Kitchen Knife Buying Guide

Author: Jon Dart


A good kitchen knife should last you many years and will make food prep faster, safer and easier. But the shear number of types available and the terminology used in describing them can sometimes be baffling. So, whether you are buying a complete set or adding to your collection, this kitchen knife buying guide will help you decide what’s right for you.

Types of Kitchen Knife

Cleaver – Strong, heavy blade with slightly curved edge. Use for chopping meat and preparing joints. Strong enough to chop through bones.

Filleting Knife – A long, flexible blade with a curved cutting edge, turning up to a sharp point. Ideal for filleting fish and meat.

Boning Knife – Designed for the removal of bones from raw meat and poultry. Similar in shape to a filleting knife, but rigid and shorter. The upturned point allows you to work the blade around the bone for neat removal.

Chefs/Cooks Knife – A real workhorse in the kitchen, this all-rounder of a knife deals with most cutting and chopping tasks with ease. Available in a range of sizes, the deep heel of the blade is ideal for chopping, slicing and dicing.

Bread Knife – The long scalloped edge of a bread knife allows you to cut through hard crusts without shredding the soft inner to bits.

Carving Knife – A long bladed knife for cutting roasted meats into thin, even slices. The pointed tip can also be used to help free the meat from the bone.

Santoku Knife – A Japanese knife (it’s translation means ‘three virtues’) which has become the go-to knife in many kitchens over recent years. Similar in purpose to a Chefs/Cooks knife, it has a longer spine, rather than a gradual taper to the point, offering more weight in the blade. Ideal for chopping, cutting, dicing and mincing, many Santoku knives have scalloped indents on the blade to aid release of thinly sliced and sticky food, as well as enhancing the style of the knife.

Utility Knife – A smaller knife that can be used when a cooks/chef knife would be too cumbersome. This the general ‘go-to’ small preparation knife, and ideal for trimming meat and vegetables.

Paring Knife – Small bladed knife used for intricate, tricky tasks such as peeling fruit and vegetables, mincing garlic and trimming herbs. Can have concave (curved inwards), convex (curved outwards), or lambsfoot (straight edge) blade options, depending on personal preference.

Knife Materials

You might think that all knives are made from the same materials… Wrong! An expensive knife’s blade will be constructed from higher-grade materials which will have undergone various processes to improve its strength and sharpness and the handle will be made from materials that will make it more comfortable to hold and less likely to deteriorate over time.

Stainless Steel – Low carbon stainless steel is used mainly on most everyday blades. The softer steel means they will need sharpening more frequently to retain blade sharpness, but they are easy to care for, and are fully dishwasher safe. Ideal for everyday use.

Carbon Steel – Superior to low carbon stainless steel, these knives possess a higher carbon content making it easier to maintain a sharp edge, which will last longer. They do require better care being taken when cleaning, and are usually recommended only for handwashing. The Chefs choice.

Damascus – This steel is a combination of low and high carbon steels. The two varieties are folded and forged welded together; repeatedly until a large number of combined layers have been made. The finished blade is then etched to bring out the grain and pattern that has been produced. The end product is extremely tough, yet flexible and has excellent edge retention. The ultimate material for the best combination of practicality and function.

Ceramic – Ceramic blades are extraordinarily sharp, have extremely long cutting lives and are astonishingly light. They retain their original sharpness up to ten times longer than carbon and stainless steel blades and are extremely hard. They will not transfer metal ions to food (browning on edges of recently cut lettuce?) nor corrode from acids and oils in fruit. Whilst very strong when used vertically, they can be fragile if flexed laterally, and can chip if hit into a hard surface or bone. If sharpness is your main criteria, this is the knife for you.



Even the sharpest knives made out of the highest quality materials will lose their edge over time. The saying ‘you never cut yourself with a sharp knife’ isn’t strictly true, there is less chance of doing so because when you’re using a dull knife you are applying more pressure than you would with a sharp blade, which makes the knife more likely to slip. So, to keep your knives in tip-top condition it is recommended that you sharpen them little and often, and always sharpen at the correct angle. There are four main ways to do this –

Steels – The traditional way to sharpen a blade. Not as difficult to use as is widely made out, the angle of sharpening is the key, not the speed. With practice, this is the quickest and easiest sharpener to use. Can be made of a high carbon steel, ceramic, or industrial diamond dust impregnated steel. Bear in mind that the material selected has to be harder than the material used in your knife.

Draw-through Sharpeners – There are many variations of model but the principal behind them remains the same. You place the blade into a slot and draw the blade backwards and forwards along an abrasive surface. Make sure you choose the right type of abrasive to match the knives you will be sharpening and don’t press the knife down too hard when drawing the blade through the slot. Also, ensure that you select a model with the correct sharpening angle for your knife. Not generally any use on oriental style blades, where sharpening is only required on one side of the blade

Whetstones – Probably the best way to restore a razor-sharp edge to your knives. There are various levels of whetstone available – normally a medium grit stone is sufficient to start with. However, if the blade is blunt or damaged, it may be necessary to start with rough grit. A high grit stone will produce super-fine honing for extreme sharpness. Angle guides are often available to clip onto the spine of your knife to ensure the sharpening angle is correct

Electric Sharpening Machines – Easy and quick to use. These machines obtain a razor sharp finish with only a few passes of the blade. Options available for European and Oriental knives.

Cleaning and Storage

Cleaning - It is always advisable to avoid cleaning your knives in a dishwasher. Knives may be dishwasher safe, but that is not the same as dishwasher recommended. The harsh environment of a dishwasher can dull the blade and cause corrosion spots (these can be removed using stainless steel cleaner). The best way to clean your knife is with warm, soapy water using a sponge or soft brush. Carefully dry the knife (always with the blade facing away from you) and place back in storage.

Storage- The most common way to store kitchen knives is in a knife block (if you are buying a set of knives they will have probably come with a block). There are many types available including universal blocks which have bristles instead of conventional slots (great if you have particularly wide blades). Another popular storage method is the magnetic knife rail. Any size of knife can be stored on one of these and the fact they are visible makes selecting the correct knife a doddle.

If you prefer your knives hidden away, a wooden knife storage unit that fits into a drawer would be best for you. It is not recommended to store your knives loose in a drawer. Not only is this potentially dangerous to you when grabbing other utensils, it is also a sure fire way to damage the blades due to the continual rubbing and banging against other items every time the drawer is opened and closed. If you have no other option but to store your knives in this fashion it is highly recommended to purchase blade guards which will protect both you and the blade.

Chopping Boards and Mats

Kitchen Knife Buying Guide - Chopping Boards

If you are investing your hard earned money on a new set of knives for the kitchen, make sure that what you use them on is up to the job. There are a variety of different types of boards and mats that can be used.

Wooden Chopping Boards – When you say chopping board, most people picture a board made from wood. Being a natural product it is kinder to blades than other materials and won’t blunt the knife blade as quickly as other materials.

Plastic Chopping Boards – Plastic chopping boards and mats are probably the most popular type of board. They require less up-keep than wooden boards and are generally dishwasher safe. Colour coded mats for specific food types (raw meat, fish, vegetables) are a good option as they reduce the likelihood of cross-contamination. They also protect the knife blade edge.

Glass Chopping Boards – These boards can be very harsh on the knife blade but they are usually odour and stain resistant.

Kitchen Knife Buying Guide - Glossary of Terms

Bolster – Thick piece of metal at the end of the blade, just before the handle. Gives the knife balance and protects fingers from the blade. An indication that the knife has been forged rather than stamped.

Butt – The end of the handle opposite the bolster.

Ceramic – Made of zirconium oxide, the second hardest material to diamonds. Extremely lightweight and sharp (can hold their edge up to 10x longer than steel blades) but brittle and prone to chipping or breaking, so should only be used for slicing rather than chopping. Should only be sharpened by a professional.

Cutting Edge – Bottom edge of the blade that runs from the heel to the tip. Usually straight but can be serrated.

Fully Forged – Made from a single block of steel. The blade and the tang are one piece.

Handle – The part of the knife you hold. The tang of the blade extends into the handle and is riveted into place (or enclosed in a plastic or metal handle, depending on the design). If possible always try holding a knife before purchasing to make sure it fits your hand properly.

Hardening and Tempering – The processes knives are put through to produce a hard, durable blade.

Heel – The last couple of inches of blade at the opposite end to the tip. Used for cutting thicker items that require more pressure.

High Carbon Stainless Steel – The most popular blade material for high quality knives. Containing carbon for toughness and the ability to hold an edge and chromium to make them stain and rust resistant.

High Carbon Steel – Carbon steel blades are tough, sharp and retain their edge well. Can be brittle and break under stress.

Hollow Ground – Less durable than taper ground blades, the taper starts approximately halfway down the blade to create the cutting edge.

Oriental Style – Sharpened on only one side of the blade

Rockwell Hardness Scale –Used in knives to indicate relative hardness of the blade. Generally, the higher the number, the sharper and more durable a blade is.

Stamped – Cut from a continuous strip of stainless steel. More economical to produce and buy but not as strong or durable as fully forged knives.

Spine (or Back) – The edge opposite the cutting edge of the blade. Thicker than the cutting edge, it adds strength to the blade.

Stainless Steel – Will hold their edge slightly longer than high carbon steel blades but harder to sharpen. Highly resistant to rust and discolouration, but can stain.

Tang – The part of the knife blade that attaches the blade to the handle. A full tang runs the full length of the handle adding strength and balance. A half tang only runs part way into the handle.

Taper Ground – A blade that tapers from the handle to the tip and from the spine to the cutting edge. Produces a very strong and sharp cutting edge.

Tip – At the opposite end of the handle, the tip is usually pointed, but can be rounded or at a slant. Used for cutting small items, cutting food into thin strips and for making incisions.