Get the right cutlery for your kitchen
When equipping your kitchen, knives are probably one of the most important decisions and purchases you’ll make. Unless you’re comfortable ripping food apart with your bare hands, it’s pretty likely you’ll need knives.
Choosing the right cutlery isn’t as easy and just walking into the store and buying any available set. There’s too much of a selection, and too many bad options out there, so without the right knowledge you might end up wasting your money. Thankfully there are many bloggers, including myself, who will help.
Individual pieces VS a set
In the discussion of buying cutlery, the first debate you’ll encounter will be that of buying a set versus individual pieces. I personally and completely understand both sides of this debate, but I feel both sides fail to really ask “What are your needs?”
Are you starting out with nothing? Or do you already have some cutlery? If you already have some pieces, then I’d agree with the logic of buying individual items to fulfill what might be missing in your kitchen. If not, then I’d lean on buying a set. I’d also advise a set if you have little to nothing, or your current knives are old and/or falling apart.
Despite the criticism, there is much value in a set with a nice knife block you can store your cutlery in. Over fifteen years ago when I moved into my first apartment, I bought a modestly-priced set of knives from Target. While many claimed I’d toss them out after a few years, I still have them to this day. It goes to show that you can’t quickly judge.
Now let’s get down to brass tacks. Whether you’re buying individual items or a full set, here’s the essentials you should have in your kitchen:
Chef’s Knife: This is your workhorse, your first choice when you’re going to chop vegetables or slice up meat. I use my chef’s knife more than any other knife in my kitchen, and thus I’d advise you not to think cheap when purchasing one. I’d even go so far as to advise buying a high quality knife aside of any set you might buy. It’s a long-term investment.
Carving Knife: In many sets, this knife will seemingly look like a slimmer version of the chef’s knife. It’s main role is as its named. You use it to carve a turkey, chicken, roast, etc. Some manufacturers will use serrated blades (blades with teeth) for this, thus it can then double as a bread knife.
Paring Knife: Many see this knife with its short blade and overlook its value. A paring knife is ideal when you need to be intricate, or when you’re cutting small items. I mean, you wouldn’t want to try carving out the seeds of an apple with your chef’s knife, would you?
Boning Knife: Not necessarily a necessity, but if you purchase a set this knife will be included. It mainly looks like you took the handle of a chef’s knife and put a long thin blade on it. The main purpose is to remove bones from poultry, meat, and fish. However, I tend to use mine more as a utility knife, just for whatever purposes I need the finesse of a paring knife with more length.
If you’re buying individual knives, there’s your main four. If your carving knife won’t cut it for bread, then you might want to consider buying a separate bread knife.
How to pick good cutlery
When you’re ready to go out to buy cutlery, first have a budget in mind. We’re all not made of money, thus it’s ideal to have a limit. If you’re planning on buying a set, think in terms of $100-$200 at the least. It might seem like a lot to some, but I want you to think of your knives as a long-term investment. I still have my knife set now after fifteen years, thus it was a good investment. However, I’ve seen cheap knives that would easily break on use. Don’t skimp.
Less is more when buying a cutlery set, so don’t purchase more than you need. That 42-piece set for $100 might seem tempting, but I’d more believe it will be shoddy-made merchandise. Plus if you’re only going to use 3-4 knives out of 12 possibilities, then you’re just spending money unnecessarily. Spend for quality over quantity. Also, make sure to shop around. Don’t just go and buy from the first place you encounter. Go to the big box discount stores, the more pricey department stores, kitchen speciality shops, anywhere you see knives being sold.
If you can, try to see if you can hold the knives in your hand. I know this might be hard when you’re dealing with retail, but even the demo sets locked into the shelf can tell a lot. Look at the handles, try to hold one, examine the steel quality, thickness, and construction. If you’re spending $500 or more for a set or a few knives, then demand to fully examine them.
If you can (and can afford it), favor forged steel over stamped. Forged steel is really more or less like the classic blacksmith method. A steel bar is heated and pounded into the shape before sharpening. Stamped is more a piece of sheet metal that’s cut into blades using a stamping press. Forging ensures a more durable and quality blade, but it will cost more. At the least, invest in one high quality chef’s knife made of forged steel. My father actually gave me such a knife, purchased from a restaurant supply shop.
Lastly, make sure to get a straightening solution. A steel is the most familiar solution, but you can also find sharpening stones that will do the same. Bear in mind none of these solutions are true sharpeners. They only make sure the cutting edge is straight and thus will be effective. When it does come time to sharpen, take your knives to a professional. You don’t have to do this often, but once or twice a year will maintain your set. Like I keep saying, this is a long-term investment, thus you should make the effort to get the most for your money.