Charles Lamchops: Tools That Make the Cuts, How to Choose the Perfect Chef’s Knife

By Charles Lam

One of my most favorite moments moving into my first apartment was shopping for my own kitchen gear. My bank account, however, was not as excited.

The first walk through Sur La Table was a heart breaker, everything was so pretty, so shiny, so sharp but, unfortunately, so expensive. My roommates and I quickly spirited away to Target where they decided to get a 16-piece kitchen set for $15.

16 pieces. $15.

The spoons were plastic, the spatulas were plastic, even the whisk was plastic. The chef’s knife was, at least, made out of some kind of metal but it wasn’t even sharpened, rather, it was serrated.

After a month with the knife and multiple near-lost fingers, I finally decided to just buy my own.

When shopping for a chef’s knife, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. The chef’s knife is going to be your most used knife so:

One, it has to be comfortable for you to use. This means it needs to be weighted well, not too heavy as to be cumbersome but also not too light as to require you to put too much muscle into cutting.

Most kitchen supply stores will have samples knifes available for you to try out. They may even have a few carrots or onions available to cut up. Keep in mind while trying the knives that samples are used very often and can end up being dull.

At this point, you’re trying to find a knife that’s comfortable in your hand. You want the handle to fit well in your palm while you’re holding the knife properly, i.e. pinching the very end of the blade between your thumb and index and middle fingers.

The center of mass of the knife should be right at the center of the knife, at the pinch point. The knife should be light enough that your hand doesn’t cramp after repeatedly making the chopping motion but heavy enough to allow the weight of the knife to do most of the work.

Two, it has to be durable. Everyday use dulls knives quickly. You can keep your knife cutting well by honing before each use but the easiest way to make sure your knife stays sharp for as long as possible is to use one with harder steel.

This information can come from either a really good sales person or the company’s website. The higher the number reported, the sturdier the knife is going to stay. A Rockwell hardness range from 60 to 70 is perfect for any kitchen.

For those who don’t want to worry about sharpening ever, ceramic knives sport hardnesses in the nineties and never need to be sharpened. However, they tend to be super brittle. Make sure to keep them away from bones, glass and metals.

Also remember that, though Japanese knives might have higher hardness numbers, they’re normally sharpened to a more extreme degree, causing them to dull more.

Don’t be worried if you end up spending more than $50 on a knife. A good chef’s knife can be sharpened dozens of times and will last you many orders of magnitudes longer than cheap serrated knives. As long as you don’t abuse your tools, give them the care they need and enjoy what you’re doing; you’ll end up with a friend in the kitchen that makes you quicker so you can enjoy your food faster.