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Culinary Toolbox: A Guide on How to Buy Your First Professional Knives

Okay, so you’ve decided to enroll in culinary school. Apart from tuition, knives will be your biggest expense. How do you know which knives are the best for you?

The knives you choose will last throughout your career. I want to help you buy the right one(s).

Oh, how I hated my first set of knives

I spent over a thousand dollars on my first set of knives. They were J. A. Henckel TWIN Four Star, and they looked beautiful.

They had black molded handles, a heavy stainless steel knife stamped with—the most important feature of all—a TWIN stamp clearly on the blade:

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Looks pretty doesn’t it?

I quickly found out through my knife skills practice that they dulled quicker than I could steel them.

Worse, it was next to impossible to put an edge back onto the knife because the bolster and return prevented the proper sharpening of the heel.

When it came to cutting hard vegetables like carrots the knife performed beautifully. The spine added a good amount of weight to my downward rock.

Cut a tomato, that’s a different story. The blade created trench in the tomato and hunkered down, refusing to slice through. I could have used a spoon.

Another problem is how the knife felt after a good amount of prep work. I can’t tell about it, you have to experience it. Look at it this way, when you are cutting julienne carrots for eight hours, how do your wrists feel?

Questions to ask yourself when considering a knife purchase:

Knives come in variations including:

  • What material is it made from? Examples include: carbon steel, stainless steel, ceramic, or plastic.
  • How is the blade manufactured? Is it forged or stamped?
  • What edge does it have? Is it serrated? Does it have indentations? How hard is it to sharpen?
  • What handle does it have? It could be wood, plastic, composite, or metal.
  • What knife is it? For example, is it a chef knife, a butcher scimitar, or a knife for soft cheeses?
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Before spending your hard-earned money, you need to look at your options.

What’s your budget?

How much are you willing to spend on your knife set? Your budget will decide what you settle for.

I lost my toolkit during my first semester of culinary school. I had to buy my knives piecemeal. In the end, it turned out to be the best set up because it forced me to examine what I’d use the knife for.

I had a limited budget (one knife each pay period) so buying a complete set was prohibitively expensive. Instead, I borrowed knives from coworkers and classmates to see how it was to work with them. If I found the knife worked for me, then I would save up and buy it.

Stay Tuned for my guide to buying your first kitchen knives

Over the next set of posts, I will show you how you can save yourself hundreds (perhaps thousands) of dollars buying your knives. We will go over what makes a good professional knife, and how you can select one that meets your needs.

Your Turn:

What’s your favorite brand of knife? Tell me in the comments below!

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • John Paré August 22, 2013, 3:50 pm

    $$$ values does not mean quality. Just like tools you need to use them first before you can tell if they are right for you. Are there places that allow you to try knives before buying them?

  • Jason Sandeman August 22, 2013, 3:51 pm

    I agree. A good knife place should at least let you test out the knife on a cutting board so you can get a feel for it. Otherwise, it’s just a blind shot.

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