10 Knife-Buying Tips

10 Knife-Buying Tips


No tools define a cook more than his or her knives. Why do you think we carry them around in rolls instead of hauling backpacks full of pots and pans? Exactly. 

Here are some random tips when shopping for kitchen knives:

1. You don’t need many. Honest. If you’re just starting out look for a chef’s knife in the 8-10″ range, a large serrated bread knife and a utility blade blade in the 4-6″ range. What? No paring knife? Actually, I hate paring knives. I don’t even own one any more. When you’re ready to move on, contemplate a semi-flexible boning knife for butchery duties and a long slicer for thinly dispatching roasts and the like. Also, I’d get a decent pair of kitchen shears, the kind that come apart into two pieces. I never cut with a knife what I can cut with scissors. After all, I’ve been using those things since kindergarten. 

2. By and large I think the Japanese manufacture the best cutlery in the world, much better than the big European brands that came to dominate the American market in the 90s. Superior steel aside, many find that Japanese shapes such as those of the santoku, with it’s dropped point, and the cleaver-like nakiri, are handier in the modern kitchen.   

3. That said, when you’re ready to invest in R.G.S. (really good s***) I’d look to America. For my money, Cut Brooklyn and Murray Carter Cutlery (made in New York and Oregon respectively) are as good as any knives in the world. Both can be sought out on the interwebs. Cheap … no. Worth it? Totally.

4. Steer clear of sets … period. No exceptions. Ever.

5. When it comes to storage, I have two words: magnetic strips.  

6. Cutting is a system involving your hand, a knife, some food and a cutting board. I cannot over-empasize the importance of the omega component. I’ve seen people buy $300 blades and then run them on a cheap board and curse the knife. Your board needs to be heavy and it needs to be rock maple. Plastic boards are fine for butchery, but when it comes to serious slicing and dicing (not to mention chopping and mincing) you want wood. Bamboo? I’m not a fan. Give me a maple board from the John Boos company every time. And no, they don’t pay me to say that.

7. Want to know how to turn a quality knife into a box cutter? Cut a box. It’s just that simple.

8. Want to know another way to turn a quality knife into a box cutter? Put it in the dishwasher. Once is all it takes. 

9. If you like your knives sharp, have those edges maintained regularly by a professional knife sharpener once or twice a year. Do not use a honing steel. You’ll put your eye out!

10. Never, ever, ever run with knives.  

Pictured above: A few of my favorite things including two Carter knives, two Cut Brooklyn knives and one very old Sabatier knife. All are made of carbon steel which can be sharpened to near light saber sharpness. They tend to discolor, however, and require more sharpening. The bottom is a good example of a nakiri, and the second from the top is a utility knife with a santoku-style tip.

155 Comments

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  1. 4
    Bobby Boucher

    I LOVE my Boos Block! I would like to know how Alton feels about ceramic blades. I have a couple that have worked amazingly for years! Never been a fan of the Santuko style with or without the granton edge.

  2. 5
    Michael Arnold

    I have an affinity with extremely sharp objects. Not only do I sharpen my own knives, I also sharpen my own chisels, saws, axes, lawn mower blades, and all likes of bladed objects. You can shave with my machete.

  3. 6
    G Symons

    I have a Damascus steel custom kitchen knife from Hull Customs in Tennessee that I really really enjoy using. It is a very heavy yet well balanced piece of cutlery. I also cherry picked a Swiss chefs knife that was on closeout at a kitchen supply store that is light yet balanced. I know people rave about Cutco knifes. However, if you can find a local pro to help maintain the edge on you knifes that is the best route to go. They are few and far between these days and most kitchenpros, butcher’s, and foodies know the contacts

  4. 7
    Brian Lasch

    I like many of your comments here AB, Carter Knives are exceptional. I got to visit his shop in Hillsboro Or last time I was there it was a neat experience. I really like that Sabatier, I have 4 Carbon Steel blanks that were unearthed in an old storage facility of Sabatier that are about 110 years old now, that just need bevels and hardening, they will be my project for next year. I have a soft spot for them because the first knife I bought professionally was a Sabatier.

    I will say my daily goto knife when cooking is my 10 Wusthof that I used for 10 years professionally and 22 more at home. I maintain it with a syderco sharpmaker, a good honing steel and a leather strop and skip the professional sharpeners.

  5. 8
    J wecht

    I attended the CIA when it was in New Haven CT 1966..I have all my original Sabitier Knives. The 10 “ french knife is about 7” now. Carbon steel needs a lot of maintenance but can be sharpened to shave with.

  6. 10
    Scott G

    My daughter gave me a hand-made Japanese knife 3 years ago. ………….. I have since bought others, and will never use others knives. The best. Period.

  7. 13
    Martinyan

    Why would you suggest America for Japanese knives? The Japanese are famous for their knife making history and they have a ton of respected brands. If you look at any of the top Japanese chefs they won’t be using an American knife. Sushi chefs and Japanese are very particular in what they use as well. A lot of the American knives are junk like the Rachel Ray Santoku.

  8. 15
    Drpaint

    Just wondering about the magnetic strip for storing knives, although popular right now I am not sold on this as the best storage method. My husband is a knifemaker (blacksmithing & stock removal) and a very smart man. We are designing our kitchen and recently had some discussions on this very topic. He doesnt think its safe to store blades for cooking that way as it does slightly magnetize the steel and the knife can then pick up and deposit bits of steel into your food. I like the idea of the magnetic strip but as a chemist, I do see his point. Just wondering if anyone has thoughts on this?

    • 16
      Ryan

      I have always had a thought about this as well. would the magnetic pull on the curf of the cutting edge also pull towards the magnetic strip mis-align the cutting edge? But as a butcher I know it is best to always use the honing steel before use. Also I have a good magnetic strip for my home knives and i agree it is not always safe. they do fall off occasionally.

  9. 18
    Sarah Snell

    I have huge sets of knifes in my collection. While in kitchen, i hardly use 3 or 4 of them. In my experience high quality knife is far more better than sets of low cheap pricey knife.

  10. 20
    Lawrence

    Thanks for all of he info. Regarding storage, if I am renting and there is not where to put a magnetic strip, and I have a toddler and would like to keep knives out of eyesight and reach, what kind of in drawer knife block would you recommend? Or is here something cool I haven’t even heard of yet? Thanks again.

    • 21
      shyurngsfriend

      To the question about storage with kids, if you have a cabinet door that you could mount a magnetic strip on and then put a child “prtection” device on the door. We have inquisitive cats who like shiny objects. 🙂

  11. 26
    Devon

    I have two Carbon Steel From my Grand Mother, 1920’s. I call the 12″ Billy and the 16″ Bob… Blades do not define the Chief, only the passion does……

  12. 27
    Mel

    Awesome post!!! Mr. Brown, to add (or reiterate)… you really don’t have to buy the most expensive knives in the world (though it pays to get a really really good one! It’s lasts a lifetime!)… an entry level knife that you are accustomed to will live a longer life so long as you take care of it! It “needs” to be paired with a really good cutting board otherwise, just buy a cheap one because you don’t deserve a good knife! Again… awesome articles always! Cheers!

  13. 28
    Ryan

    Anzen Hardware in LA’s little Tokyo has the best Japanese steel options I’ve ever seen. Lots of high carbon steel as well as Damascus (for those willing to drop some extra coin.)

    As a line cook this is the only place I shop, very industry as well as home cook friendly.

  14. 29
    Jacob

    I was thinking of building my own cutting board and I understand there are some woods I shouldn’t use but over all the wood types why would Maple be the best for this over any of the other types and is there a specific maple type that I should consider before I start to make one.

    • 30
      Ryan

      It all has to do with the grain of wood too soft and you will just cut into it,too hard and you’ll dull your knives. You also want the grain to seal up after each cut to help with sanitary reasons, also a wood that takes block oil well to keep the wood healthy. I recommend when making the cutting block use the end grain as cut surface ,it will last longer than the side grain. That is how butcher blocks are made and if you are good at cleaning the board with coarse salt and lemons then rinsing in warm water, drying well and oiling it you will have it forever. Once a year if heavily used you can sand and re-season it with block oil. Ps: each meat species should have its own block [chicken/poultry and fish especially] and all vegetables can be done on one separate block. hope this is helpful info.

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