Steel Kitchen Knives
One of my chef friends decided to round out his Shun collection and add an offset bread knife. An “offset” means that the handle is not directly behind the blade, but rather behind and above the blade giving the user clearance for his knuckles. You can normally pick up a serrated bread knife for well under $50 so I was shocked that he paid over a $150 for it until I tried it.
“It is the sharpest knife that I have ever owned” he said. I agree this knife is some kind of sharp it goes through tough crusts like ciabatta and steam baked sour dough like butter. When you have 300 pieces of crostini to make for an event this is important.
How do they make it so sharp? In the case of the Shun and other high quality bread knives the serrations are what you would call single bevel, or ground from one side only. This gives them the ability to sharpen them at a steeper angle like 12 degrees. I don’t know how steep razor blades are ground, but I think this is pretty close to the same.
Serrated blades have a ripple appearance, the best cutting serrations are usually gentle up and down ripples that look like a series of little waves on a calm pond. On some of the cheaper models these serrations will tend to come to a point and present a more jagged appearance. You would think that the points would be better for cutting hard items, but it does not work that way. The points tend to get stuck in the place you land as you first put the blade on the bread and then you have to really force the blade back and forth to get the cutting started.
The fact of the matter is that even on a knife blade that seems to be a straight blade there are indeed hundreds of “micro-serrations” that are actually sawing through whatever you happen to be cutting. So in a sense all knife blades are serrated.
Or a Ceramic Kitchen Knife
This brings us to the ceramic side of the equation. Ceramic is actually much harder than steel. Most steel knives stop at 66 or 67 on the Rockwell scale (a measure of hardness). One the other hand ceramic tests out at 85. Yes! 20 points higher. What does that mean?
A well made ceramic knife will hold an edge for a very long time under normal usage. It can be factory ground to have an even steeper angle than steel knives and yet keep that edge. What is the drawback? The material is brittle, it can break if you drop it. Care should be taken at all times as the cutting edge is also subject to chipping so it is possible to bump the blade against something and inadvertently put a small chip in the cutting surface.
Now if you agree to be careful with the blade, this knife will do all the cutting you need with incredible ease. It is ideal for someone who just wants to get that onion or tomato or cucumber cut. This will melt through any normal food prep task with ease. The blade is super light weight and since it is so sharp, there is not much energy spent trying to keep it from twisting in your hand. For the occasional cook who wants to get in and get out of the kitchen quickly this is probably the way to go
For the professional or serious gourmet this ceramic kitchen knife would probably be too light in the hand. We tend to work in places with tile floors and that is the death of ceramic. We also tend to be in a hurry and casually shove the knife aside when we finish a project, hence the probability of chips in the blade. The biggest drawback for the professional is the weight, it just does not feel right. We need that constant weight out there to give us feedback in our hands.
You can use a serrated knife in place of a standard chefs knife. The major difference is in the way you cut. With the slicer you always have to be using a sawing motion. Serrated kitchen knives tend to have shallow blade depth, which leads to a tendency for the blade to twist or turn slightly in the hand as you cut. So you need to watch to insure that your slicing is straight down, you must continue sawing to get through. With the chefs knife you simply add downward pressure and push the knife straight down. Of course this varies with the foods you are cutting. You always slice a tomato, but you would rather “chop” an onion.
Most importantly with the slicing type knives is the handle. This is one knife that you definitely want to hold in your hand before you purchase it. I have alluded to twisting motion a few times, this can be corrected very well if the knife fits comfortably in your hand. Look at the Ken Onion Shun closely; you will see that the top of the blade at the bolster has a pre-built groove to cushion the forefinger as it grasps the knife. This is a feature that enables the user to keep the blade pinched just right with no twisting. Less expensive blades do not have this, but the handle should fit comfortably in your hand.
So, if the ceramic kitchen knives intrigue you and you feel you can take the kind of care they deserve, then this is the very sharpest knife you will ever own. It will get the job done quickly. If you go this route don’t mess with the “wannabe’s” go directly to the Kyocera brand. They invented them, they perfected them and they deliver with perfection. Should the blade ever get dull the factory will re-sharpen it for you.
For the steel lovers there are many options. Shun sells several different models of serrated knives, all of which are very high quality including offerings from their collaborating experts, Ken Onion, Bob Kramer and Michel Braas. The German steel companies also offer some great knives in less expensive ranges these are Wustoff, Henckels, Forshener and many others. Just be sure to try it out for fit before you buy it.
Thanks for reading,