The Best Chef Knife Sets
The Best Chef Knife Sets
As a chef of any kind, your knives represent your most important tools, and as such it is vital to make the right decision when it comes to choosing which knives to buy. There are many available brands, sizes and types of knives, which can make it confusing and difficult to find the best options for you. In this guide we can help you choose from the wide variety available and make sure you are set up with a good quality set that is suitable for your needs.
In order to best understand which knives to buy it is first important to understand what different types of knives are available. There are many different varieties of professional chef knives, each designed for very specific jobs. When choosing what to buy you need to make sure that you are getting only the knives you need, not the ones you do not need. Below we will look at 4 types of knife that will be absolutely crucial to a pastry chef, that any set you buy should definitely include.
The cooks knife is a highly important and versatile knife, used for jobs ranging from chopping to slicing. Typically a large blade that curves to a point it is used in a rocking motion to finely chop or slice items. This knife will be one of your most commonly used knives in the kitchen, so it is important to choose the correct one.
Paring Knife/Utility Knife
These two varieties we have grouped together and they are very similar in the way in which they are used. Both knives are used for more delicate cutting and trimming of items, as they are significantly smaller than a cooks knife and therefore easier to be precise with.
The key difference between the two types is the length of the blade. A paring knife will normally have a blade of around 3-4 inches long, whereas a utility knife is usually between 4-7 inches long. Depending on the size of the job you are doing, you may find that either knife is suitable, but for larger jobs you will normally need a utility knife and smaller jobs will use a paring knife.
A serrated knife is similar in size to a utility knife, but with a serrated blade. As the blade is serrated its uses vary from that of a utility knife. The most common uses for a serrated knife will be slicing small objects like bread, pastry or soft fruits. The benefit to this particular type of knife is that you can be precise with your slicing due to its more compact size.
A bread knife is in some ways the big brother of the serrated knife, in that it is significantly bigger. Its relation is similar to that of the cooks knife to a utility knife, in that it is composed similarly, but the difference is size. A bread knife, sometimes called a pastry knife, is a 8-12 inch long serrated blade, often with a curve, used for slicing larger bread, pastry or soft fruits. This is the knife you would use to slice loaves of bread or cakes, so is a crucial part of your knife set.
A sharpening steel, whilst not a knife, is a highly important part of any kitchen knife set, as it is used to maintain your other knives. As its name suggests it is used to sharpen the edges of your blades to keep them sharp. Keeping your knives sharp is a key part of your knife maintenance as a sharp knife is easier and indeed safer to use. A blunted knife will be more likely to slip against a surface, causing a potential hazard, so it is always a good idea to keep your blades well sharpened.
Outside of this selection of knives there are a wide array of options, many of which will be of little to no use to a pastry chef. Most professional knife sets will come with some of these varieties in them, and we will look more into the decisions of buying knife sets later, but for now we will look at some knives you may see and why you may not need them.
When looking at professional knife sets you may come across a filleting knife. Whilst it may look like a utility knife from the surface it does in fact differ in a crucial way. As it is used, as the name suggests, to fillet fish the blade had a significant amount of flexibility. Unlike any other knife, the blade will curve under pressure, making it unsuitable for almost any job other than filleting fish. As a pastry chef it is unlikely that you will be filleting many fish, so you won’t have a need for a knife of this type.
A boning knife is used in a very different way to most other blades. Unlike many, which are used horizontally a boning knife is used vertically, utilising the sharp tip and rigid blade to cut into meat to remove or cut around bones, hence the name. As it is unlikely to be useful for many other jobs due to its very specific composition it is a knife a pastry chef will have very little need for.
When choosing what knives to buy there are some key considerations to take into account, as it can be easy to fall into a few pitfalls. In this section we are going to look into how to choose kitchen knives that are best for you, and what to consider when doing so. When you start to look for your kitchen knives it is important to consider the following criteria.
Cost is a highly significant factor in choosing kitchen knives. Always remember that the best kitchen knife set may not be the most expensive available. You should consider price and value for money alongside all of the other factors we have listed below, and try and find the best value for money option according to your own needs. Equally you should be wary of abnormally cheap options, as quality and durability are likely to be poor at the very cheapest level.
Materials and Handling
It is really important to remember that your kitchen knives will spend a lot of time in your hands, therefore the best chef knives need to be comfortable to use and hold. When looking for knives the best thing to do is hold or touch them, to get a feeling for the grip. You should look for a comfortable grip, to prevent fatigue as you hold them for extended periods.
Material can also be highly important in choosing a good knife set as different materials can greatly affect the resulting knife. Materials like carbon steel and stainless steel tend to make up a majority of the options available, and can prove to be durable options. If you are looking at the higher end of the price scale you may look to stainless steel alloys, which are widely considered to be superior to both carbon steel and stainless steel but are normally quite expensive.
Weight and Balance
As we said above, remember that your knives will be spending a lot of time in your hands, so it is also important to consider the weight and balance of the knives. Weight in particular is highly important, as a knife that is too heavy will increase the effort used and your fatigue over long usage. Most modern knives are designed with lightness in mind, so you should have plenty of reasonable options whatever weight you prefer.
Balance can be key to smooth and safe use of knives. Ideally you should want your knives to balance around the hilt, meaning the weight is distributed evenly between the handle and the blade. This will allow for a smoother cutting motion, and reduced stress on the hand.
Things to be aware of
There are a few things to be mindful of when looking for the best kitchen knife set, one of the most important ones is so-called ‘no need to sharpen knives’. They will often come in the form of ceramic blades, but be warned they will dull over time and cannot be sharpened without specialist equipment. They may last a reasonable amount of time, but unlike a conventional steel based knife will have a finite lifespan.
Also, it is good to be aware of the construction of the blade. When looking at any professional kitchen knife you should check with areas of metal joints or welds as these can be weak spots, especially around the hilt where the majority of the pressure on the knife is when cutting. Ideally the hilt of the knife should have no gaps, which will also reduce areas for potential bacterial growth due to trapped food particles.
To help you find your way to the best professional chef knives, we will look at a few options that you may find and look at pros and cons for each. We will focus on a few popular brand names, ranging in price point to demonstrate the variety available on the market.
Victorinox (Review by David Drohan)
Victorniox is a renowned swiss knife maker, producing fully forged blades of high carbon stainless steel. There are two main varieties of Victorinox knives, differing mainly in the handle. The entry level option is with a fibrox handle, which is dishwasher safe and designed to prevent slipping during use. The second option is with wooden handles, making them hand wash only and lighter. I have been using Victorinox knives for over 10 years and would consider them the best entry level options for an aspiring chef, especially the wooden handles which are very comfortable to use and extremely well balanced. A large set of Fibrox knives will cost around £216 for 11 knives, but as a good alternative there is a 6 piece rosewood set with all the knives a pastry chef will need for £216 as well, which I would highly recommend.
Hygiplas knives will often represent the cheapest options available, made from a hardened stainless steel with nylon handles. The blades are very easy to sharpen, and due to the handles composition they are dishwasher safe. Hygiplas will likely be the best starter options for many people, with a 7 piece set available for as low as £60.
The lifespan of a hygiplas knife will depend on its usage, but for most you should expect to see several years of solid working provided they are looked after.
Global knives are formed of Cromova-18 high carbon stainless steel, which is hardened and ice tempered to resist corrosion. This steel allows the knife to hold its acute cutting edge whilst being soft enough to allow for easy sharpening. The handles of Global knives are designed to be hollow, and then are filled with enough sand to counter the weight of the blade. Because of this the handles are single forged, meaning no joins and a smoother grip. The knives are also designed to have a natural feeling grip on the handles, specifically to reduce fatigue during use. A full set of 7 knives with a carry case will cost around £624, so do represent a significant investment, but they will give you many years of quality, durability and strength.
Yaxell Gou (Review by Ben Mariner)
I have had my Yaxell Gou cooks knife for 10 years now and I can’t say I have ever found any other brand that compares. The price is as you would expect in the higher range, but the knives are fantastic as a long term investment. They are not only beautiful to look at, but in my experience the edge retains its sharpness for far longer than other brands.
For the last 10 years it has been with me everyday and has never let me down or stopped being an absolute pleasure to use.
Yaxell Gou knives are made in Seki, the famous city where Samurai swords have been produced for 700 years. Each knife is crafted from 101 layers of Damascus steel, with a micro carbide SG2 stainless steel hardened to Rockwell 63. This provides perfect sharpness and edge retention, as well as a beautiful layered look.
The handles are made from Micarta, a strong material made of layers of canvas cloth set in resin. The result is as hygienic as stainless steel, but muc more comfortable.
At £299 for a cooks knife, they are at the high end of the price bracket, but due to the quality and longevity they are a great investment. A top end 3 piece set will cost £1,299, so they are at the very top level.
Kai Shun (Review by Ben Mariner)
Kai Shun knives are cheaper than Yaxell Gou but still provide the same type of craftsmanship. As much as I would still choose the Yaxell if I had the choice, my Kai Shun has lasted 15 years and is a great back up to the Yaxell. Kai Shun knives are extremely light and well balanced and hold their sharpness very well. They are also strong and robust to last a lifetime.
Shun is also Manufactured in Seki, the Shun range is made using 36 layers of Damascus steel surrounding a hard VG-MAX steel core. The Pakkawood D-shaped handles are similar but slightly different to the traditional Japanese style. Kai shun is a great investment for a professional chef looking for all the characteristics of a high end beautifully crafted Japanese knife, but are not yet ready to invest in a Yaxell.
The Kai shun knives are a little cheaper, with a standard cooks knife costing £148.
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