking for. For example, a close visual examination of these knives should be enough to tell you how they were forged and cut. A blade that looks like a single piece of metal, with very few variations in its coloring and striation, is liable to have been laser-cut. Laser cut blades are incredibly sharp, but they don't have the same time-intensive craftsmanship behind them.
When you see those waves running through a blade, the striations that look like sound waves or the flow of water in steel, you're seeing evidence of the physical folding and hammering of the blade. It's a more traditional method of forging, and the knife it results in may need more sharpening out of the box, but these are the blades that will last you a lifetime.
The big downside to the more traditionally forged blades is price. Most home chefs would do just fine with a laser cut blade and never feel the lack of their more expensive counterparts. If you're willing to spend the extra bit on a hand-forged chef's knife, however, it's probably the last one you'll ever have to buy.
Blade Of A Bygone Age
One of the most epic depictions of the dawn of man in any art form comes to us in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Kubrick shows us the first moment that primitive man took up tools of any kind. He shows us the immediate consequences of that discovery, and implies its through-line to man's development into a space-traveling species.
It's an amazing feat of cinema, and it's one that immediately comes to mind when looking back over the history of the knife. Researchers in Spain discovered a flint knife deep within a cave that dates back 1.4 million years. It's humbling, to say the least, to think about mankind functioning at any level so many years ago, and it makes one wonder about the knives we'll leave behind for archaeologists to find millions of years in the future.
Since that date, the knife has seen plenty of transformations, evolving from the flint tools of the stone age into bronze and eventually iron. Steel blades grew in popularity for military purposes before they found their way into the kitchen, and throughout the middle ages, most individuals carried some sort of blade on their persons that served for protection, as well as for food preparation.
As modernity reared its head after the discovery of America, Europe saw an enormous influx of raw materials and wealth, eventually leading to class revolutions that offered more diverse culinary experiences to citizens on either side of the Atlantic, necessitating the slow and steady development of culinary tools like these chef's knives.