What makes a kitchen knife “high performance”?

What makes a kitchen knife “high performance”?

The internet is littered with articles, reviews and videos about high performance kitchen knives. So many that, rather than being helpful, they leave you feeling exhausted and confused! In this post we cut through all the noise, the personal opinions and the subjective opinions to get to the heart of the matter – the half dozen key things you need to be aware of when choosing a truly high-quality kitchen knife.

Super sharp
A kitchen knife is simply a tool that helps you cut ingredients. So, the sharper the edge on the blade the better. A super sharp blade means you can do the job with less effort, so your hand gets less tired. It enables you to work faster. It also improves your precision and accuracy – and this is especially important if you want to slice something very thinly and cleanly, or are tackling a task that’s awkward, like jointing a chicken or deboning a fish. What’s more, it’s safer – you have to use more pressure with a blunt knife and this can cause your hand, or the blade, to slip. For all these reasons, high performance means sharp.

Stays sharp
All blades will gradually lose their edge over time. But some go blunt more quickly than others. A high performance kitchen knife will be made from a durable material that retains its sharpness and continues to do an excellent job longer than an average kitchen knife.

Fits comfortably in the hand
The handle must be shaped so that you can work for an extended period without your hand cramping up or developing blisters. Balance is important too. The weight should be distributed equally between the handle and the blade. If a knife is too heavy in the blade it will be uncomfortable to use. If it’s too heavy in the grip it will deliver uneven and less effective cuts. Hold the knife in your hand before purchasing to ensure its weight distribution is just right. 

Let’s talk materials
What is the best material for making a high performance blade for a kitchen knife?

Stainless Steel
Most kitchen knives tend to be forged from stainless steel. This is less expensive than carbon steel or Damascus steel but still creates an excellent blade. It’s easy to sharpen and, unlike carbon steel, it’s not prone to rusting. However, this metal is softer than carbon steel or Damascus steel - it may bend a little and it will need to be sharpened more often.

Carbon Steel
As the name suggests this is forged from a combination of carbon and steel. The carbon makes the steel much stronger and more durable than stainless steel - it won’t bend easily and will hold its sharp edge for much longer. The only downside is that this type of steel is more susceptible to rusting. It therefore needs to be treated with more care and requires regular maintenance.

Damascus Steel
This alloy combines the hardness and durability of carbon steel with the flexibility of stainless steel. Sheets of carbon and steel are interleaved and forged together, meaning you get the benefit of carbon’s durability and strength, but with a degree of flexibility. The fact it is a combination of two materials also has aesthetic benefits – the surface of the steel has an attractive wavy pattern. Damascus steel, for these reasons, tends to cost more than a kitchen knife made from stainless steel or carbon steel.

Ceramic knives are colourful, plus they’re incredibly sharp, lightweight and inexpensive. What’s more they won’t rust and require little sharpening. However, ceramic isn't as durable as other materials. These knives can easily chip or break, and they’re difficult to sharpen. For smaller knives, ceramic may be a good investment, but for your chef’s knife, stick to metal.

Final question
A professional cook, who uses a kitchen knife day after day, for hours on end, obviously needs a high-performance kitchen knife. But what about the average home cook who only spends a small proportion of their time preparing food? Ultimately, only you can decide. But considering that a high performance kitchen knife will last you a lifetime, the benefits surely outweigh the small extra cost. If you view cooking as a chore that you’d like to get done in the least possible time, with the least possible effort, then a high performance knife is well worth the investment. On the other hand, if you love cooking and take pride in producing dishes that look beautiful and taste wonderful, then the answer is the same – you need a high performance kitchen knife!

A character in one of Oscar Wilde’s plays is described as “knowing the price of
everything and the value of nothing”. The only person who will regret buying a high performance kitchen knife is someone who is exclusively focussed on the cost and does not value their time, their effort, their comfort, their safety, the quality of dishes they prepare and the quality of products they choose to give house-room to!

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