Small Swords

Some shopping guidelines to eliminate cutlery confusion and help you zero in on your knife needs.

| February/March 2001

It ain't a kitchen without a good knife.

Not long ago I, too, was a member of the dull-knife clan, ignorantly smashing my tomatoes into slices and blaming my son for dulling the knives (he used them to slice Legos). Fortunately, a friend alerted me to *Northwestern Cutlery in Chicago, where below-retail prices and a knowledgeable staff helped me find affordable knives that could truly slice and dice. I discovered a new culinary world of tear lessly chopped onions and paper-thin pepper strips as I slashed my way through familiar recipes.

Though knife preference varies from one cook to the next, we'll give you some shopping guidelines to eliminate cutlery confusion and help you zero in on your knife needs. We tested a wide range of blades in our kitchen - putting them up against, such hard-to-chop foods as squash, peppers, cilantro and ginger root - then picked our favorites. The cutlery companies recommended here manufacture some quality products and provide excellent customer service.


Chefs knives range from six to 14 inches in blade length, but we narrowed our field of cutlery comparisons to 8-inch chef's knives. Versatile and essential, this knife is used for chopping, dicing, slicing and mincing. A basic knife collection will include an 8-inch chef's knife, a paring knife, a serrated bread knife and, if you're a big meat and poultry lover, a slicer. You'll also need a sharpening steel to keep your knives in good shape.

We rated the knives on price, comfort, quality and performance. First, bear in mind that your knife is an investment and should last you a lifetime. Handle the knife in the store to see if it feels comfortable in your hand and is easy to maneuver. Check the size and weight of the knife. You'll need to decide whether you prefer a wood or a molded polypropylene handle. If you prefer wood, make sure it's treated to prevent moisture and food from collecting on the handle. Also, you should find out the Rockwell hardness of the blade, its steel composition, and whether it's a stamped or forged knife (see "Knife Lingo "). The knife should be sharp enough to cut with precision and without too much effort on your part-you should feel like a pro, not a klutz, when you're using your new knife (for tips on sharpening, see " The Cutting Edge "). If you're not satisfied with the knife take it back it 4, to the store or get in touch with the manufacturer. To find out how to clean and care for your knife, see" Cutlery Care ".

Related info:
Knife Lingo
Cutlery Care
A Better Edge

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