From JMG, 17 March 2011, steak knives – buying a matching set?
Q: Cooking related: I need a set of knives with matching steak knives…any suggestions on brand? Things to look for?
A: Thanks for your question. What an interesting question – I’m not totally sure what to make of it so I’m going to assume you’re saying that you want to buy a set of knives, and you want it to include both kitchen knives and steak knives, and that you would like them to match. Do I have that right? I’m not sure why it’s important that your kitchen knives match your steak knives, but I also don’t question why some people enjoy Cirque de Soleil or Riverdance. If it makes you happy, let’s find you some matching knives.
First things first, about the steak knives. There exist two kinds of steak knives – serrated and straight. I happen to hate serrated knives, which are limited purpose, cannot be sharpened with ease, and can tear apart product due to the saw-like teeth, yet so many steak knives in actual steakhouses and on the market are serrated. Let’s consider Le Corbusier’s dictum that form follows function. The principal function of serrated knives is to cut objects that are highly fibrous (think of the action of a saw on wood), or to handle product that is tough on the outside and difficult to penetrate initially (think of tomatoes, some kinds of bread). A properly cooked steak should be neither of these things, so why are so many steak knives serrated?
A straight-bladed knife will eventually become completely smooth as it dulls with use unless you sharpen it (although this will take a fairly long time depending on the knife). A serrated blade will take far, far longer to dull with use, even without maintenance. Because steak is not an everyday food (unless you’re Diamond Jim Brady – whose personal urologist, by the way, was the original owner of our home) – many knife manufacturers produce serrated steak knives on the theory that those knives, which need to be sharp for the optimal steak-eating experience, aren’t going to be used very often or sharpened at all. And it’s true that most people don’t eat steak very often. But sharp knives aren’t only for steak. Who cuts a pork chop or even a chicken breast with a butter knife? In my home, we get out the sharp knives for most meat-related action. In practice, that means steak knives, which means frequent use, which means honing (and twice a year sharpening), which means NOT SERRATED.
So your choices are these. You can buy a dedicated steak knife that you won’t have to sharpen, but that you also won’t be able to sharpen. Or you can select a more all-purpose sharp knife that will require some maintenance, but ultimately will provide a smoother, sharper cut. The latter will be much harder to find. This leads to my second point.
I don’t think that steak knives should drive your choice of kitchen knives if matching is important, and I also don’t think matching should be important at all. If you are committed to matching kitchen and steak knives, then by all means select your kitchen knives first. You’ll use those every day (assuming you cook), and you’ll regret letting your choice of steak knives drive that bus, unless you are in fact Diamond Jim Brady. Furthermore, I can and will recommend good knife manufacturers who can provide you with full sets of kitchen knives and matching steak knives, and you can use that to start your research, but there is no substitute for going to the store and feeling the knives in your hand. In fact, I would take a couple of carrots or something to the store and ask to test out the chef’s knives in particular – the eight and ten inch knives – to see which size suits you, and from which maker. Any decent store will let you try. You want to make sure the knife handle fits your hand, that it isn’t too large (which can be dangerous as the knife will slip), or too small (which will cause fatigue as you grip it uncomfortably). You want to be sure the knife as a whole feels balanced, that you can use both the tip and the heel of the knife, that you feel comfortable rocking it as you cut, and that the knife feels like an extension of your hand and arm. Paring knives and small knives like vegetable knives tend to be much easier to handle and you probably don’t need to test them out, but don’t ever buy a chef’s knife without at least handling it thoroughly. (For more on selecting a knife, check out this earlier entry).
If you ultimately select the Wusthof line of knives, consider this Wusthof Gourmet Classic straight bladed knife set (it appears to be a good value at $59.95 for a set of four). Wusthof also makes this Ikon line, which is much more expensive but appears to be a beautiful knife, also with a straight edge.
If you have money to burn and select the Shun knives, have a look at their Classic straight-bladed steak knives. Oooh, NSF-certified!
And if you really love the Global knives – and one of my favorite vegetable prep knives is a Global, as is my husband’s favorite chef’s knife – then sadly, you’ll have to settle for the serrated edge of their steak knives. And that’s why I said you shouldn’t let the choice of steak knives dictate your choice of kitchen knives.
Here’s what we use at home, by the way – the Dansk Fjord knife, which does not match our kitchen knives. We acquired these from my mother in law. Notice the sharp tip and the straight edge. Great Danish Modern design, circa 1953.
Good luck, and let us know what you choose!