How Important Is A Good Knife?

In short: very. A proper kitchen knife can make all the difference and keeping it in good condition is incredibly important. Fix up, look sharp.

The difference between a good knife and a bad knife is startling. Try and dice an onion with a butter knife and you’ll quickly find that out for yourself. I’ll admit that’s obviously a rather extreme example but getting yourself a proper chef’s knife can make all the difference to your skill level when you’re hunched over a chopping board with watery onion eyes. You can trust me on that. It doesn’t even have to be an expensive knife. There are plenty of good-value kitchen knives on the market that can make you feel (and look) like a much better cook than you actually are. Not only can a well-made knife help make you a better cook, but it can also make you enjoy cooking a lot more, too. Speaking from personal experience, I only really started to have a good time on the hobs once I started using knives that weren’t dull as dishwater.

Helen Symonds at Kitchen Provisions thinks that having a good knife in your possession isn’t just recommended, it’s crucial. Why? “You use it every day; it is your primary piece of kit in the kitchen and makes cooking much more fun,” says Helen, “you are also less likely to cut yourself with a sensibly-sized sharp knife; and there is no point buying beautiful ingredients if you are going to bruise and rip them when you could be slicing beautifully.” Simply put: you won’t be doing your dinner justice if you’re using a blunt instrument to make it.

“You only really need one and -– if you look after it – it should last a long long time,” she continues, “a santoku or gyuto shape is good for around 90% of kitchen tasks, so buy one good one and it will do pretty much everything you want it to in the kitchen.” That’s not to say that you can’t eventually expand your family to include other serrated blades and smaller, nimbler models, it’s just that it isn't necessarily the best option to go and get yourself a set of five to start.

Getting a good knife is all well and good but there is a danger of having all the gear and no idea. Learning essential knife techniques – and finding out how to properly handle your blade before you go ham on trying to carve your roast is extremely important. So is being able to differentiate your julienne from a standard slice and dice. Getting to grips with your knife (literally) and figuring out how to use it to the best of its ability is integral before you go and splurge your next paycheque on a snazzy blade.

That’s why I’d recommend starting off your knife journey with something affordable but efficient like a Victorinox blade. They’ve got a large range of different knives available and having one of those in your kitchen will guarantee you’re never far from a versatile blade that’s suitable for a range of tasks. They’re also relatively lightweight, making them far more accessible than more cumbersome blades.

You’ve Got A Knife. What Now?

Once you’ve got a decent knife in your possession, taking good care of it is almost as important as knowing how to use it. Simon Maillett is a bladesmith who makes some truly beautiful chef’s knives. He’s also, unsurprisingly, a big proponent of knife upkeep.

“A lot of customers think that if they buy good quality knives, they don't require sharpening because it's such good quality... obviously, that’s not true,” says Simon, “for honing, stropping, and general care, it's good to know how to do it yourself. It's definitely a skill worth learning.” The same goes for sharpening but Simon admits that’s a skill that’s “harder to learn” and something you might want to go to a professional sharpener for. Before you learn how to do it properly yourself, at least. “I recommend my customers do learn to sharpen for themselves but also that they send their knives to a professional a couple of times a year for a good reset,” he says. Solid advice.

It is, however, easy to be put off by the price point of a good kitchen knife. Many of them can run up to well above £200 which, compared to how much you’re already spending on your weekly shop and rent, might seem like a lot of money. Alfie Fry of Cabin Knives is a one-man knifemaking machine who thinks that people shouldn’t be afraid of spending money on a proper knife.

“Most people will cook for themselves 5-6 days a week 1-2 times a day,” says Alfie, “if you take that as an estimate at the lower end then you are using your kitchen knives for at least 260 days a year. If you were using anything else in your life this much then it is pretty safe to say that you would have invested a bit of money into it, so why look at a kitchen knife any different? You do not need to spend hundreds of pounds on buying a full set of knives, all you need is a decent quality, do-it-all knife. If you take good care of it then that will do most of your jobs for you.”

It’s simple logic, really: treat your knives with care and they’ll treat you well back. Just don’t – for the love of God – put them in the dishwasher. That would be a very bad idea. If your flatmate ever puts your knife in the dishwasher, you have my permission to leave a very passive-aggressive message on the WhatsApp group chat.

Other things you should never do with a knife include using them on bamboo or glass chopping boards and stashing them in a cutlery drawer with the rest of your forks and spoons. Even keeping your knife in a knife block isn’t recommended as it can dull the knife extremely quickly; not to mention the fact that those blocks can be a haven for bacteria and other baddies.

Basically, there are loads of different things that you should and should not do with a knife. I hope that this has helped you realise that, like a pet, a proper knife is a worthy investment if you’re willing to put in the work.

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