Committing to an expensive chef knife can be intimidating. The whole process can be confusing, especially if you have no idea whether you are making a good deal or not. Slowly but surely, after searching for a while, you start wondering. Is it even worth it? Will it make a big difference anyway?
Having an expensive knife does make a difference. One of the most crucial factors that separate expensive and cheaper knives usually seems to be longevity. Also, the ease of use and convenience is playing a significant role. But of course, there is more to it than just these two.
You might have read in a few of my articles that I prefer to work with a little more expensive knives. This is because I truly believe you get more value if you pay a little more. How much more depends on you. I prefer the price range between 70$ and 100$ (links to Amazon). For that money, I know what I am getting and why I am paying for it. Having said that, I also know that many people struggle with not knowing what good quality means. I believe this is one of the scariest parts, especially when there is a lot of money involved. Right now, buying a knife for hundreds of dollars sounds confusing or frightening to most of you. But keep on reading, and I promise you by the end of this article you will have the knowledge you need not alone to choose wisely but also to be able to understand why it is essential you stay away from cheap knives.
What is the difference between them?
The ease of use and the longevity of a knife is one of the most significant factors that show the difference between a high-end knife compared to a cheaper one. These are, of course, not the only two, the aesthetics and the balance are also factors that play a significant role. There are some other things that are mildly important such as what wood the handle is made of or the amount of time a blade can hold its sharpness. Knives made out of higher quality material tend to stay much longer sharp, depending on the metal they have used during manufacturing. You probably think, hey…I can avoid this with a cheap knife, I just need to sharpen it more often. Yes, that might be true, but then the more you sharpen your blade, the shorter its lifespan will be. High-quality materials such as the type of steel used to make the knife are the main reason for it to keep its sharpness longer. In most cases, manufacturers use three types of steel to make knives.
Tool steels are a common choice for making knives. Tool steels are, for the most part, carbon steels that have additional alloying elements that increase their mechanical properties. These alloying elements often increase the steel’s corrosion resistance as well, though not to the level of stainless steel.
Carbon steel is a traditional choice for rough use of knives. Carbon steel used to be much more robust, much more durable, and more comfortable to sharpen than stainless steel. They do not have much chromium content of stainless steel, which makes them susceptive to corrosion.
Stainless steel tends to cost a little more, but the quality is reasonably one of the best, with the edges lasting the longest, this is because stainless steel erodes at a considerably slower pace. This steel is the perfect compromise between toughness, strength, edge holding, and resistance to corrosion.
So clearly Stainless steel is the winner here. Luckily today’s knives are mostly made out of stainless steel anyway. But this does not mean you should completely disregard the other metals. Some excellent knives are made out of carbon steel, so it’s worth to check at least.
Why should you stay away from cheap knives?
Where should I start? One of the biggest problems with cheap knives is consistency; what I mean by consistency is the following: Cheap knives are mostly made by poor craftsmanship and inferior quality of materials. The result? 1 out of 100 knives may come out a little decent. Chances are high you will end of with blade that bends very easily and breaks very fast. But let’s presume you are lucky and you have a half-decent knife that cuts. How long do you think it will hold its edge? All knives need sharpening, but low quality needs much much more. We all know what happens if you sharpen your knife very often…the lifespan shortens exponentially. And sharpening your knife does require some skills, so good luck with that. There is also the danger of working with a dull knife more often. Look, it happens to all of us. Your knife is dull, and you are too lazy to sharpen it. Result? You push harder to cut, your knife slips, and you cut yourself. There is also the level of sharpness. You cannot have the same sharpness with a 10$ knife, I am sorry. You will struggle even with performing regular tasks. And finally, balance…cheap knives have very poor balance, believe me, you cannot imagine how much it affects your performance.
Why buy expensive kitchen knives?
If you can perform a task with much more ease, why not do it? If you can do the same thing in less time and with more efficiency, why struggle if you don’t need to? This is precisely how I think and why I choose to go more towards the high-end. And I do this with everything in my life. As long as this does not financially become an obstacle, I’d go for it. Look, I am not trying to say buy everything always expensive, if you can get the exact same quality for less then, of course, you should go for less. But after several years of using cheaper knives, I concluded that I work better with using a high-end knife.
What to look for when searching for a quality knife.
- Steel: As previously mentioned, the quality of steel. Edge retention (how long before the knives become dull, under the same conditions of use). This is correlated with a price to some extent, but not entirely. Some moderately priced knives, for example, actually do much better than some of the more expensive knives. But stainless steel is what you should generally go for.
- Handle: Quality and durability of the handles. For example, Cocobolo is a common kitchen knife handle wood, but there are many types of wood out there that are exceptionally good. You are better at choosing natural woods, a good example is Pakkawood, which is made out of a combination of natural premium hardwood.
- Balance: This is different for everyone. You need to hold the knife to determine whether this is to your liking or not. The right balance helps you perform tasks much more efficiently and more comfortably. The overall feeling of a knife is significant, and one can only know that after holding it.
- Blade Height: Blade height is also crucial. With a short blade knife, you won’t be able to cut certain foods effectively, and you’ll have your knuckles hitting against the cutting board, which is can be painful but also very irritating.
- Heaviness: A heavy knife enables you to have more control and use gravity as a friend. Quality kitchen knife has some weight that allows you to push through hard to cut vegetables and meat, while a cheap, lightweight knife lets you do all the work. As mentioned previously, the harder you push, the more chances to cut yourself. Working together towards a common goal is always better, even if the common goal is just getting an onion chopped!
Why are some kitchen knives so expensive?
If you want something in high quality, you need to dig deeper into your pockets. This is true for almost everything in life. So, the same with knives, of course. Stainless steel will be more expensive than carbon. The same can be said for natural wood handles. The more labor that goes into something, the higher the cost for the manufacturer, and the more we will need to pay. Aesthetics are also, in many cases, the reason you pay more, all things that looks very shiny and beautiful are in many cases more expensive. Oh, and by the way, if you want some features on your knife, be prepared to pay extra for it.
Why are these gorgeous looking Japanese knives so expensive?
Japanese knives are, in many cases, costlier compared to a traditional western high-end knife. This is because there is even more labor involved in making it (like handmade knives). But the extra aesthetics, which makes them look so beautiful or, for example, the high demanding brands, also play a significant role in this. They also tend to mix some metallurgy powder, which is frequently used with Japanese knives, this really helps with edge retention, and I am not talking about a few days longer, but weeks. So, Japanese knives may not be something you should buy if you have never worked with a professional chef knife. But it is definitely something you should look into it, I promise you, you will not regret it.
Buying them in Japan is cheaper.
If you are planning on buying them in Japan, this might be a good idea. This is a very common question. Are Japenese knives cheaper in Japan? And surprisingly, after searching online for some time, It seems that yes, they are, in fact, much less expensive. But this depends on the brand you wish to buy and also you should be careful with the exchange rate the day you are purchasing it, but overall you can get an excellent deal if you are traveling there anyways or can ask someone to bring it for you.
So, how much am I supposed to spend on a kitchen knife?
This depends, of course, on what you are looking for. It also depends on what characteristics you want your knife to have like grooves and such. You can buy knives between 5$ and 1000$. But in my personal opinion, there is no need to pay more than 150$. After that price, you usually are paying for aesthetics and the brand name than anything else. Even though 150$ may sound a lot to you, but to me, this is the sweet spot. You get excellent value for what you pay for. You can go handmade, but then be prepared to pay you much much more.
Are custom knives worth the money
For me, the answer would be, it depends. I believe this is something that only you can answer. A high-quality knife is crafted by someone who knows knives. A good knife craftsman knows how to build a good knife. He also knows what makes a great knife — overall design, type of steel, heat treat, stability, ergonomics, and much more. Handmade knives are made with a lot of attention to detail, which is something that’s becoming rare in today’s mass-production society. Yes, this can be more expensive than a typical mass production knife. But I’d be willing to bet that once you have it in your hands, you’ll agree with me that there’s nothing quite like a custom knife.
Maintenance is important.
If you are planning to invest in this, you would probably want to maintain it as well as you can, so you would have a knife that will last you for a lifetime. Keep its sharpness as good as you can, so honing regularly is very important. I have gone through all the details in another article in case you wish to know.
You might think what is cutting board doing in this article? Well, cutting boards go hand in hand with the choice of knife you make. Wooden cutting boards (link to Amazon) are perfect for their natural antimicrobial qualities, can endure and absorb food odors, and they really feel good under the blade of a knife. Why do I mention this? If you choose to go for ceramic or glass cutting board, you will ruin your knife instantly, and if you are planning to buy an expensive knife, you would want to know what you need to do to maintain its sharpness and lifespan for as long as possible. A good Wooden cutting board helps you with that, they might be costlier than those synthetics, and they might require a little more care to avoid warping, but ultimately they are your best choice.
Do not buy Sets.
If you see a set of knives somewhere and you think wow, that’s a bargain right there, only 300$ for a whole set! You might think if you buy them separately, you will pay double for them, and that’s true in a sense. But ask yourself, do you need the whole set of 18 knives? How many times will you use all of them? You will have to dig deep into your pockets for the extra knives you probably will never use. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for using the right knife for the right task but, believe me, a set is, in my opinion, a trap. Unless you are entirely sure you will use them often, or you just want to have them look pretty in your kitchen, then I’d say go for it, no problem. Otherwise, please stay away and keep it simple. Go for an eight-inch chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a long serrated knife, and this is all that you probably will use the most.
The initial cost for an expensive knife is notable but it will, in the end, save you money in the long run. You see, a cheap kitchen knife may last you a for some time and eventually break or bend. So, you would need to buy another knife, after some time again something happens, so you get another knife and so on. If you had purchased an expensive knife, you could have avoided all of this and would still be happily cutting away and would continue to do so for a very long time. I absolutely get that a high-quality knife can be a significant investment, but at least it will be one that lasts you your lifetime.