Knives — there seem to be a gazillion of them out there for the home and professional cook: chef’s knives, paring knives, boning knives, cleavers, serrated knives, santoku knives and more. Which one do you really need — and how do you go about finding it?
The chef’s or cook’s knife seems to be the must-have, according to an informal survey of some of the pros, like James P. DeWan, a culinary instructor at Kendall College in Chicago, co-author of “Zwilling J.A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills” and Chicago Tribune columnist.
“I think the only knife you really need is a chef’s knife and maybe a paring knife,” DeWan said in a telephone interview. Instead of spending a “whole bunch of money” on different knives, you should invest the money in a good chef’s knife, a paring knife and a whetstone and sharpening steel to keep the edge honed, he said.
What to look for?
“I think a comfortable grip is the main thing,” DeWan said. “You know, it’s got to feel right in your hand.”
Whether the knife should feel heavy or light is personal preference. DeWan himself likes “knives with weight.” He also likes a chef’s knife with a medium-length blade; too long a blade is hard to use.
DeWan said you'll want a knife with a full tang, meaning the metal from which the blade is fashioned extends completely through the handle. A high-carbon stainless steel blade will stay sharp when you sharpen it and hold an edge, he said.
“I’ve never been one to be about the bling,” DeWan said. “I think you are better off with a basic knife. Keep it sharp; you'll be much better off.”
What sort of knives do the pros reach for in their kitchens? Here’s an informal sampling from some of North America’s top chefs, cookbook authors and television cooking show hosts.
▪ Dorie Greenspan: Author of the soon-published “Dorie’s Cookies,” this star baker and cook wrote in an email from her home in Westbrook, Conn., that she recently purchased some Shun Cutlery brand knives. Her two most-used knives? Shun’s 5 1/2-inch Classic Santoku Knife ($150) and the 8-inch Classic Western Cook’s Knife ($188); shun.kaiusaltd.com
▪ Pati Jinich: The Washington-area chef, author and television cooking show star has been using a Shun 10-inch Classic Chef’s Knife ($200) for years. “I love it because although it is very light, overall, the handle feels very sturdy and has a great grip,” wrote Jinich in an email; shun.kaiusaltd.com
▪ Ina Pinkney: The Chicago-based chef, author and Chicago Tribune columnist has wielded two knives for decades: Wusthof’s Classic 10-inch Cook’s Knife ($169.95) and 6-inch Grand Prix Utility Knife ($69.95). “They both are weighted right for me (not too heavy) and hold an edge,” she writes in an email; www.cookswarehouse.com
▪ Evan Sheridan: Executive pastry chef at Chicago’s Sixteen, Sheridan likes the 6.4-inch Togiharu Cobalt Damascus Santoku multipurpose knife ($128). “It’s made partially with cobalt so it is more sturdy than other blades and holds an edge for longer,” he wrote in a Facebook message. “The Damascus finish is fancy, so I like that too”; korin.com/site/home.html
▪ Ming Tsai: Star of his own television cooking series, the Boston-area restaurateur prefers the 7-inch Togiharu EA line’s Molybdenum Santoku knife ($89-$109). “I love the thinness, sharpness, great balance and weight so I can buzz thru anything,” Tsai wrote in an email; korin.com/Togiharu-Moly-Santoku
▪ Virginia Willis: The Atlanta-based chef, author and Southern food authority writes in an email that her “desert island knife” would be a “long heavy duty chef’s knife.” Her go-to knives are the Wusthof Classic line, such as the 10-inch Cook’s Knife ($169.95); www.cookswarehouse.com
▪ Grace Young: A wok expert and cookbook author, this New Yorker vouches for her New West KnifeWorks Santoku knife. “Santoku means 3 virtues and is excellent for slicing, chopping and mincing,” she wrote in an email. “I use it for everything. I like the way it feels in my hand. I like that it’s made in America and has a lifetime guarantee.” And, as Young noted, the handles have gotten particularly colorful in the Jackson, Wyo., company’s G-Fusion Santoku line ($319); www.newwestknifeworks.com