Right Knife for the Job

Right Knife for the Job

I’ve just come back from a tour of the Grohmann Knife factory in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Making knives is an ancient process, from when stone was ground against stone to form an edge. Today, a piece of metal is ground or forged to form a beveled edge and then a handle is fastened. The process is more complicated than it sounds as there must be balance between the handle and the blade, quality of the steel to consider, integrity of the wood or other handle material, and the purpose of the knife. It’s more of a craft than you might expect.

Peeling and paring knives can be somewhat inter-changeable. A peeling knife is slightly curved and is usually about 2.5-3” (6-8cm) long. It is thin and easily slips peel from an apple or potato. A paring knife has a straight blade, is a bit longer and can be serrated. 

Next are your utility or petty knives. These are longer 5-7” (12-17cm), with thicker blades, heavier than paring but lighter than a chef, these knives are good for cutting up small vegetables or fruit. Smaller hands like the weight and dexterity of a utility blade.

Chef’s knives are next. Traditional chef’s blades, somewhat rounded with a fine tip, and available in 7-10” (17-25cm), have heavier construction so the knife does the work. You may rock the blade to finely dice or mince. A santuko is a Japanese style of chef’s knife, with a flatter, thinner edge that does a great job of chopping, dicing and slicing. It may have a granton edge, little hollows in the blade that help release the vegetables as you chop. There are rocking santukos, too.

Fillet and boning knives are used to remove meat or fish from skin and bones. Some have flexible blades that bend to do a closer cut. These knives come in a wide variety of lengths.

A slicer is like your traditional carving knife, used for cutting cooked meats (mostly). It is thinner, flatter and longer than most other knives, 6-8” (15-20cm).

If you make homemade bread, a serrated knive is a must-have. Those serration tips gently break the crust, allowing the blade to cut into the bread without squashing it. The same goes for cutting sandwiches. 

There are more knives to consider, such as cleavers, nakiri, and butcher blades. A basic kitchen collection would include a paring, a chef and a bread knife. 

There isn’t enough room here to talk about construction (another column!). Essentially, high quality steel, properly balanced with a comfortable handle is the prime consideration. Lifestyle dictates whether or not you want to hand wash (preferred) or use the dishwasher. Always try the knife in your hand for fit and feel. I have a whole new appreciation of knife construction since my Grohmann Knife Factory tour. 

Did you know? The oldest known knife is at the Louvre, made from flint and carved ivory, dating 3200-3500BC.



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