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Your Most Important Kitchen Tools: Knives (Part 3)

The first in this series of columns dealt with which types of knives you should purchase and the second column briefly reviewed knife construction and how this might influence your purchase. Now it’s time to go and actually look at some knives. But what should you look for when you get to the kitchen store?

You’re going to find an amazing array of knives from dozens of manufacturers. Go to more than one kitchen store (like Sur la Table or Williams-Sonoma). Look at the different brands and see what might fit your price range. Knives with wooden handles are generally cheaper and make great first knives.

The key is to go and look at and hold the knives. How does the knife feel in your hand. Is the handle too large for you? It’s not a good idea to have the grip be over or undersized for your hand or you won't be able to grip it well. Likewise the length of the blade (as well as the total length of the knife) shouldn’t feel too large for you. If the blade feels too long it can affect how well you are able to handle the knife. Some cooks feel very comfortable with a 10 inch Chef’s knife but others with smaller hands might be more at ease with a 6 or 8 inch blade.

The weight of a knife can be very important in how much you will enjoy using it. Some Chef’s knives have blades that are much thicker at the base, with heavier handles. For a first knife this can be an advantage, giving you more control than a lightweight knife.

Balance is a factor as well. The best knives have a well balanced feel with the handle being just a little heavier than the blade. If you drop the knife, having the balance slightly weighted to the handle means that the knife is less likely to fall point down. Not only will your feet (and your floor) thank you, but you'll preserve your investment in the knife.

Spend some time handling each brand of knife. Focus first on the Chef’s knife. If you are more comfortable with a wooden handle, then by all means buy that one. Don’t let the latest fashion in knives influence you. Ask about the store’s return policy. A lot of kitchen stores recognize that you will be a repeat customer and that making sure you are happy with an important purchase like your knives will keep you a customer for life.

Now that you have your knives, how can you best maintain them? (That’s next week.)

Dr. Gourmet
December 9, 2005